Aix-en-Provence Tourist Attractions
Aix (Provençal Ais), the former capital of Provence, lies barely 30km/19mi north of Marseilles in a fertile plain surrounded by mountains.
Four old palaces, dating mainly from the 17th and 18th centuries, and many fine churches and museums bear witness to the town's glittering past. As the home of a famous university and the seat of an archbishop it remains the spiritual center of Provence to this day.As well as being a spa town and deriving considerable income from tourism, an important part of its economy lies in the preparation of almond-nuts for the confectionery trade; its "Calissons d'Aix", a tangy almond sweet, are famous.The lightly radioactive hot springs, rich in minerals, were already known in Roman times. Their chief constituents are bicarbonates, calcium, sulfates, silicates, chlorine and magnesium.Soon after the destruction of the Celtic settlement (121 BC) to the north near Entremont, Aix-en-Provence was founded by Caius Sextus as the first Roman settlement in Gaul and called "Aquae Sextiae Saluviorum". Twenty years later the Roman commander Marius defeated the Teutons near here as they advanced into Italy. Its medicinal springs, which had been known for a long time, and its favorable position from the point of view of communications on the Via Aurelia, led to a rapid development of the new settlement.After serious setbacks, caused by migrations and attacks by the Saracens, Aix became the capital of the county of Provence and also, especially in the time of the art-lover René of Anjou (1409-80), a cultural center of Provençal poetry. In 1409 the university was founded, and in 1481 the town passed to France. It was badly affected in the Wars of Religion. From 1630 there were violent clashes with Richelieu and Mazarin which could be settled only by the good offices of Michel, the brother of Mazarin and Archbishop of Aix.An extensive building program in the 17th and 18th century determined the town's architectural image. Count Mirabeau, a lawyer and revolutionary leader (1749-91) and the painter Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) were born in Aix. In 1958 Picasso lived in the palace at Vauvenargues, where he is also buried.
The broad Cours Mirabeau, laid out in 1651, borders the Old Town of Aix-en-Provence in the south, separating it from the newer parts. This idyllic shady promenade is planted with old plane trees (which, however, are regularly and heavily pruned); in the middle of the roadway stand three beautiful fountains, the center one of which, the "Fontaine Chaude", is fed with warm spring water, and in the Place du Général de Gaulle, which forms the western boundary of the line of streets, stands the great Fontaine de la Rotonde. There are several impressive buildings in the street, among them the Hôtel des Villiers (No. 2; 1710), the Hôtel d'Isouard de Vauvenargues (No. 10; 1710), the Hôtel d'Arbod Jouques (No. 19; early 18th C.), the Hôtel de Forbin (No. 20; 1656) and the Hôtel de Maurel de Pontèves (No. 38; 1647-50; now the offices of the Principal of the University). At the east end of the Cours Mirabeau stands the Fontaine du Roi René, the work of David d'Angers (19th C.) and the Chapelle des Oblats, part of the Carmelite Monastery designed by a pupil of Puget and restored about 1700. The "Deux Garçons" cafe dates from the 18th C.North of the Cours Mirabeau the Old Town extends as far as the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) and is largely a pedestrian precinct.
Museum of Natural History
Near the central one of the three fountains on the Cours Mirabeau, rue Clemenceau leads into the heart of the Old Town of Aix-en-Provence. At the end of the little Place St Honoré, rue Espariat branches off to the left and near it stands the Muséum d'Histoire Naturel (Museum of Natural History). Its collections, particularly the dinosaur eggs which were found in Provence, are well known in specialist circles. The museum is housed in the Hôtel Boyer d'Eguilles, a town mansion built in the 17th C.
The Place d'Albertas in Aix-en-Provence lies a short way west of the Museum of Natural History. On its south side stands a town house of three wings grouped around a fountain. Here the visitor should turn right and follow rue Aude in a northerly direction, noting on the left the 16th C. Hôtel Peyroneti, built in 1562 and one of the oldest in Aix, with an interesting facade of double rectangular columns and a frieze of bulls' heads. Continue along rue du Maréchal Foch, with the 17th C. Hôtel d'Arbaud on the left, until the Place de l'Hôtel de Ville is reached.
