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Network of galleries and vaulted cellars
English Guided visit with qualified guides.
As far as we know, very few documents are available which could throw light on the existence and precise use of the underground galleries.
Many questions still remain unanswered. Nevertheless, various assumptions have been made thanks to historical cross-checks and observations.
Originally these galleries were probably used as a quarry to extract a specific type of fullers earth for degreasing woollen cloth.
We know that the cloth industry flourished in Medieval Provins, and the needs of the local fullers must therefore have been considerable.
Once the cavities had been dug out, the towns inhabitants put them to a variety of uses. They became hiding places, storerooms during the Champagne Fairs or places of worship. And some of the graffiti inscriptions suggest that they were used by the towns freemasons.
The underground networks partly belong to the Council and are open to visits (about 250 meters), as well as those under the Hôtel-Dieu and Saint-Thibault street.
The tour also presents two of the vaulted lower rooms closely associated with the Champagne Fairs of Provins.
The two cellars that are included in the visit were used for quite different purposes.
The first one is situated under the Old Hospital (Hôtel-Dieu), where it did duty as a ward.
This room, like the Holy Ghost Cellar (Caveau du Saint-Esprit) in the Jouy street, was probably used to accommodate paupers and pilgrims. This in turn would account for the basic architecture of both places - dark basement rooms with square pillars, devoid of decoration.
The second, more common, type of lower room was used for trade. A fine example of this type of basement rounds off the tour. Another such cellaris to be seen beneath the Tithe Barn (Grange aux dîmes).
During the Champagne Fairs merchants and traders needed considerable amounts of secure storage space for their wares - places where they could meet and do business with their clients. The cellars that acted as showrooms were therefore built and furnished with an attention to detail that may be seen in the pillars carved capitals, the great stairway and the openings that allowed daylight to penetrate the gloom.
It is worth noting that most of the houses in Provins possessed similarly magnificent vaulted cellars - several dozen have been listed in the Lower Town, and over a hundred are included in the Upper Town inventory. These figures give an indication of the important role played by these cellars in the towns economic structure.
Realized in 2006, the lighting by fibre-optic cables makes fantastic places.
This revolutionary system proposes, by effects of shadows and lights, a better attractiveness and comfort of visit while valuing the architecture of the underground galleries and the lower rooms.
The fibre-optic cables offer the distinctive feature of being very reliable in damp environment. The absence of ultraviolet ray, infrared and temperature guarantees the respect for places.
Finally, this technology consumes little electricity and is thus very environment-friendly.
Departures at 2.30pm every saturdays, sundays et publics holidays from 31st March to 4th November, in limited sized groups (25 persons).