Old Town

Aix-en-Provence - Cultural place

During your stay in Aix en Provence you will be invited to travel in time. Your steps will take you to an outstanding architectural and cultural heritage. Keep your eyes open: the city's treasures can be seen at every crossroads.

To the north of the city, Bourg Saint Sauveur occupies the site of the ancient Roman city. It extends from the Cathedral to the Clock Tower (Town Hall). A few streets have kept evocative names, such as rue Esquicho Coudo, a narrow passageway dating from the Middle Ages.

The remains of the mediaeval ramparts are visible, at the top of rue Jacques de la Roque (to the right of rue des Guerriers). Further down, on the site of the Roman Sextius Baths, excavations have revealed a Roman thermal pool which you can see at the entrance to the hydrotherapy spa. Opposite the Cathedral, on Place de l'Université, the former Faculty of Law (1409) has been replaced by the Institute of Political Studies (IEP). The Palais de l'Université, rebuilt by Georges Vallon in 1734, proudly announces its official function.

Adjoining the Cathedral, the former palace of the archbishops of Aix en Provence encloses the square created in the mid-18th century (now Place des Martyrs de la Résistance). With their ecclesiastical and political power, these princes of the Church wanted a residence worthy of their rank. The present buildings were constructed between 1650 and 1730, and the gate is attributed to the sculptor Toro.

On the first floor is the Tapestry Museum. Since 1948, the court of the Archbishop's Palace has hosted the main events of the Festival of Lyric Art, held during July.

Rue Gaston de Saporta goes down to the town hall and the belfry. Hôtel Maynier d'Oppède, at No.23, belonged to a famous Parliamentary family. Rebuilt in 1730 by the architect Georges Vallon and the sculptor Chastel, it is now the Institute of French Studies for Foreign Students. Its courtyard is used for concerts in June and July every year.

At No.19 is Hôtel de Châteaurenard, built in 1650. Famous as the house where the young Louis XIV stayed during his visit to Provence in 1660, it has a magnificent staircase, decorated with trompe-l'oeil paintings by Jean Daret.

At No.17 Rue Gaston de Saporta, in Hôtel d’Estienne de Saint Jean built by Vallon (1652-1724), the Museum of Old Aix contains reminders of Aix's past. Further down, past the belfry, you are in the former City of the Counts. The Episcopal City and the City of the Counts were in fact separated by ramparts in the Middle Ages. This is the oldest part of the centre of Aix. The streets are now pedestrian and full of shops, the perfect place for a stroll.

The city's old belfry, the symbol of civic power, straddles the street on Roman bases. It was raised in 1510, and contains an astronomical clock (1661) whose four wooden statues can still be seen: they symbolise the seasons, and appear in turn.

On the square, created in the 18th century, the fountain built by the sculptor Chastel is topped with a Roman column at its centre. It is overlooked by the Town Hall (1655-1670) with its Italian-style frontage, carved wooden doors, and the inner courtyard, whas stood since the 14th century at the foot of the Clock Tower, the city's old belfry with its astronomical clock (1661) on which statues representing the four seasons appear in turn.

On the same square the Corn Exchange, built by the architects Vallon in the 18th century (1759-1761), recalls the importance of the wheat trade at the time. The north frontage is crowned with an allegorical pediment by Chastel, representing the sources of farming prosperity in Provence: the Rhône and Durance rivers. The south side, giving on to Place Richelme, has a wealth of decorative motifs related to the function of the building: fruit, grain and olives. The fountain, also by Chastel, is topped with a Roman column. A fruit and vegetable market is held here every morning.

Behind the town hall is Place des Cardeurs. It was created in 1963 on the site of an insalubrious area, which was the Jewish quarter in the Middle Ages, and is now dotted with the terraces of cafes and restaurants. It is lined with fine, renovated period houses, and enhanced with a fountain created in 1977 by the Aix artist Jean Amado.

Leaving the Town Hall and going down towards Place d’Albertas, you will see Hôtel d'Arbaud (1670) in rue du Maréchal Foch, with its door supported by two Atlases, a frequent theme in the Aix decoration of the 17th and 18th centuries. Further down, at No.13 rue Aude, Hôtel de Peyroneti (1625) with its embossed decor looks just like a palace of the Italian Renaissance.

You now reach Place d’Albertas. This enchanting square was created in 1745 by the Marquis Jean Baptiste d'Albertas, who had the houses opposite his mansion demolished. The vast mansion, altered in 1724, and the square with its Rococo decor, are the work of the Vallons (father and son) who used as their inspiration the style of the royal squares in Paris. In the centre, the fountain with its cast-iron basin dates from 1912.

Next to it is Hôtel Boyer d’Eguilles, built of stone from the Bibémus quarries near Sainte-Victoire mountain. The Natural History Museum is now on the first floor of the building.

You have now reached the Law Courts (Palais de Justice). Formerly the home of the sovereigns of Provence, the Parliament, the Treasury and the Court of Auditors, the old courts were demolished at the close of the 18th century, at the same time as the surrounding district. The architect Ledoux designed a new complex to replace them, but the Revolution prevented its construction. Between 1825 and 1832, Penchaud built the Law Courts and the prison on Ledoux’ foundations. The former prison was converted in 1998 and is an integral part of the new legal centre it now houses the Court of Appeal, the present Palais Monclar.

Just next to it is the Church of La Madeleine, formerly the Preachers' Monastery (Dominicans), which was set up as early as 1274 and entirely rebuilt between 1691 and 1703 by Laurent Vallon who named it the Church of La Madeleine. Within its 19th-century walls this church-museum contains many works by artists who lived in Aix.

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