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Le Jeu de Boules July 01 2017, 0 Comments

A Brief History of Pétanque

In our last month’s release we talked about Pastis and told you that Pétanque will be the topic of July. Why ? Pétanque & Pastis are intimately associated in Provence. For many locals it is inconceivable to play Pétanque without a glass (or more) of Pastis! 

A game of Pétanque is a moment to share and chill; a tradition deeply rooted in Provence. At the beginning of summer, when the weather is hot and dry, in all villages’ center you will see squares of Pétanque filled with players; old and young playing together. 


Anyone using the word “Pétanque" is not really a local of Provence!

Here we say “Boules”, witch is the name of the metal ball used in the French game of Pétanque. The city of Marseille is the undisputed capital du “Jeu de Boules”. Each year in early July the city hosts the world championship of Boules, created in 1962 by the pastis king, Paul Ricard. As you can see the Boules and Pastis cannot be separated! 

The tournament attracts over 4,000 teams and 12,000 players from a wide range of countries, including China and Madagascar, as well as from across Europe and North America. The tournament is cosmopolitan and universal and everybody can participate. During this week of tournament the city of Marseille takes the rhythm of Pétanque.

Today, around 17 million of French people play Pétanque  (almost 30% of the population of France). Pétanque has become very popular and you will see people from Wall Street playing Pétanque in New York or some Hollywood executives having a chilling moment with Pétanque in Santa Monica, California. The Pétanque is now worldwide !


The game has a long history. Papyrus scrolls with image of players and boules have been found within Egyptian tombs, and some clues shows that Pétanque was introduced to France by Antique Rome. In Italy, at the beginning of the 16th century, Pope Julius II formed the first Vatican Team which almost always won against its opponents. I wonder why :-) ! King Charles IV and Charles V of France forbade the sport to commoners; only in the 17th century was the ban lifted. During these hard times, Pétanque was being played in secret, especially in monasteries. 


What are the rules ?

At the beginning the Pétanque boules were stone balls then made of wood. The steel ones  appeared in the 20th century. They all have different marking line patterns to know which is who.

You play on a plane area made of fine gravel. Like the best games, the Pétanque has two characteristics: simple and very strategic. 

You can play one versus one, a duel ; or you can play teams versus teams (3 persons against 3 others). You play with six metal boules and a small wooden jack that Provence inhabitant called a “Cochonnet” (little pig) or a “bouchon” (plug). If you are playing in a duel, you will get 3 boules and if you are playing in a team, you only get 2. The game is won by the team or the person that reaches 13 points first. 


The aim of the Pétanque is to get your boule(s) the closest to the Cochonnet. The number of points you get depends on the number of boules you will have closer than the opponent(s) ones.  

For instance, if your boules are the blue ones, on the first picture you will get 1 point and on the second one you will get 3 points. 



At the beginning the starter will draw a circle around him in the gravels and launch the “Cochonnet” to a minimum of 7 meters (23 ft) and a maximum of 10 meters (33 ft). During the game if you hit and push the Cochonnet away with your boule, the distance must not exceed 20 meters (66 ft) from the drawn circle.


« Tu tires ou tu pointes ? »


There are 2 basic styles of play: 

“Pointer” or pointing involves placing your ball accurately: at the closest distance to the Cochonnet as possible or in front of the cochonnet to block your opponent’s boules access to it.

“Tirer”, or shooting: the aim is to knock your opponent's ball out of the game area. 

Players generally specialize in one or the other game style. In a team of 3 people, it is best to have one person who is good at both styles, shooter and pointer. He should be the last to play on your team.


Good to know:

Before being a sport, the Pétanque is fun and entertaining. It is an easy game to play with your family and your children. For instance you will be able to get a pack of fluorescent 

plastic balls for the younger children. This is a fun outdoor game, made to have a good time with family, friend, next door neighbors or even strangers met few minutes ago by a Pétanque game area or on the beach! 


Every Provençaux (inhabitant of Provence) have experimented a game of Pétanque in the shadow of a big plane tree.  Our recommendation: conclude this moment with a Calisson by Gilles coupled with a thirst slaking glass of Pastis. 

The good life of Provence !



About The Author:

Gilles Cailleaux is the Owner & Master Confectioner at By Gilles, an online French candy store based in Orange County, California. They sell traditional French confections called Calissons from Provence. Gilles is always ready to share his 25 years plus experience of candy making and baking with everyone and want to hear about your experience with his calissons. Gilles and his team are sensitive about taste and harmony. They prepare your packages with special care and attention.

by Gilles
23416 Caminito Valle Laguna Hills Orange County, CA 92653 United States 800-334-2081 gilles@bygilles.com
by Gilles
23416 Caminito Valle Laguna Hills Orange County, CA 92653 United States
800-334-2081 gilles@bygilles.com