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History of Boules

The boule game (Petanque) originates from ancient ball games which were played in Egypt over 5,000 years ago. Some excavations indicate even 5,000 BC. The boules were played with round stones in ancient Greece where the more difficult version of the game was preferred, which consisted in throwing the balls to the farthest distance. Roman legionaries helped spread the game further and took it across the whole Mediterranean. In contrast to the Greeks, the Romans were more into precision and technique. They used wooden balls covered in iron; they were the first to use the jack in the game. It was in this form that the boule game spread throughout Europe, adopting numerous versions: bocce (Italy), boules (France), bowls (British Isles), bolle (Holland), bolle rolle (Belgium).

The boule game was very popular in the Middle Ages. Its popularity was so immense that it bothered the rulers of France (Charles IV and V), which led to the game being banned. In the early 16th century, the players found a supporter in the Pope Julius II who, wanting the Holy See to return to Italy, gathered the best players into a team which was to be undefeated at throwing stones.
In 1629, the boule game became illegal again. The makers of a competing game called “paurnes” (predecessor of tennis), angry with the popularity of petanque, formed a conspiracy. Their plan succeeded. The boule game was forbidden again. However, the ban was not respected and people secretly met to enjoy their favourite entertainment. The venues were often monasteries. It is assumed that the monks were the first constructors of indoor boulodromes. Fortunately, the ban was cancelled after a few years.

Boules returned to France with the Franco-Italian war. The popularity of the game grew in both countries. Rabelais used to say “Neither rheumatism nor other ailments can stop anyone from this game. It is suitable for people of any age, old and young.”

Today’s formula of the game was created throughout several centuries. In 1910, a group of players practising jeu provencal decided to simplify the game to make it more common due to the scale of the physical effort to be put in, by reducing the distance of throws. This led to establishing changes in the game rules and, consequently, to creating petanque (from Provencal words ped tanco, French tanquśs: “feet together”), where the throws are static. These simplifications made petanque spread far beyond Provence, not only across France but also in other countries: Switzerland and Belgium. The game is also known in Canada and Australia, inhabited by French origin minorities. This way petanque reached other corners of the world and gained a lot of fans.

In 1987, in the Singapore stadium Toa Payoh the first tournament was held called “Petanque Open” with participation of 66 teams (including the French national team), treated as the first world championships.
The Federation Internationale de Petanque et Jeu Provencal, established in 1958 in Marseilles, is the main international organisation, associating over 600,000 licensed players from 57 countries. The Polish Petanque Federation has been its member since 2003.

Poland welcomed the boule game after the Second World War with repatriates returning from France who brought the balls with them. They settled in the Regained Territories, especially in the south of Poland, in the Lower Silesia. This is reflected in the petanque popularity map of Poland. In cities, such as Wrocław there are several petanque clubs, whereas, for example, in Szczecin there are none and few people have heard about the game. Other important petanque centres in Poland are Żywiec, Jedlina Zdrój, Wrocław, Dzierżoniów, Warszawa, Łódź.

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