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Where the mistral rules

Most books on Provence include Uzès, at the Western edge of the first ‘province’ of the Roman Empire outside Italy, in an area where many remains of the Empire can be found (including amphitheaters at Nîmes, the Roman aqueduct known as the Pont du Gard, and numerous roads). However since 1972 France has been divided in regions (22 initially, 13 since 2016), with the Gard department (where Uzès can be found) now officially part of Occitanie (former Languedoc Roussillon) – just outside of the “official” Provence-Alpes-Cotes d’Azur, an administrative region comprising five départements stretching from the Rhone River to the Alps and Italy.

In truth, Provence is largely an intellectual and emotional concept – although it is often perceived as a “single and indivisible phenomenon”, a bucolic land of lavender fields and fortified hilltop villages. Its borders have long been disputed. Frédéric Mistral, a poet who was instrumental in reviving the lost Provencal tongue, said that: “Wherever the mistral rules, you are in Provence.” Because if its borders are drawn by the language, they are also dictated by the prevailing wind: the mistral. The infamous wind, with which the poet shared his name, does not blow on the Riviera (and so excludes this celebrated coastline from Mistral’s definition) but blows in the Roman towns of Nîmes and Uzès. What is more, Nîmes was the birthplace of Mistral’s great friend, Alphonse Daudet, who could not possibly be considered as anything less than a Provencal writer!

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