The land of the troubadours

The land of the troubadours

When we try to locate the troubadour area geographically, we end up with a rather imprecise description —‘the South of France’ or ‘the French Midi’—, in contrast to other movements associated with a current political state (such as the trouvères in France or the Minnesänger in Germany). As these vague terms do not adequately define the geographical, historical, and political reality of the troubadour movement, but rather invite us to think about current coordinates, the term Occitania was revived at the beginning of the 19th century. Not entirely unproblematic itself, it does nevertheless allow us to provide a better overview of the movement’s historical and territorial aspects.

Why 'Occitania'?

Etymologically, both ‘Occitania’ and ‘Occitan’ derive from ‘lingua d’oc’, the term used by Dante Alighieri to identify the language of the troubadours, and distinguish it from the language of northern France, called ‘lingua d’oïl’. These terms refer to the forms for the affirmative adverb ‘yes’ in both languages. In fact, the term ‘Occitania’ is first recorded at the end of the 13th century and during the 14th century it was adopted by the chancery of the kings of France.

As Robert Lafont comments: ‘The name Occitania was invented by the Capetian chancery at the end of the 13th century to designate the recently annexed countries and reclaimed Aquitaine, where a different language to the king’s was spoken, but one that was well defined by its administrative and literary use. The term was employed until the French Revolution, and then restored by the 19th-century “felibres” [members of an Occitan cultural movement]. Today it is widely used, in both social and official contexts’ (Lafont 2003: 17).

The name, therefore, largely reflects a vision of the inhabitants of the south from outside, in particular the north. Nowadays it is used to identify the lands where Occitan language and culture originated and developed. It avoids the confusion associated with the term ‘provençal’ which was formerly used for the language and culture of the troubadours but which makes no differentiation between that and the adjective for Provence, a discrete region within the Occitan territory.

Troubadour Occitania

The historical territory of Occitania is more extensive than today’s administrative region.1 In fact its roots date back to the same time as the genesis of the troubadour movement at the end of the 12th century, and its identity is largely tied to this movement. Although it is formed of the territories where this cultural tradition originated and underwent its early development, troubadour Occitania extended well beyond these lands. Identifying those territories associated with the troubadours is a complex task given that the tradition lasted for many centuries, and precise dating and geographical delimitation is difficult.

Troubadour territories c. 1200

The criteria for identifying this territory have been heterogeneous and this has produced widely divergent results. For example, if we were to focus on the territories where the first troubadours came from, in other words the areas in which Occitan originated and developed, we would be dealing only with Occitania (the historical region). On other occasions, the linguistic frontier has been used to delimit the troubadour area, even though this would exclude the earliest troubadours, as we can see from many maps of the troubadour world (see area 1 [Àmbit 1] in the Contents [Continguts] section of El noble esforç). If we also include those territories that adopted Occitan as their poetic language and which were thus incorporated into the troubadour world, we need to extend the boundaries to include northern Italy and the Catalan-Aragonese kingdom. In fact, we could even include most of Europe if we take into account those territories that shared the troubadour cultural movement in a broader sense, adapting it to their own language and culture.

In the absence of a territory under the aegis of a dominant political power, the delimitation of historical Occitania depends to a considerable extent on linguistic and cultural markers. In this sense, it would encompass the territories that lie between the Bay of Biscay and the western Alps, and between the French Massif Central, the Mediterranean, and the central Pyrenees. All told, it would coincide by and large with what is today described as the French Midi region. In the period of the troubadour movement’s expansion (in general terms between the 11th and 13th centuries), this broad territory included more or less well defined geographical entities such as Aquitaine, Gascony, Toulouse, Limoges, Auvergne, Dauphiné, and Provence (Riquer 1975: 10). Furthermore, the Occitan language has survived beyond the limits of the current French state, in territories like the Vall d’Aran in Catalonia, the Alpine valleys of the Italian region of Piedmont, and the principality of Monaco.

Beyond Occitania

As well as historical Occitania, other frontier territories adopted the language and culture of the troubadours as their own. These too can be considered troubadour lands: northern Italy and the Crown of Aragon. There are also other places that the troubadours travelled to, stayed in, and where there was an exchange of influences, but where the local aristocracy and educated elite did not adopt Occitan. These cannot therefore be considered among the territories where the troubadour movement was fully adopted.

In Italy, troubadour poetry reached Bologna, whose university had students from Occitania, where it flourished under the protection of certain mainly north Italian courts, such as those of the Malaspina, the marquises of Monferrat, the Arduinici, the House of Este and the Da Romano brothers. Occitan troubadours like Raimbaut de Vaqueiras and Uc de Saint Circ were welcomed by these aristocratic families, and more than twenty troubadours of Italian origin were active mainly between Italy and Occitania: among the most well known are Sordello, Lanfranc Cigala, and Bonifaci Calvo. As well as these close relationships, Italy was the production centre for songbooks par excellence, and was as a result a key location for the preservation and consolidation of the troubadour tradition.

The domains of the kings of Aragon and the counts of Barcelona also became troubadour lands which adopted the troubadour language and poetry as their own. It is worth noting that these were the only monarchs in the troubadour area and that the House of Barcelona protected the troubadour culture and adopted it as an emblem. In several cases examples of its poetic output have survived. The pioneer in this respect was Alfons the Chaste, the first troubadour king, but he was followed by his successors, in particular Pere the Great. Through the poetry that they promoted, these monarchs managed to project a personal image of themselves as ideal princes, even justify some of their more controversial political decisions, or attack their enemies. The Catalan courts welcomed prestigious troubadours such as Giraut de Bornelh and Peire Vidal; others emerged there from among the vassals of the kings of Aragon, such as Guillem de Berguedà, Guillem de Cabestany, and the prolific Cerverí de Girona.

M. Victoria Rodríguez Winiarski (2018) 

Cookies help us deliver our services. By using our services, you agree to our use of cookies Learn more