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Aix-en-Provence

43.531127,5.454025
43°31'52.06"N 5°27'14.49"E
Published: January 2010
last updated: May 2011
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The visit

Aix-en-Provence is an ideal destination for the lovers of romantic city escapades. The old capital of Comte de Provence has a lovely and well-preserved old downtown (vieille ville), built between XII and XVIII centuries. It is known as the city of fountains, but also the city of art, the city of terraces, stylish shops and the refuge of a multinational crowd of tourists and students. In Aix you can experience the history in a modern and cosmopolitan atmosphere.

La Rotonde You will logically start your visit from Cours Mirabeau – an impressive main street, constructed in XVIIth century to allow the carriages to access to the building of the parliament of Provence. Take a time to walk along the Cours (as the locals call it) to see the XVIIth century buildings, statues and fountains. You will also find on Cours Mirabeau several bookshops that sell excellent city-guides and postcards and some of the oldest and most fashionable restaurants of Aix.

From there enter the old town - left from Cours Mirabeau. The oldest part of Aix is a labirynth of narrow and winfing streets, however you will not lose your direction if you keep in mid one simple rule: go up to reach the townhall and cathedral - go down to reach Cours Mirabeau. So, the first thing you should do once in the old town is go up. The streets will take you to the old Place Richelme that every morning hosts local farmers’ market, and adjusting to it Palce d’Hotel de Ville with a beautiful building of townhall. Pass through the arch of the Clock tower (Tour d’Horloge) and follow the street of Gaston Saporta (rue Gaston de Saporta) up to the oldest cathedral of Aix – le Cathedrale Saint Saveur. This is the heart of medieval Aix-en-Provence: the Cathedral, built between XIIth and XIV century, is a masterpiece of late roman and early gothic styles. If you have an opportunity, take a tour of the cathedral with a guide to discover galleries and inner court normally not accessible to public and don’t miss the masterpiece of the renaissance painter Nicolas Forum des Cardeurs Froment “Buisson Ardent”. Across the street from the cathedral you’ll see the first building of the University of Provence, founded in XV century (now it hosts the Institute of Political Science).

Next to the Cathedral you’ll see an impressive archbishop’s palace le Palais des Archevêques now hosting tapestry museum. Almost every building on the street Gasdton de Saporta is worth special attention. Enter the inner court of #19 – l’hôtel de Châteaurenard, which hosted Louis XIV during his visit to Aix, and admire the optical illusions of Jean Daret, painted on the stairs. Next to it #17 l’hôtel d’Estienne de Saint-Jean hosts the museum of old Aix. Except these historical monuments you’ll find some of the best souvenirs, crafts and sweets shops in town – all on the same street!

Once you’ve seen rue Gaston de Saporta, return to Palce d’Hotel de Ville and start a new visit. Turn left (if you are facing the Cathedral) to visit Forum des Cardeurs just behind the townhall and find your way through the narrow streets of the oldest quarters of Aix: Cordeliers and Tanneurs. Or turn right to explore the streets and squares of Bellegarde. Our quick suggestions: Rue Mignet with beautiful chapel of the visitation of St. Catherine, Place des Trois Ormeaux, its fountain and a great bio snack-bar, Rue Espariat and adjusting Place Albertas – a beautiful little square with a fountain that has a form of a theater stage, rue de Verrerie and place des Tanneurs – their medieval atmosphere and great choice of the Cours Mirabeau restaurants.

On the other side of Cours Mirabeau you’ll enter quartier Mazarin built in XVII century by the brother of famous cardinal Mazarini. Two jewels of this quartier are place des Quatre Dauphins – a masterpiece of symmetrical architecture built by Rambot in XVII century and l’eglise St. Jean de Malte – a fortified XIII century church built by the ordre of Malta. The house of the priest is now hosting Musée Granet – the richest museum of Aix-en-Provence, displaying a lot of archeological articles and the paintings of XVI-XX century.

Five minute walk from downtown (through quartier Sextius) will take you to Pavillon de Vendôme – a luxurious little palace with a French garden, built in 1665 by duke Louis de Vendôme, where he was secretly receiving his beloved Lucrèce de Forbin Solliès, called la Belle du Canet (the Beauty of the village Canet). After the death of the duke Pavillon belonged to the painter Jean-Baptiste van Loo, later it served as a boarding school for girls, currently Pavillon de Vendôme hosts museum of interiors.

