If you’ve been to Provence you have surely driven past many of these houses. My curiosity about the history and purpose of these buildings got the better of me, so I thought I would spend a little time on research…
A Mas is a traditional farmhouse in the shape of a long rectangle, or sometimes an L shape with two sloping roofs. A stairway, often in the centre, leads to a corridor on the upper floor which is usually on the north side of the house and opens onto the bedrooms. The upper floor also has space for storing feed and grain, and even for the raising of silkworms. Towards the Camargue the building design is 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.
A mas was largely self-sufficient with its own fruit, vegetables, grain, milk, meat and sometimes silkworms. It was constructed with inexpensive local materials; stones or wood from the area. Not every farmhouse in Provence is a mas. A mas was distinct from the other traditional kind of house in Provence, the bastide, which was the home of a wealthy family.
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. The mas found in the mountains and in the Camargue sometimes has a more complex shape.
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.
In recent years the traditional mas of Provence and Catalonia have become much sought after and transformed into expensive homes and vacation homes. If you thought they were primitive dwellings then you might want to check out this website: http://mas-collection.com/n3.html