France & Provence – An Overview
Provence, established by the Romans as “Provincia Romana”, and dotted with the remains of amphitheatres and arenas, an aqueduct and the remains of the Roman towns of St-Rémy-de-Provence and Vaison-la-Romaine, is bordered on the west by the River Rhone, and on the south by the famous Côte d’Azur (the “Blue Coast” of the Mediterranean Sea), the playground of the rich and famous. The sound of its very name conjures up romance, with its signature lavender and sunflower fields blending with vineyards and ancient olive trees to offer the visitor the very same vision in the spectacular natural light that inspired such Impressionists as Van Gogh and Cezanne to create their immortal pictorial renderings. The nature of the area is deeply sensual, allowing its beauty and pleasures to be savoured by all the senses in the colourful Provençal markets.
For adventure lovers, there is canoeing, as well as trekking through rocks abundant with vegetation. The area’s picture postcard hilltop villages contrast happily with their fishing counterparts, and the mythical port city of Marseilles, the largest in the area, is a unique meeting point of East and West. The towns of Arles, Aix-en-Provence and Avignon are cultural glories, chockfull of historical architectural treasures. The region of Comtat Venaissin, became papal territory in 1274 and was a refuge for Jews until the French Revolution.
France – From A Jewish Perspective
Provence has always been a shelter and a welcoming land for Jewish communities. Their presence in the south of France goes back to the beginning of Roman Gaul.
Following the fall of Masada in 73 CE, Provence became a haven for Jewish communities, whose presence dates to the early days of Roman Gaul. These communities broadened the cultural life of the area, particularly in the fields of science, medicine, mysticism, philosophy. Jews also played an important economic role in the development of technologies and in the spread of merchandise, ideas, and the arts, with a focus on music.
The rabbis of Province became known as “Chachamei Provence”, or The Wise Men of Provence. Perhaps the best known scholar associated with the region is Rashi (1040-1105), whose name is an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki. He invented his own alphabet for use in his commentaries, and became famous for being able to clarify the basic meaning of texts. His commentary on the Talmud has been printed in every copy of the Babylonian Talmud since the early 16th century.
Although in the Middle Ages entire communities were banished from the kingdom, a region called “Comtat Venaissin”, property of Pope, became a shelter for Jews until the French Revolution. Since it belonged to Pope Gregory X, they were known as “the Pope’s Jews” The area was left to the pope by Count Alphonse of Poitiers in 1271 and officially became papal territory in 1274.
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French cuisine has become famous throughout the world with a reputation for finesse and flavour, and you can find French restaurants pretty much on every continent.
However nothing beats the diversity and originality of dishes in the country where it all started within France, there are many regions with different specialities and various local ingredients.
The culinary culture of Provence in southern France is very distinct compared to the north and central France, thanks to a mild climate that allows its inhabitants to enjoy fresh fish, meats, fruits and local vegetables throughout the year. The influence of other countries around the Mediterranean sea are also evident, the culinary possibilities in Provence are endless.
Perhaps the most famous traditional dish is the Bouillabaisse the savory fish soup or stew that’s featured in many provincial recipes.
Olives are an indispensable component of the popular tapenade in which you find them finely chopped and mixed with capers , anchovies and olive oil tapenade can be used either as a spread or a condiment and no provincial meal is complete without it. Together with herbs such as lavender, basil, rosemary and thyme you will see olive and lemon trees in gardens across Provence.
A meal which makes good use of fresh produce is the hearty soup au pistou, consisting of various summer vegetables, beans, pasta and pistou a French version of the Italian pesto, it is sometimes topped with some grated cheese and always thoroughly enjoyed.