History of Pétanque

The below article has appeared on several websites and in Pétanque - Boules Down Under by Egon Pozniak.

Pétanque is generally recognised to have started at La Ciotat, Provence, in 1907. Below is a translation of a testament written by Ernest Pitiot for the French Federation, explaining exactly how the game started. (The English translation is by A Lot of Gaul of the Brighton and Hove Pétanque Club.)

The first thing to note is that Pétanque is claimed to have started in 1910, not 1907. However, the game's Centenary was celebrated with a World Pétanque Day on June 2, 2007!

The Origins of Pétanque

“It was in 1910 at La Ciotat, Bouches du Rhone, at the Beraud boules terrain that I used to run with my brother, that the game of pétanque was born.

All the great Jeu Provençal players of the region used to meet under the large plane trees at Beraud: from Marseille Grand-Jean, le Blond, Lombard nickname le Noir, Petit-Paul; from Toulouse, le Grele, le Pice, Chibalon, le Moult, the brothers Espanet de la Garde; from Ciotat Pinot, big Cesaire, Saint Jean, etc. All the top players used to play le Jeu Provençal for money every day with several shopkeepers from the town, games that used to attract a large number of spectators - who were allowed, for 5 centimes, to take a chair to follow the games but far too often they would stop the boules that were shot, for being seated they couldn't get up fast enough.

We therefore took away the chairs to keep the players happy who, quite rightly, used to complain.

This decision was against the wishes of a good customer and friend "Jules le Noir", a shopkeeper at La Ciotat who, crippled by rheumatism, could no longer hardly stand on his legs. Exceptionally, we granted him permission to have a chair on the condition that he would carefully keep to the side of the circle drawn on the ground before the jack was thrown and where the players regularly used to leave their boules while waiting their turn.

And from there, our JULES who could no longer participate in any game, used to amuse himself shooting at 1.5 or 2 metres with the boules left by the circle. "I'm practising" he used to say to me. Very well one day, certain of pleasing him, I offered to play with him, without moving, "feet together" from 2 to 3 metres and we played.

The next day we started again just like the following days. The old players, who numbered quite a few, watched how we played, well enough that my brother organised a competition for the following Saturday. There were 8 teams of 2 players with a first prize of 10 Francs.

"Pétanque" was born.

Subsequent competitions were successful and we played from 3 to 5 metres.

The game spread throughout the region, but thanks to numerous sailors, to builders from La Ciotat, that it took a rapid hold, because these sailors used to play "Pétanque" in all the ports where they used to stop over.

The game that was known casually as "feet together" "feet fixed" or "Pétanque" finally became "Pétanque" during the preparation of the official rules by the Languedoc-Rousillon Federation of which I'm one of the founder members and President for several years.

E. Pitiot

With all my thanks to the Council at La Ciotat.

Signed: E. Pitiot”