Vence, a 12th century medieval town

Built on a fortification, Vence combines the grandeur of a historical town with the vivid charm of a town in the sun.

From its past Vence has preserved visible memories of testimony such as the columns of the Marseilles citizens, relics of a roman victory arch, the tour that dominates the medieval city, erected in the 12th century, the castle of Villeneuve which dates back to the 17th century as well as numerous doors and works of architecture...

Little hidden gems which unfold in the winding narrow streets.

Cité Historique
The Ash-tree
In 1538 the King of France and his court stayed at the château de Villeneuve, in the village which has become Villeneuve-Loubet ; this was at the invitation of Pope Paul III, to sign the Truce of Nice, with the Emperor Charles V. It is perhaps doubtful if he came to Vence to plant a tree ! But does it matter ? It is a pretty story, born in the (...)
The Castle of Villeneuve
Built in the 17th century, beside the 12th century watch-tower, the Castle was for a long time the residence of the seigneurs de Villeneuve, counts of Provence and lords of Vence. Entirely renovated, the Castle of Villeneuve/ Fondation Emile Hugues is today a leading centre for modern and contemporary (...)
The Tower
The tower dates from the 12th century. The west face retains its original appearance with its arrow-slits indicating an internal staircase. We don’t know where the original entrance door was. Its foundations are probably situated several metres below the present ground level. In the 15th century the Villeneuve incorporated the tower into their (...)
The Gate and Fountain of the Peyra
In its present form the gate dates from 1810. The fountain was reconstructed in 1822, in place of an earlier fountain, which dated from 1578.
Place du Peyra
The ancient forum, the Place du Peyra was traditionally the market-place and the place for orators. People gathered there to discuss the business of the town. The name ‘Peyra’ comes from the ‘pierre’ (stone) used for executions. In 2005 the square has been entirely restored and embellished, returning life and conviviality to this spot favoured by (...)
Rue du Marché
Today this is a commercial street typical of a Provençal village. At the beginning of the 20th century, however, it had almost no shops. The ground floors were used for stables or kitchens for the houses.
The Faubourg and the Pontis
The Faubourg, or Avenue Marcellin-Maurel, takes the place of the ancient ditch which separated the town from its ‘suburb’. The houses of the old town were not opened to the outside until about 1840. The pontis (or covered passage) was opened only in 1863. The trees which lined the Faubourg were cut down in 1910, to make way for the (...)
Place Surian
This square bears the name of Jean-Baptiste Surian (1670-1754), a member of the Académie Française, and Bishop of Vence from 1728 to 1754. The square was created in 1787 by the demolition of old houses around the former Town Hall, named ‘The House of the Holy Spirit’. On this building there is a lintel with the coat-of-arms of the town ‘D’Azur à (...)
Castle within the walls
The former residence within the walls of the lords of Vence, situated on the Place Clemenceau, is built on the site of the 13th-century episcopal ‘palace’. Some parts are of a later date : in the interior courtyard are three mullion windows from the Renaissance period ; on the façade, a shield shows the arms of the Villeneuve : ‘D’or avec six (...)
Place Clemenceau
Formerly named Place Mirabeau, it later became Place Georges Clemenceau. Only the oldest parts remain from the former episcopal palace - the building on the arcades, closing off the north side of the square, and the St.Lambert tower.
The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Nativity
Built in the 4th century on the site of a Roman temple, the cathedral took its present form in the 11th or 12th century. Outside, on the left, is the St.Lambert tower, dating from the 12th century. The stone on the left of the porch bears a dedication by the city of Vintium in homage to the Emperor Gordian III. It dates from the year 239. The (...)
The ‘taurobole’ stone
This stone, on the west face of the Cathedral, recalls the cult of Cybele, mother Idaea, the great mother of Mount Ida in Asia Minor. The translation of the text tells us that ‘Valeria Marciana, Valeria Carmosyne and the priest Cassius Paternus celebrated a ‘taurobole’ in honour of mother Idaea. The bull was offered by two ladies of Vence as a (...)
Passage Cahours
Before the construction of the new Town Hall in 1910, the episcopal palace was linked to the side of the Cathedral by a ‘pontis’ similar to that above the arcades. People could therefore leave the central courtyard of the Episcopal palace by two pontis, to the south and to the north. The north pontis is the only part to have survived, and dates (...)
Courtyard of the Provost
The former residence of the canons, or the ‘provost’s house’ (the provost assisted the bishop), it had direct access to the Cathedral in the 13th and 14th centuries. Look out for the cradle arches, the door of the former provost’s house (inside the Cathedral), a mixture of flamboyant gothic and Renaissance motifs (15th century), as well as the (...)
Place Godeau
The Place was formerly the Place du Vieux Cimetière (old cemetery), removed in 1780. The column of grey Esterel granite, in the middle of the square, is one of the two columns (which previously stood together) presented by the city of Marseille in 230 in honour of the god Mars Vintium. Formerly inside the Cathedral, they were removed in 1767. (...)
Rue des Portiques
This street is a vestige of the former Roman road which led from Cemenelum (Cimiez) to Salinae (Castellane). At the time it was a ‘decumanus’ (a street running east-west). The name of the Rue des Portiques comes from the arches built over the street in the Middle Ages by the residents, in order to enlarge their homes. At the left of the (...)
Porte d’Orient
Monseigneur Moreau (Bishop of Vence, 1759-1763) ordered an opening to be made in the walls in order to reach the Great Seminary more quickly. In 1787 the commune was persuaded to alter the gate to allow Monseigneur Pisani de la Gaude (Bishop of Vence) to reach the door of the Episcopal palace without descending from his carriage. Under a (...)
Place Antony Mars
The first gate in the walls allowing people to leave the town led to the Place Antony Mars, formerly the Place Vieille. In 1431 the square was laid out and planted with trees ; the first fountain was installed in 1439, to meet the needs of the people living outside the walls. It was renamed place Victor Hugo after the death of the poet, (...)
Porte du Signadour
The Porte du Signadour (watchman’s tower in provençal) dates from the 13th century.
L’Enfer (or ‘hell’) and the rue Saint-Lambert
L’Enfer, a picturesque corner, evokes its mediaeval past. At the corner of a courtyard is a commemorative stone erected by the town to Publius Cornelius Licinus, recalling the stay of the Emperor Gallienus and his mother Salonina at Vence in the 3rd century. The rue Saint-Lambert bears the name of a bishop of Vence. At no.5 you can see the (...)
Rue de la Coste
Vence is one of those rare mediaeval towns which have retained their walls and to have an old town in the form of an ellipse. From one particular date in the 15th century the inhabitants were allowed to build their houses against the walls, thus keeping those walls intact, notably in the Rue de la Coste. At no.38 is a house with corbelling - (...)
The Portail Levis
The Portail Levis is one of the three gates of the Roman road. This ‘portal’ consisted of a square tower, demolished in 1819, with, at ground level, a drawbridge closed by a portcullis. The boulevard Paul André (the name of a consul of the Ancien Régime) dates from 1832. It recalls the former defensive town-wall through which, after the year (...)