Défilé hommage aux provençaux célèbres
Tribute Parade to Famous Provençals

May 14, 2023

The street is filled with musicians, singers and dancers, all of them dressed in traditional Provençal clothing. I’m walking backwards down the middle of the road filming the procession as it moves through the heart of Vence on this bright, sunny morning. Captivated crowds line the streets on both sides while old men and women peer out of their windows from above. The musicians lead the parade and the cheerful, festive sounds from their simple instruments ring out through the clear spring air. Behind them are the dancers, many of them holding large semi-hoops covered in flowers. Families with small children follow behind and the joyous enthusiasm is positively contagious.

Every year, on Easter morning, a traditional parade is held in Vence to honor several Provençal celebrities, mainly Louis Funel, Victor Tuby, Frédéric Mistral and Fernand Moutet (more on them below). The parade moves throughout the town, stopping occasionally to perform songs and dances for the locals and some tourists that are lucky enough to have stumbled upon it.

Known as the “Défilé hommage aux provençaux célèbres” (Tribute Parade to Famous Provençals), this parade is a celebration of not only four important historical figures, but also the culture and traditions of Provence and this particular portion of southeast France. What we know as France today is a country composed of many ancient regions and territories each of which had their own customs, traditions, beliefs and languages. It may seem hard to believe but just over a hundred years ago the majority of people in this country did not speak French.

While the traditions and heritage of the country itself are vitally important to the French, those of the various regions and territories are of equal importance. Some might say they are even more important. These types of local ceremonies, ranging from parades to festivals to celebrations can be found all over France, all throughout the year. And they are almost always centered around some aspect of the area’s heritage, seeking to preserve those ancient ways of life and pass them on to future generations.

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La Brissaudo

Early Sunday morning, around 09h30, the musicians, singers and dancers who will form the parade begin to gather in the center of town at Le Grand Jardin, a large ancient square just outside of the old town. They are part of an association known as La Brissaudo which is, in turn, part of a larger association known as the Fédération Folklorique Méditerranéenne (Mediterranean Folk Federation). Formed in 1959, the FFM is composed of volunteers dedicated to preserving the culture and heritage of southeast France. Today there are 63 different groups, spread out over 3 regions and 12 departments.

La Brissaudo was formed in Vence in 1971. Members are involved in a large variety of local events, from festivals to workshops to celebrations and more. They research and study the customs, arts, traditions and fashions from bygone days with the intent to pass this information on to younger generations so that it will not be lost.

The parade begins at the corner of Rue Louis Funel, on the edge of the Grand Jardin. Led by a flag bearer carrying the flag of La Brissaudo the procession moves down the Avenue de la Résistance, the main street linking the center of Vence to rest of the town, where small provencal flags are tied to strings connected from one side of he road to the other. The Provencal flag is composed of bright yellow and red stripes or “sang et or” (blood and gold).

If you look closely at today’s participants you will see one woman holding a piece of grapevine wrapped in ribbons. This will play a very important part later in the day when it is blessed by a priest and then thrown into a small fire and burned as part of the “Danse de la Souche,” an ancient ceremony dedicated to insuring healthy crops of grapes.

The marchers turn right on Avenue Elise and then Avenue Henri Isnard. Directly behind the flag bearer are six men and women known as “tamourinaires.” Each play two musical instruments, known together as the galoubet-tambourin. One woman plays a violin alongside them.

The Galoubet-Tambourin

The galoubet-tambourin is a “double” instrument that dates back to the middle ages. An immediately recognizable symbol of Provence, the instruments are used to celebrate a variety of occasions and events. The joyous, exhilarating, upbeat sound which the two instruments combine to make is the perfect music for encouraging people to dance and celebrate.

The galoubet is a small flute like instrument, similar to what we call a “recorder” in America. It contains just three holes (one each for the thumb, the index finger and the middle finger) and is played with the left hand.

A tambourin is a large drum played with a stick known as a masseto which is held in the right hand. Unlike some other drums there are skins attached to both ends which create a very distinctive sound. Most tambourins are about 30cm in diameter (12″) and 80cm tall (31″).

A song at the Chapelle des Pénitent Blancs during the Défilé hommage aux provençaux célèbres.

The famous writer Frédéric Mistral played an important part in the evolution of these instruments, encouraging drummers to play at Provençal festivals and balls so that they would not be replaced by the brass bands that were becoming popular in the early 20th century.

Behind the musicians are the singers and the dancers. Three young girls, one of whom will soon be crowned the “Queen of Vence” (the other two are her “maids of honor”), wear sashes and bonnets as they smile and wave to the crowds. They stop next to the Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs (the Chapel of the White Penitents) in the Place Frédéric Mistral and gather in front of a plaque dedicated to the writer where a few songs are performed.

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Provençal Dances

After several songs in the shade of the olive trees of Place Frédéric Mistral the procession is once again on the move, heading now heads towards the Place du Frêne (named after a 500 year old Ash tree that grows there) and onto the Belvédère Fernand Moutet. This belvédère offers a magnificent view of the Baou des Blancs and the small Lubiane Valley. Villas and houses populate the slopes of the hills leading up the Baou.

