Boules (French pronunciation: ​[bul]) is a collective name for a wide range of games similar to bowls and bocce (In French: jeu or jeux, in Italian: gioco or giochi) in which the objective is to throw or roll heavy balls (called boules in France, and bocce in Italy) as close as possible to a small target ball, called the jack in English.

Boules-type games are traditional and popular in many European countries and are also popular in some former French colonies in Africa and Asia. Boules games are often played in open spaces (town squares and parks) in villages and towns. Dedicated playing areas for boules-type games are typically large, level, rectangular courts made of flattened earth, gravel, or crushed stone, enclosed in wooden rails or back boards.

Boules games in history

Gavarni - Le joueur de boules 1858
Boules player, by Paul Gavarni, 1858.

As early as the 6th century BC the ancient Greeks are recorded to have played a game of tossing coins, then flat stones, and later stone balls, called spheristics, trying to have them go as far as possible. The ancient Romans modified the game by adding a target that had to be approached as closely as possible. This Roman variation was brought to Provence by Roman soldiers and sailors. A Roman sepulchre in Florence shows people playing this game, stooping down to measure the points.[1]

After the Romans, the stone balls were replaced by wooden balls. In the Middle Ages, Erasmus referred to the game as globurum in Latin, but it became commonly known as boules (i.e. 'balls'), and it was played throughout Europe. King Henry III of England banned the playing of the game by his archers – he wanted them to be practicing archery, not playing boules. In the 14th century, Charles IV and Charles V of France forbade the sport to commoners; only in the 17th century was the ban lifted.[2]

By the 19th century, in England the game had become bowls or "lawn bowling". In France it was known as boules and was played throughout the country. The French artist Meissonnier made two paintings showing people playing the game, and Honoré de Balzac described a match in La Comédie Humaine.

In the South of France, the game evolved into jeu provençal (or boule lyonnaise), in which players rolled their boules or ran three steps before throwing a boule. The game was extremely popular in France in the second half of the 19th century (the first official club was established in France in 1854). It was played informally in villages all over Provence, usually on squares of land in the shade of plane trees. Matches of jeu provençal around the start of the 20th century are memorably described in the memoirs of novelist Marcel Pagnol.

In 1910, an offshoot of jeu provençal called pétanque was developed in the town of La Ciotat, in Provence. It eventually became the dominant boules sport in France, and is widely played in other European countries.


Boules games may be sub-divided into two categories based on typical throwing technique:

  • games where the balls are rolled (for example, bocce)
  • games where the balls are thrown (for example, pétanque, bocce volo)

Boules games may also be subdivided into two other categories based on typical throwing technique:

  • games where there is a "run up" to the throw (for example, boule lyonnaise, bocce volo)
  • games where there is no "run up" to the throw (for example, pétanque)

Alternatively, boules games may be subdivided into categories based on the structure and material of the ball:

  • games where the balls are solid and made out of wood, or a wood-like plastic, composite, or epoxy resin similar to billiard balls (for example, bocce)
  • games where the balls are hollow and made out of metal, typically steel or bronze (for example, pétanque, bocce volo)
  • games where the balls are stuffed and made out of leather or some similar soft material (boccia, "soft pétanque")

Alternatively, boules games may be subdivided into categories based on the shape of the ball:

  • games where the balls are spherical (most boules games)
  • games where the balls are not spherical, but have a shape bias designed to cause the ball to travel a curved path (bowls)

There may be other variations as well, for instance in the way the ball is launched, in the dimensions of the playing area, whether obstacles (such as trees) are considered in-bounds or out-of-bounds, and whether it is legal to play balls off of enclosing boards or obstacles.

  • Balls are typically thrown underhand (as in softball) rather than overhand (as in baseball). In games where the balls are rolled, the delivery is typically done with the palm of the hand up, whereas in games where the balls are thrown, the delivery is typically done palm down. A palm-down delivery can give a thrown ball backspin, which helps to keep it from rolling away from the spot to which it has been thrown.
  • Bocce, a rolling game, is played on a smooth, prepared court with markers and sideboards; the sideboards are a recognized part of the game and shots may be bounced off of the sideboards. In contrast, pétanque, a throwing game, can be played on almost any relatively flat, unprepared outdoor surface. Sideboards are not a recognized part of the game — although an out-of-play line (or "dead boule line") is.

