Watching and listening to a game of pétanque is experiencing a slice of Mediterranean history that dates back over 2,000 years.
The ancient Greeks are thought to have inspired this relatively simple game. The first contests consisted of throwing coins, flat stones, and then stone balls as far as the thrower could.
The ancient Romans modified the game by making it less about brute force and more about hand and eye coordination. They added a small ball that would be thrown out at the beginning.
The object of the game is to get more balls closer to the small ball than your opponent.
The game has many variations and goes by many different names, including boules, bocce, or bowls (bowling). Often times the variations come down to whether the ball is thrown or rolled, whether the thrower is allowed to take steps before throwing, what type of material is used to construct the balls, and what shape the balls have.
Over time, stone balls were replaced by wooden balls. However, after a surge in popularity in the game in the 1920s, a shortage in the traditional boxwood used to carve the wooden balls led to the creation and adoption of metallic balls.
Today, metallic balls are most common in French pétanque. However, plastic balls are also used around the world.
During a recent visit to the stone village of Uzès in southern France, I had a chance to capture video of a game in progress. A bottle of wine, ideally a Provençal rosé, is usually obligatory for any seriously lighthearted game.
The village of Uzès is located in a fascinating corner of France. The famous Pont du Gard aqueduct and other incredible Roman ruins are located nearby.
If you plan on visiting, drop me a line! It would be great to hear your thoughts about the area.