Boule de fort (France)
Name of sport (game)
Name in native language
Place of practice (continent, state, nation)
Val de Loire (neighboring departments), France
The boule de fort is a traditional game of the Pays de la Loire classified in the inventory of French intangible cultural heritage. It appeared in the Anjou region in 1660. Many legends and beliefs are running about it. The most widespread version tells that mariners of the Loire would have taken the habit of playing at the bottom of their boats. This would explain the curved shape of the runway similar to a boat hold. But, this form could also come from ball games made in the moat of the castles of the Loire. Nevertheless, all agree that the appearance of societies or ball circles dates from the early nineteenth century.
The origin of the boule de fort game is rather mysterious. There are a lot of different theories about it. Some say, the game was first brought to the Loire valley by English and Dutch merchants who played a similar game called “boulingrin” (“bowling green” or “lawn bowl” in English as a reference to grass fields) which was popular all over the Commonwealth. In some parts of Belgium and the Netherlands as well as in the North of France (around Tourcoing, Lille, …), people played “bourle” which is also similar to “boule de fort”. In fact, nobody really knows where this sport comes from, but this doesn’t keep people from playing!
The boule de fort is a game that involves throwing balls to get as close as possible to a pig called master or small (of a size between 80 and 90 mm) in order to score points. The difficulty stems from the fact that one side of the ball is heavier (stronger) and leads them in its direction, and the edges of the runway resemble a gutter section. The balls can take more than a minute to reach their destination from where very long parts, up to three hours. A game is usually played between teams of 2 or 3 players with 2 balls each. Sometimes games are played at 1 to 1 with 3 balls per player and sometimes at 4 to 4 with 1 ball each. The winning team is the one that scored 10 points the first.
The “boule de fort” clubs or circles are convivial places where people meet to play and train for challenges, but also to have a chat. Maintenance fees are payed with the income of the refreshment bar.
Today, clubs are open to everybody, but it was not always like this: up to the 1970s, women were not allowed in the clubs and newcomers could only be admitted when sponsored by a club member.
La Fédération de Boule de Fort created in 1907 has continued to evolve since then to become la Fédération Française de Boule de Fort.
la Fédération Française de Boule de Fort
4 rue La Bruyère
49100 Angers, Pays de Loire
Sources of information
Marc Leclerc, Notre boule Angevine, Éditions de l'Ouest, 1933
Émile Joulain, La boule de fort, Paquereau Technographis, 1976
Denis Libeau et Émile Joulain, La boule de fort, Éditions Herault, 1986
Joël Guibert, Joueurs de boules en pays nantais, L'Harmattan, 1994
André-Hubert Hérault et Denis Libeau, Voyage au pays de la boule de fort, Éditions Hérault, 1999
Max Ménard, Histoire de la boule de fort: histoire de la société "les Artisans" 1829-1998, M. Ménard (Impr. Copie Boutique), 1999
Jacques Sigot, Les dossiers de la mémoire, La boule de fort, Éditions C.M.D., 2000
André Hubert Hérault et Denis Libeau, Voyage au pays de la boule de fort, Hérault, 1999
Jean-Luc Marais, Histoire d'une sociabilité du 18è siècle à nos jours, Anjou, Maine, Touraine; Éditeur: Jean-Luc Marais Et Éditions Ivan Davy, 1986
Photos credits: Guillaume Lanouhe, Association Brev’Art
Lieux : Boule de Fort, Le Soleil Levant, Tours - France