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Language and culture

From around the 12th to the 14th centuries, Provençal was the literary language of southern France, northern Spain and also as far as Italy, and was the principal language of the medieval troubadours who romanticized courtly love in poems and melodies.

A movement for the revival of Provençal literature, culture and identity began in the mid-19th century, spearheaded by the poet Frédéric Mistral (1830–1914), recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1904 (the region’s furious 100km/h winds are named after him). Mistral is to Provence an iconic national poet who wrote in the local language - in this case Provençal. In recent years the language has undergone a further revival, and in some areas signs are written in Provençal and French.

Many great French writers and artists have come from or lived in Provence; other emblematic Provencal writers include the 19th century heavyweight Alphonse Daudet, author of the classic "Lettres de mon Moulin" and Marcel Pagnol. Since the 19th century, many artists have chosen to live in Provence, like Paul Cézanne, one of the greatest of the Impressionists, was actually a native of Aix en Provence. Van Gogh and Gauguin are also famous figures of Provence; the region depicted by their greater masterpieces, they lived in Arles and Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

People learning French might find the language of Provence hard to understand; many people here speak French with a strong regional accent. The traditional language of a large part of this region is not French, but Provençal, a south-European language resembling Catalan or Spanish more closely than the French spoken in Paris or the north of the country. In many towns and cities, street names and other signs are written in both French and Provençal.

In the east of the region, towards Nice and the Italian border, local dialects and culture are much closer to Italian. Overall, the cultural heritage of this region is profoundly Mediterranean.

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