Finally, some boules games (bocce, pétanque) began as variations of earlier games, deliberately created and designed to accommodate the needs of players with physical disabilities.

Such variations produce a wide variety of boules-type games played all over the world.


  • Boule is a French word for 'ball'.
  • Boccia (plural: bocce) is an Italian word for 'ball'
  • Volo (roughly, 'flying' or 'in flight') is derived from the Italian verb volare meaning 'to fly'
  • The small wooden target ball is usually called the jack in English, le but ('target') or cochonnet ('piglet') in French, or pallino ('little ball' or 'bullet') in Italian.

In Italian bocce, balls may be thrown in three ways: punto, raffa and volo.[3]

  • A punto shot or puntata is the way of pointing a ball by rolling the ball as close as possible to the pallino.
  • A raffa or raffata shot is the way of knocking an opponent's ball away that is very close to the pallino by rolling very fast. The player is allowed to make a run of two to four steps before he delivers his ball.
  • A volo shot is the way of hitting an opponent's ball that is very close to the pallino by throwing through the air and hitting directly the opponent's boule (or the pallino), with the restriction that the ball may first strike the ground within 50 cm of the target.


There is a wide variation in the size and materials of the balls used in boules-type games.

Originally, in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, the balls were probably made of stone.

Gallic tribes, which were introduced to boules by the Romans, used wooden boules. In the 1800s in France, boules were typically made of a very hard wood, boxwood root.

In the mid-1800s techniques were developed for the mass production of iron nails. Following this technological improvement, boxwood balls studded with nails (boules cloutées) were introduced in an effort to improve the durability of the balls. This eventually led to the development of balls that were completely covered in nails, creating a ball that appeared almost to be made of metal.

By the 1920s, the growing popularity of boules in France created a demand that could not be satisfied using the available supplies of natural boxwood root, which were beginning to disappear. Paul Courtieu and Vincent Miles had the idea of manufacturing a ball made entirely of metal. Avoiding steel-based alloys (which were too hard and rust-prone) they developed an alloy based on aluminum and bronze, and (in 1923) patented a metal ball made of two welded-together hemispheres. A year later, in 1924, they filed a patent for a ball that was cast in a single piece -- La Boule intégrale. Louis Tarchier and Jean Blanc are generally credited with developing, around 1925, the process by which virtually all metal boules are manufactured today -- steel blanks are pressed into hollow hemispheres which are then soldered together and machined to make a hollow steel boule.[4][5]

Today, some boules sports (e.g. bocce) still use wooden (or epoxy composite) balls, while others (e.g. pétanque) use metal balls. The wooden balls used in bocce tend to be bigger than the smaller metal balls used in pétanque.


The same game can be known by different names in different languages and locations or the same name can be used for different local variations of a game.

The category of boules games includes

  • bocce is the ancestral sport of most boules games. It is a rolling game using wooden balls and a run-up throwing technique.
  • bocce volo is a throwing game using metal balls and a rather complicated run-up.
  • boccia is a form of bocce adapted for players who are confined to wheel chairs.
  • bolas criollas is a bocce-like game played in Venezuela
  • bowls or "lawn bowls" is a British game similar to bocce
  • jeu provençal or boule lyonnaise, similar to bocce volo
  • pétanque originally evolved from jeu provençal as an adaptation for a player with a disability affecting the legs. However, it quickly became popular among able-bodied players. It is a throwing game using metal balls, but there is no run-up. Players' feet must remain firmly on the ground.
  • punto, raffa, volo (note that this is a single name consisting of three comma-separated words) is a type of bocce governed by the Italian CBI Confederazione Boccistica Internazionale

International boules organizations

The Confédération Mondiale des Sports de Boules - CMSB - was created (on December 21, 1985 in Monaco) by three international boules organizations for the purpose of lobbying the Olympic committee to make boules sports part of the summer Olympics. To date, its efforts have been unsuccessful.[6] The organizations were:


