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Boules (French pronunciation: [bul]) is a collective name for a wide range of games 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.
Boules-type games are traditional and popular in France, Italy and Croatia, and are also popular in some former French colonies. In those countries, 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.
In the south of France, the word boules is also often used as a synonym for pétanque.
Boules games may be sub-divided into two categories based on typical throwing technique:
Boules games may also be subdivided into two other categories based on typical throwing technique:
Alternatively, boules games may be subdivided into categories based on the structure and material of the ball:
Alternatively, boules games may be subdivided into categories based on the shape of the ball:
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.
Such variations produce a wide variety of boules-type games played all over the world.
In Italian bocce, balls may be thrown in three ways: punto, rafa and volo.
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 cloutees) were introduced in an effort to improve the durability of the balls. This eventually lead 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. Other companies began manufacturing metal balls in a variety of metals and metal alloys, including bronze.
Today, some boules sports (e.g. bocce) still use wooden (or epoxy composite) balls, while others (e.g. petanque) use metal balls.
The wooden balls used in bocce tend to be bigger than the smaller (but denser) metal balls used in petanque.
It is difficult to provide a precise list of boules games, because the same game can be known by different names in different languages and locations, and because the same name can be used for different local variations of a game.
The category of boules games includes
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. The organizations were: