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What is a Mas?

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A Mas is a traditional farmhouse found in the Provence and Midi regions of France, as well as in Catalonia (Spain) where it is also named Masia.

Built as a largely self-sufficient economic unit, it could produce its own fruit, vegetables, grain, milk, meat and even silkworms. It was constructed of local stone, with the kitchen and room for animals on the ground floor, and bedrooms, storage places for food and often a room for raising silkworms on the upper floor. Not every farmhouse in Provence is a Mas.

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Among the different kinds of Mas in Provence, there are two characteristic types:

1) The Mas of Luberon has the form of a long rectangle, or sometimes an L shape. A stairway, often in the centre, leads to a corridor on the upper floor, usually on the north side of the house, which opens onto the bedrooms. The upper floor also has space for storing forage for the animals and grain, and for the raising of Silkworms. The room where the silkworms were raised was called the magnanerie.

2) The Mas of the Camargue is strongly influenced by the climate and the environment, and resembles a Spanish hacienda, with large spaces, white walls, an interior court and buildings in the form of a U for the residence and stables.

The size of a Mas depended upon the wealth and number of its original occupants: from 150 square metres to over 1,000 square meters, including the barn and other structures. As the family grew larger the mas would be made longer to accommodate them.

When a Mas is small, and is occupied by a single family with a small area of land, it is called a mazet, or petit mas.

The Mas was always built of inexpensive local materials; stones or wood from the area. The walls of the mas along the River Durance were made from river stones; those of Gordes of limestone, and those of Roussillon and the rest of Catalonia of red stones and clay.

In recent years the traditional Mas of Provence and Catalonia have become much sought after and transformed into expensive homes and vacation homes

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The Mas of Provence and Catalonia always faces to the south to offer protection against the mistral wind coming from the north. And because of the mistral, there are no windows facing north, while on all the other sides, windows are narrow to protect against the heat of summer and the cold of winter. A Mas is almost always rectangular, with two sloping roofs. The Mas found in the mountains and in the Camargue sometimes has a more complex shape.

The word Mas also designates country houses in parts of Provence. Originally this was the working farm, attached to an estate or independent. There is some overlap between the terms mas and bastide, however. Provençal gentry never separated beauty and productivity, so that orchards and vineyards spread around their homes like vast parterres. At the same time, an independent farmer of humble origin might himself become quite wealthy.

A Mas is built near a spring, usually in a hollow, while the bastide sits on a rise from which it can command the countryside. Its owners can afford to have water piped in if necessary. The mas usually is made of rough- hewn stone, whilewhereas the bastide covers these with a kind of cement and lime wash, either rose, golden, or ocher toned. The bastide is generally square or rectangular and has a second story. Its windows are placed symmetrically around a central entrance which that

Some compare the Provençal Bastide to the Tuscan villa, both being 'a kind of rural habitat which combines an aristocratic or middle-class residence with a working farm and gardens'.

 

THE BASTIDE

A Mas was distinct from the other traditional kind of house in Provence, the Bastide, which was the home of a wealthy family.

The Bastide was a sound and lucrative investment, a country home and a place for leisure and repose. By the luxury of its appointments and the charm of its gardens, it betokened membership in the class privileged by Fortune.

There are hundreds of examples surrounding the city of Aix-en-Provence where Parliament met, seat also of the lawcourts and tax authorities until the French Revolution of 1789. Owners here first imitated foreign fashions—primarily Italian and Parisian—before evolving a style of their own. In the nineteenth century, bastides clustered mainly around the thriving port of Marseille. Many owners of prestigious urban townhouses always had country bastides as well.

In Provence then, as in Italy, every city had a peppering of stately homes outside town, summer retreats whose owners escaped the heat of town to supervise the farming. Their elegant living was largely financed by the harvest. In Grasse, however, families owed their fortunes largely to the perfume industry. As the city expanded, the medieval stronghold was surrounded by a ring of bastides, each named for a saint.

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Join the 5 May 2019 'Country Roads France in Style' tour and stay 4 consecutive nights in a typical 'Mas' in Aix en Provence !