  1. ^ Marco Foyot, Alain Dupuy, Louis Dalmas, Pétanque - Technique, Tactique, Entrainement, Robert Laffont, 1984.
  2. ^ Marco Foyo, op. cit. pg. 16
  3. ^ "The joy of Bocce" by Mario Pagnone
  4. ^ Jacques Navrot, Le Jeu de Boules Archived January 10, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Boules ELTÉ
  6. ^ History of the FIPJP at the FIPJP web site

See also


The Atikamekw are the First Nations inhabitants of the area they refer to as Nitaskinan ("Our Land"), in the upper Saint-Maurice River valley of Quebec (about 300 kilometres (190 mi) north of Montreal), Canada. Their population currently stands at around 7,000. One of the main communities is Manawan, about 160 kilometres (99 mi) northeast of Montreal. They have a tradition of agriculture as well as fishing, hunting and gathering. They have close traditional ties with the Innu people, who were their historical allies against the Inuit.

The Atikamekw language, a variety of the Cree language in the Algic family, is in everyday use, making it therefore among the indigenous languages least threatened with extinction. But their home land has largely been appropriated by logging companies and their ancient way of life is almost extinct. Their name, which literally means "lake whitefish", is sometimes also spelt "Atihkamekw", "Attikamekw", "Attikamek", or "Atikamek". The French colonists referred to them as Têtes-de-Boules, meaning "Ball-Heads" or "Round-Heads".

A small number of families make their living making traditional birch bark baskets and canoes.

Bataille de boules de neige

Bataille de boules de neige (also known as Snowball Fight) is an 1896 French short black-and-white silent documentary film directed and produced by Louis Lumière.


Bocce (), sometimes anglicized as bocci or boccie, is a ball sport belonging to the boules family, closely related to British bowls and French pétanque, with a common ancestry from ancient games played in the Roman Empire. Developed into its present form in Italy (where it is called bocce, the plural of the Italian word boccia which means 'bowl' in the sport sense), it is played around Europe and also in overseas areas that have received Italian migrants, including Australia, North America, and South America (where it is known as bochas, or bolas criollas ('Criollo balls') in Venezuela, bocha in Brazil). Bocce was initially played among the Italian migrants but has slowly become more popular with their descendants and the wider community.

The sport is also very popular on the eastern side of the Adriatic, especially in Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the sport is known in Serbo-Croatian as boćanje ('playing boće') or balote (colloquially also bućanje). In Slovenia the sport is known as balinanje or colloquially 'playing boče', or bale (from Italian bocce and Venetian bałe, meaning 'balls').

Bocce volo

Bocce volo ("flying boules"), or boule lyonnaise ("Lyonnais boules"), is a boules-type game.

In bocce volo, the balls are thrown overhand (palm down) and are metal. In standard bocce, the wooden or plastic balls are tossed underhand (palm up) and rolled.

Volo, as it is called for short by the Italians, derives its name from the Italian verb volare meaning 'to fly', and refers to the technique of throwing a ball through the air in an attempt to knock away an opponent's ball.

Bocce volo is similar to pétanque in that the ball is thrown rather than rolled or bowled. It is similar to traditional bocce (and different from pétanque) in that the ball is delivered with a run-up. A volo players' run-up is athletic, even theatrical, as in jeu provençal.


Boccia ( BOTCH-ə) is a precision ball sport, similar to bocce, and related to bowls and pétanque. The name "boccia" is derived from the Latin word for "boss" – bottia. The sport is contested at local, national and international levels, by athletes with severe physical disabilities. It was originally designed to be played by people with cerebral palsy but now includes athletes with other severe disabilities affecting motor skills. In 1984, it became a Paralympic sport, and in 2008 was being practised in over fifty countries worldwide. Boccia is governed by the Boccia International Sports Federation (BISFed) and is one of only two Paralympic sports (along with goalball) that have no counterpart in the Olympic program.

Boccia at the Summer Paralympics

Boccia has been contested at the Summer Paralympics since the 1984 Games in New York City and Stoke Mandeville. Five boccia events were held at those games, two for men, two for women, and one mixed event where men and women competed together. Since then, all boccia events at the Paralympics have been mixed. Athletes in this sport have cerebral palsy and are given a classification according to the extent of their disability. There were originally two classes, C1 and C2, with C1 corresponding to those with more severe impairment. In 1996 a "C1 with aid device" class was added, and in 2000 the system was changed to have four classes, BC1 through BC4.

