Ligurians, Celts and Greeks settled over the centuries in the region between the Alps, the river Rhône and the sea. Around 600 BC, way before France existed, Greeks established a prosperous Mediterranean seaport known as Massilia. The Greek colony of Massalia eventually came under Roman rule Massilia. The area flourished and after Julius Caesar’s conquest in the 1st century BC, the Romans called the area Provincia Romana, which evolved into the name « Provence ». With time, the name became definitively attached to the eastern part of Gallia Narbonensis, the area to the east of the Rhone, whose capital was a town called Aquae Sextiae, known today as Aix-en-Provence.
Roman civilisation flourished in this part of southern France; the richness of this region in romain times can still be seen today, with remains like the amphitheater at Orange, the Pont du Gard aqueduct, the arena at Arles, the remarkable Roman remains at Nimes, and many more sites.
After the demise of the Roman Empire in the late 5th century, Provence was invaded several times, fought over by the Visigoths, Burgundians and the Ostrogoths, who occupied coastal areas. The Arabs – who held the Iberian Peninsula and parts of France – were defeated in the 8th century.
During the 14th century, the Catholic Church moved the headquarters of the papacy from Rome to the city of Avignon, thus beginning the most important period in the city’s – and region’s – history. Provence became part of France in 1481, but Avignon and Carpentras remained under papal control until the Revolution.
So in historical terms, Provence is older than France itself, and was a centre of culture learning and commerce long before Paris and northern France acquired the territorial importance that they have today.