Musée du Vieil Aix
In Aix-en-Provence, passing through the clock tower and continuing north along rue Gaston de Saporta, with its fine town houses, we come to the Musée du Vieil Aix (museum of civic history), which is located in the 17th C. Hôtel Estienne de St-Jean (No. 17).Also in rue Gaston de Saporta are the Hôtel de Châteaurenard, with its richly decorated staircase, and the Hôtel de Maynier d'Oppède, once the seat of the Faculty of Letters.The Museum of Old Aix is housed in a 17th century mansion with furniture, costumes, earthenware, and lifelike nativity crib puppets on display.
In the years 1646-53, at the suggestion of Michel Mazarin, archbishop of Aix and brother of the famous cardinal and politician, the Quarter named after him and the broad street known as cours Mirabeau were laid out, necessitating the demolition of part of the town walls. The rectangular area is characteristic of 17th C. town planning; it is bounded on the south by the boulevard du Roi René and the boulevard Carnot, part of which follows the line of the Old Town Walls. The center of the area is formed by the Place des Quatre Dauphins, with the 1667 fountain of the same name which is adorned with sculptures of four dolphins.
Museum of Fine Arts and Archeology
The Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence in the Place St-Jean-de-Malte, east of the Fontaine des Quatre Dauphins, is one of the most comprehensive museums in Provence. It is housed in the former palace of the Commandant of the Order of Malta (Palais de Malte), dating from 1671. Most of the exhibits were formerly the property of the collector and painter François Marius Granet (1775-1849); they include Celto-Ligurian sculptures from the Oppidum d'Entremont, Greek reliefs, Roman fragments, an Early Christian sarcophagus, medieval sculpture and works by European painters (including Jost van Cleve, Hans Holbein the Younger, Rubens, Rembrandt, Cézanne and Pissarro).
Address: Place Saint Jean de Malte, F-13100 Aix-en-Provence, France
Opening hours: 10am-12pm, 2pm-6pm; Closed: Tue
Always closed on: New Year's Day (Jan 1), 1945 Victory Day (May 8), May Day / Labor Day (May 1), Bastille Day - France (Jul 14), Assumption Day - Christian (Aug 15), All Saints' Day - Christian (Nov 1), Remembrance Day / 1918 Armistice Day (Nov 11), Christmas - Christian (Dec 25), Pentecost Monday (Whit Monday) - Christian, Ascension Thursday - Christian
Entrance fee in EUR: Adult €4.00, Concession or reduced rate €2.00, Child FREE
In Aix-en-Provence, the valuable collection of the Mejanes Library - 350,000 18th C. volumes, manuscripts, incunabula - was once housed in the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), but now forms part of the Espace Culturel Méjanes, an old match factory converted into the municipal library at 8-10 Rue des Allumettes in the west of the town. The nucleus of the collection was provided by the Marquis de Méjanes (1726- 86), a teacher born in Arles, who donated 80,000 volumes to the native town.The St John Perse Foundation, a research center for poets, diplomats and 1960 Nobel Prize Winners, has also been transferred here. Temporary exhibitions are held twice a year.
The archeological site of the Celto-Ligurian settlement of Oppidum d'Entremont lies some 3km/2mi north of Aix, off the D14 road. This settlement, which composed of an Upper and a Lower Town, was strategically placed on high ground. About 4ha/10acres have been uncovered, and pieces of broken pillars enable one to discern the outlines of some individual buildings and parts of the settlement. A mosaic floor and remains of what were apparently charnel-houses are all that is left of a sanctuary on the hill, destroyed in 123 B.C.
International Music Festival
The International Music Festival, which is held annually in July/August, attracts large audiences.This annual three-week festival includes operas, as well as orchestral, choral and chamber concerts. There is also a focus on vocal music.Informal concerts are held daily in the Théâtre de l'Archêveché and the Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur.
More Aix-en-Provence Pictures
Map of Aix-en-Provence Attractions