Bouches-du-Rhône (13100) Population: 123,842 Altitude: 175 m
Aix-en-Provence is the city of art, and a city of light and activity. Aix is also a home of art schools and several universities, including some American, attracting a youthful population that sparks the atmosphere.
Aix is also ancient: a Celtic-Ligurian capital from the 3rd century BC was pushed aside for the founding of Aix in 122 BC, as Aquae Sextiae [see Aix-History]. Market day Sat.
For pronunciation, you pronounce the "x", so Aix sounds like ex, as in "X marks the spot". On road signs, the name is shortened into Aix-en-Pce.
The center of Aix is the old town (vieille ville), ringed by a circle of boulevards and squares. It's a small-enough area to explore by foot, but there's way too much to see in one or two days. The medieval Aix was protected by a wall with 39 towers. Today only the 14th century "Tourreluquo" tower remains, at the northwest corner of the town.
Cours Mirabeau is the center of the center, and the heart of Aix. The Cours Mirabeau is a beautiful tree-lined avenue, with one side lined with wonderful terrace cafés and bookshops. If you sit at only one French sidewalk café outside of Paris, it should be here, where the air is warm, the light sublime and the sidewalk alive. Large plane trees overhang the length of the avenue, giving day-long shade on hot summer days. Some of the more famous cafés are: Le Grillon [this photo], Les Deux Garçons, La Belle Epoque and Le Café du Cours.
For breakfast in Aix, we buy spinach quiches and mushroom quiches at a shop low on the Cours Mirabeau, across from the cafés, and have them with our "grandes crèmes" at Les Deux Garcons.
City of Fountains
Aix-en-Provence is full of fountains. Everywhere, throughout the town, fountains big and small bubble and spray and splash.
The Cours Mirabeau has some of the finest: The great fountain (1860) at La Rotonde [top photo], in the Place Général de Gaulle at the bottom end of the "cours", spraying up into the sunlight. The Fountain of 9 Cannons (1691), half way up, bubbles away in the shade [this photo]. Another block up the "cours" is the moss-covered hot-water fountain dating back to 1734, although the 35°C (93°F) spring has been enjoyed for its healing properties for 2000 years [photo-4]. King René's Fountain, at the top of the "cours" was built in the 19th century; the statue is of Roi René holding a bunch of Muscat grapes, which the good king introduced into Provence.
The lovely Fontaine des Quatre Dauphins (this photo) at the Place des Quatre Dauphins, in the Mazarin district, was built in 1667 by Jean-Claude Rambot.
What's happening in Aix this week?
The "Semaine des Spectacles" is a weekly guide available from newsstands. It comes out every Wednesday, and contains everything that's going on in the towns of Provence and the Côte d'Azur (including Aix, Cannes, Nice). It lists restaurants, nightclubs, movies (many in "Version Originale"), museums, and other diversions.
"La Semaine" is a weekly guide for Aix, available free from the Office de Tourisme. In addition to the movies, theaters and concerts for Aix, it has a calendar of expositions for most of the Beyond region.
The old town of Aix is packed with shops, markets, museums, religious and architectural sites and historical sites. The terrace cafés on the Place des Précheurs (by the flower market) attract many of the younger locals, with lower prices than those on the Cours Mirabeau.
The Quartier Mazarin is the area south of the Cours Mirabeau. This area of 17th-century town houses ("hôtels particuliers") was built in 1646-51 by the Archbishop Mazarin. The Granet Museum, Paul Arbaud Museum and the 13th-century Eglise St-Jean-de-Malte are in the Quartier Mazarin.
The "Thermes Sextius" in the northwest corner of the town, along the Bvd Jean Jaurès, are 18th-century hot-water baths set in a large tree-shaded park (closed for extensive renovation, 1996-97). This is near the site of original Roman baths, which were large enough to attract visitors to Aquae Sextiae 2000 years ago.
Main Market - Mon, Tue, Thur, Sat. The main market by the Palais de Justice is a big affair of fresh produce and food, bric-à-brac and flea-market. The flower market is on the Place de Verdun and Place des Prêcheurs, by the Ste-Madeleine church. The clothing market that used to be around the old prison is now along the "other side" of the Cours Mirabeau. The old prison, smack in the center of town, was rebuilt as an administrative building [1996-97].
Food Market. A daily market with food and fresh produce is held in the Place Richelme, between the post office and the old grain market.
Flower Market. During the three market days, a colorful flower market is held at the Place de l'Hotel de Ville.
Aix-en-Provence has every kind of restaurant imaginable, from fast-foods to the highest of haute-cuisine (two Michelin 3-stars).
Calissons d'Aix, in the shape of a small boat, have been made and sold in Aix-en-Provence since the 17th century.
Another little boat pastry made in honor of the Saints and their little boat is the navette.
Favorite Sons and Daughters
Cézanne was born in Aix-en-Provence. He was raised here, studied here, lived here (and other places), and eventually died here. He was one of the many famous clients of the Deux Garcons café on the Cour Mirabeau. One of his favorite subjects was Mont Sainte Victoire, to the east of Aix. The Office de Tourisme has a multi-lingual guide, Dans les Pas de Cézanne, with a walking itinerary through town to see some of the places he frequented.
Nina Simone (Eunice Kathleen Waymon) bought a house in Bouc-Bel-Air, just south of Aix-en-Provence, in the winter of 1992. The house was destroyed by fire in June of the following year, but she remained in the area until her death in April 2003, in Carry-le-Rouet, a seaside village just west of Marseille.