The lovers of Paul Cezanne will appreciate a special city tour, showing all places related to the life of the painter. Visit atelier Cézanne and don’t miss a short trip to a nearby village Tholonet, where you’ll find a lot of landscapes familiar from his paintings.

History

Like other towns with similar names, Aix takes its name from latin Aquae (waters), which signifies its closeness to the thermal sources. Aix counts its history from the ancient oppidium of Entremont, built by celto-ligurians to the north of the modern city in IV century A.D. Supposedly, the masters of Entremont drew their main profits from racketeering the nearby greek port of Messalia (nowadays Marseille). To protect the port and the roads of the province the romans under commande of the Place d'Hôtel de ville consul Sextius Calvinus have destroyed Entremont in 123 A.D. and have founded a town Aquae Sextiae (Waters of Sextius). Aix belonged to the roman province Gallia Narbonensis with the capital in Narbonna. After division of Gallia Narbonensis to three provinces in IV century Aix became the capital of Narbonensis Secunda.

After the fall of the empire the town was conquered subsequently by Francs, Galls, Wisigoths and Sarrassins. Only in XII century Aix restored its prosperity: first it became the residence of the archbishop of Provence, then the Counts of the house of Anjou have made it the capital of Provence.
In 1409 Louis II of Anjou has founded in Aix one of the oldest and most famous universities in France. The time of glory came to the town with the son of Louis II - René d’Anjou, known in folk legends as le Bon Roi René. René, who has spent his life defending numerous provinces (he was also duke of Piedmont, duke of Bar, king of Naples, titular king of Jerusalem and Aragon), has settled in the end his life in Aix, where he held a splendid court. Roi René is considered a last king-troubadour of France. After acquisition of Provence by the kingdom of France in 1487, Aix remained the centre of political and social life with the provincial parliament, courts and university. Like the rest of Provence Aix was the scene of religious wars of the XVI century: on the order of the Council of Aix Jean de Maynier executed famous massacre of 3000 waldensians in Luberon in 1545.

In the XIX and XX century Aix was famed as the city of arts, crafts and education. It is the home-town of the impressionist Paul Cézanne and the city where grew up French romanist Emile Zola.

Practical information

Aix is ideally situated in the heart of Bouches-du-Rhone :
- 20 minutes drive from Marseille (accessible by public transport),
- 30 minutes from the beaches and calanques of Cote Bleue,
- 1h30 from Nice (accessible by regular bus),
- 1 hours from Avignon (accessible by regular bus).

How to come to Aix-en-Provence :

  • By air:

    - if you arrive to the airport Marseille-Provence: take Navette Airport-Aix Gare Routiere near the Terminal 1 (30 minutes ride, 7.80 Euro one-way)
    - if you arrive to the airport of Nice: take the bus Nice-Aix-Marseille (the bus station is situated near Terminal 1) (2 to 3 hours ride, 26.80 Euro one-way)

  • By train:

    Aix is connected by direct trains with Paris (3 hours), Montpellier (1 hour), Narbonne (2 hours), Avignon (20 min), Lyon (1.5 hours), Dijon (3 hours), Lille (5 hours), Geneve (3 hours), etc.
    If you arrive to Aix-Gare TGV, take the Navette Aix TGV – Aix Gare Routiere (15 minutes ride, 4.60 euros one way)

Comment on this article

1

Streets of quartier Bellegarde Parc Vendome Houses of Aix-en-Provence Pavillon Vendome Streets of Aix-en-Provence Oratoire

2

Streets of Aix-en-Provence Oratoire - rue Espariat Streets of quartier Mazarin Fish market on Place Richelme Place Albertas Parc Vendome

3

Forum des Cardeurs Streets of quartier Cordeliers Place des Prechêurs Place Richelme, old place des Herbes Rue Espariat Forum des Cardeurs

4

Forum des Cardeurs Fountain on Palce des Trois Ormeaux Place des Prechêurs

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