Once on the belvédère the dancers take center stage. The musicians form a large semi-circle and the dancers fall into place in front of them. As the music begins the dancers perform a series of traditional dances to the delight of the crowd gathered to watch them.

Twirling, spinning and winding around the small square the dancers make the most of the available space. Sometimes forming a long line which curls and twists back and forth, sometimes forming a large circle, they move in and around each other with a skill and finesse that demonstrates talent and expertise. Many of the women hold the large semi-hoops covered with flowers in the air as they dance. At one point the ends of all the hoops are placed in a large earthen jar held by a male dancers and the women form a circle around the jar. To me its a wonderful symbol of individuality, harmony and unity. Each of the dancers continues to hold one end of their hoop while the other ends are all collected together.

It’s impossible to say just how far back in time the art of dancing goes. Certainly some form of dancing has existed since prehistoric times. The traditional dances that are today still alive throughout Provence and southeast France date back hundreds and hundreds of years. In the 1600s, during the reign of King Louis XIV, Jean-Baptiste Colbert (one of his most important ministers) ordered that the military officers under his authority practice dancing on a regular basis. His reasons were twofold: first, to enhance their strength and flexibility and second, to improve their standing in society. Many of these officers would later retire to Provence bringing with them the dances they had learned.

There are at least 17 specific dances today grouped together as “Provençal” dances. They are often divided into 4 distinct categories:

Cosmic or astral dances relating to the sun and the moon. The Cordelles is one such dance which features a solar themed wheel.

Trade dances which celebrate various professions and types of employment. The Spinners is a dance related to the spinning of wool into yarn that links this profession to the events of daily life and destiny.

Fertility dances that mimic the cycle of life: seed, germination, growth and harvesting. A dance known as the Harvest comes from the Ubaye Valley and portrays an actual drama as much as a dance.

Seduction dances that symbolize romance and sexuality. The Gavote, popular in the 17th century as a ball or theater dance, is one such dance, usually performed by couples.

Into the Old Town

From the belvedere the group moves through the ancient Peyra Gate into the old town. Past the Peyra Fountain and Place du Peyra they wind their way through the narrow twisted streets of this medieval village, eventually coming to a stop in Place Clemenceau in front of the Hôtel de Ville (the town hall).

Later in the day there will be even more festivities, but for now, it’s time to regroup and rest. It’s certainly not the biggest parade to be found in this part of France. There are no floats covered with local flowers winding through the streets like you’ll find at many other celebrations in this part of the country. It’s simple and it’s modest. Just a group of men and women dedicated to keeping the old traditions alive through song and dance. The pure, honest nature of this little parade make it one of my favorite yearly celebrations in Vence.

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About the Famous Provençals

Luis Funel was born in nearby Bouyon in 1859. A writer, a poet and a teacher, he taught in Aix-en-Provence, Nice, Saint-Paul-de-Vence and Vence. His written works include La Flor d’Amour (1882), Lei Masjan (1884), Viouletto Fero (1893) and more. When he retired in 1923 he chose Vence as his home, staying active in the movement to revive and maintain the Provençal customs and culture. He died in 1929. A small street in Vence, at the edge of the Grand Jardin, bears his name today.

Victor Tuby was born in Cannes in 1888. In 1919 he founded the Académie Provençale in Cannes, bringing together poets, musicians, singers and dancers all intent on preserving the heritage and culture of the region. Today there are statues and plaques dedicated to Tuby (many created by his friend Felibre) throughout the area, including Nice, Le Cannet, Avignon, Saint-Tropez and Saint-Raphaël. He died in 1945. An important street in Vence, where the Post Office can be found today, is named in his honor.

Frédéric Mistral was born in Maillane (just south of Avignon) in 1830. Along with six other Provençal poets he formed a literary school known as Lou Felibrige in 1854. He died in 1914. In 1930, to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of his birth a small square in Vence next to the Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs was inaugurated in his name. A large plaque was affixed to the side of the chapel that remains there today.

Fernand Moutet was another Provençal poet. Born in Arles in 1913 he was awarded the prestigious Frédéric-Mistral Prize in 1957. He lived and taught in Vence for many years before his death in 1993 in Antibes.


Vence can easily be reached from just about anywhere in France by taking the A8 until you get to Cagnes-sur-Mer. If you are coming from the east get off on Exit 48 and if you are coming from the west you’ll want Exit 47. Take the M336, then the M36 and finally the M236 north into Vence. The most accessible parking is in the Parking du Grand Jardin, right next to the old town. Parking Toreille and Marie Antoinette Parking are both close by as well. The Vence Office de Tourisme is just across the street from the Grand Jardin. This parade starts at a corner of the Grand Jardin.

Juste les Faits:
What: Défilé hommage aux provençaux célèbres- Tribute Parade to Famous Provençals
Where: Vence (Alpes-Maritimes) (Google Maps)
When: Easter Weekend
Phone: Vence Office de Tourisme: +33 04 93 58 06 38
Facebook: vencetourisme

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