Boules at the 1900 Summer Olympics

Boules was on the Summer Olympic Games programme in 1900. In later years the IOC deemed each event of the 1900 Olympics to be either official or unofficial. Boules was regarded as unofficial. As with the official sport of croquet, boules satisfied three of four retrospective criteria — restriction to amateurs, open to all nations, open to all competitors and without handicapping. As with croquet, there were only French players. (All other official events met all four criteria.)

Boules at the 2013 Mediterranean Games

The bocce competitions at the 2013 Mediterranean Games in Mersin took place between 25 June and 29 June at the Toroslar Bocce Facility.

Athletes competed in 10 events across 3 disciplines: lyonnaise, pétanque and raffa.

Boules at the 2018 Mediterranean Games

The boules competitions at the 2018 Mediterranean Games in Tarragona took place between 28 and 30 June at the Campclar Velodrome.

Athletes competed in 9 events across 3 disciplines: lyonnaise, pétanque and raffa.

Boules sports at the 2009 World Games

At the World Games 2009, three different roller sports disciplines were contested: boule lyonnaise, pétanque and raffa. All events were held on August 20–22.

Boules sports at the 2017 World Games

The boules sports tournament at the 2017 World Games in Wrocław was played between 22 and 24 July. 94 competitors, from 27 nations, participated in the tournament. The boules sports competition took place at Centennial Hall in Lower Silesian Voivodeship.

Boules sports at the World Games

Boules sports, including boule lyonnaise, pétanque and raffa, were introduced as World Games sports at the World Games 1985 in London.


Codalet is a commune in the Pyrénées-Orientales department in southern France.

It is very small with only a few streets but has much character. There are no shops but there is a little park with a boules court and soccer goal as well as a river running through it. Codalet has an annual garage sale for the May Day celebrations which takes place in the Codalet square. There is also the annual Flama del Canigou festival in the Prades Park.

Confédération Mondiale des Sports de Boules

The Confédération Mondiale des Sports de Boules (CMSB) is the international organization, recognized by the International Olympic Committee, which governs the sport of the boules.

Jeu provençal

Jeu provençal ('game of Provence'; also known as boule lyonnaise, "boules of Lyon") is a French form of boules.

In Italy, the sport bocce volo, which is played with bronze balls, follows a similar set of rules.

Métis-sur-Mer, Quebec

Métis-sur-Mer is a city in the La Mitis Regional County Municipality within the Bas-Saint-Laurent region of Quebec, Canada. It had a population of 607 in the Canada 2011 Census.


Nizamikos is a Greek dance of Naoussa for men which is danced with handle of the hands with palms bent their struggles.The Nizamikos danced every year at the carnival of Naoussa is called "Janissaries and Boules". It owes its name to the Nizam, Turkish armed tax collectors whom Naoussa trying to appease with this dance and glitoooun hike.


Pétanque (French pronunciation: ​[petɑ̃k]; Occitan: petanca [peˈtaŋkɔ]) is a sport that falls into the category of boules sports, along with raffa, bocce, boule lyonnaise, lawn bowls and crown green bowling. All of these sports share something in common, in that players or teams play their boules/balls towards a target ball.

In Pétanque the objective is to score points by having boules closer to the target than your opponent after all boules have been thrown. This is achieved by projecting boules closer to the target, called a cochonnet, or by hitting the opponents' boules away from the target, while standing inside a circle with both feet on the ground.

The game is normally played on hard dirt or gravel. It can be played in public areas in parks, or in dedicated facilities called boulodromes.

The current form of the game originated in 1907 or 1910 in La Ciotat, in Provence, France. The French name pétanque (borrowed into English, with or without the acute accent) comes from petanca in the Provençal dialect of the Occitan language, deriving from the expression pès tancats [ˈpɛs taŋˈkats], meaning 'feet fixed' or 'feet planted' (on the ground).

Raffa (boules)

Raffa (also known as raffa bocce or roundup), is a specialty, both male and female, of boules. It is governed by Confederazione Boccistica Internazionale (CBI).

Along with pétanque and bocce volo, it's one of the three specialties proposed by the Confédération Mondiale des Sports de Boules (all of which are included in the World Games) as possible new disciplines for the 2024 Summer Olympics.

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