The origins of pétanque and how to play it

There’s a certain romance in the simplicity of throwing a ball.

From the dusty streets of ancient Greece to the manicured lawns of modern-day England, games that center on this straightforward activity have remained a cornerstone of human leisure.

Yet, amidst the multitude of ball-based pastimes, one game in particular has stood the test of time, uniting friends, families, and entire communities with its charming allure. Enter the world of Pétanque — a game so quintessentially French, its history is as rich and nuanced as the finest Bordeaux.

See also: 8 best CrossFit gyms in Paris

Photo by cottonbro studio

The Birth of Pétanque
The roots of Pétanque can be traced back to ancient Greece, where games involving tossed coins and stones were popular. However, it was not until the early 20th century, in the sun-drenched region of Provence, France, that Pétanque took its modern form. Legend tells of a local champion named Jules Lenoir, who was stricken by rheumatism and could no longer partake in La Jeu Provençal, a similar boules game that required a run-up.

Determined to continue his passion, Lenoir invented a new version of the game that could be played from a static position, in a small circle drawn on the ground. Hence, Pétanque — derived from the Provençal dialect ‘pieds tanqués’ or ‘feet anchored’ – was born.

The Evolution and Global Influence of Pétanque
Since those humble beginnings, Pétanque has grown to become not just a popular French pastime but a global phenomenon. The first Pétanque World Championships were held in 1959, and today, the game is played in over 100 countries, with a massive following in regions as diverse as Asia, North Africa, and Europe.

In recent years, it has also made a splash in the United States, where ‘boules’ themed bars and restaurants have begun to sprout up, offering a unique blend of casual competition and social interaction.

The Allure of Pétanque
Pétanque’s beauty lies in its accessibility. It requires minimal equipment, can be played almost anywhere, and welcomes players of all ages and abilities. With no need for physical prowess or agility, the game instead relies on precision, strategy, and a dash of luck. It is a game of skill, but also a game of social bonding, where the spirit of camaraderie often overshadows the competitive aspect.

A Beginner’s Guide to Playing Pétanque
Ready to step into the circle? Here’s a simple guide to get you started:

Equipment: You’ll need a set of boules (typically metallic balls weighing between 650g to 800g each) and a small wooden ball known as a ‘cochonnet’ or ‘jack’.

Setting Up: Draw a circle about 50 cm in diameter on a flat surface. This will be your throwing spot. Then, standing within the circle, throw the ‘cochonnet’ between six to ten meters away.

Playing the Game: Each player (or team) takes turns throwing their boules, aiming to get as close as possible to the ‘cochonnet’. You can also aim to knock your opponent’s boules away from the ‘cochonnet’ — a strategic move known as a ‘carreau’.

Scoring: The round ends when all boules have been thrown. The team with the boule closest to the ‘cochonnet’

Leave a Reply