City of Art
Alpes-Maritimes (06140) Population: 15,330 Altitude: 325 m
Vence, "City of Art", is a lovely town sitting in the fresh air of the hills only a few km from Nice and Antibes. The town is full of flowers and, in the area around the town, aromatic flowers, olives and colorful orange trees are cultivated. Market day Daily.
This photo is the Chapelle Matisse (see below), with the Baou des Blancs in the background.
The old town is still a tight, walled circle of medieval buildings, much as it appeared hundreds of years ago.
Each of the five medieval "portes" (gateways) piercing the walled buildings gives a different feeling of the old town:
• Portail Levis (13th c.)
• Porte du Peyra (1441);
• Tour-Porte du Signadour (13th c.) (or Portail Saint-Paul)
• Porte du Faubourg ou Pontis;
• Porte d'Orient, or Porte du Siege or Porte de Cagnes or Porte de la Brèche (18th c.). This porte was made and the buildings realigned so Monseigneur Pisani de la Gaude, Bishop of Vence, could arrive at the door of his episcopal palace without stepping down from his carriage.
Inside the walls, there are terrace cafés on the Place Clémenceau, with a view of the beautifully decorated church and the activity of this busy square. Outside the walls, near the Porte de Peyra, the terrace cafés beneath the plane trees facing the Place du Grand Jardin are great for sitting and watching even more activity.
Artists. Vence is a town of artists, with painters, sculptors and writers of many nationalities living and working here. The town is full of galleries and other examples of their work, with sculptures, decorated buildings and frequent (summertime) outdoor exhibits. The 12th-century troubadour Pierre Vidal called Vence "le doux repaire" (the sweet nest), and in the 13th century, Dante Alighieri included Romeo de Villeneuve, Lord of Vence, in his Paradise. Other famous painters who worked in Vence include Dufy, Soutine, Matisse, Chagall and Dubuffet. In 1930, D. H. Lawrence spent his last days in Vence, and was buried here; he was later dug up and taken to New Mexico (more or less, see below). Another internationally known writer (and seer and doctor), Nostradamus, had something good to say: "Garden of Vence, marvel of Provence" -
Market Town. Vence has been a market town for centuries, and the core of the food market is along the very narrow rue du Marché inside the walls. Flowers, fish, honey, bakeries, endless variety of fresh vegetables, herbs and spices all add their colors and fragrances to the feeling of the markets. A foire [types of markets] can be found on the Place Clémenceau inside the old village, or as part of the weekly foire at the Place du Grand Jardin.
La Foux. Even the water is special in Vence. Coming from a source just above the village, the clear mineral water of "La Foux" is available to the villagers from fountains in different parts of the village, including the beautiful 1822 fountain in the Place Peyra where an old marble plaque lists the amounts of the different minerals present. The water is considered so good, that there are often lines at some of the fountains as people fill bottles and jugs to take home for consumption.
The little "Foux" river passes though a deep valley along the northern edge of the old town. Take a walk out over the narrow road bridge (avenue de Provence) that goes towards St. Jeannet. It's a nice view of the old town from there, and the "Foux" valley far below is so thick with foliage it seems like a jungle.
Chapelle Matisse. A 5-10 minute walk from the center of town, out across the bridge over the "Foux" and up the Avenue Henri Matisse is the Chapelle Matisse, or the Chapelle du Rosaire des Dominicaines de Vence. which was designed and decorated by Henri Matisse between 1947 and 1951. This all-white chapel used stained glass to bring "natural" colors inside, and Matisse considered it his masterpiece, "Despite its imperfections...". Henri also liked the feeling of Vence (as we do), commenting: "This morning, strolling in front of my home, seeing all the young girls, women and men riding their bicycles to market, I thought I must be in Tahiti."
Place du Frêne The Place du Frêne, just outside the Porte du Peyra, has as its namesake an enormous ash tree (frêne) said to have been planted in 1538, in memory of the visit of François I and Pope Paul III. At the far end of the Place du Frêne is the Belvédère Fernand Moulet.
There's not much left of the stone orientation table, but there's a great view of the Baou des Blancs and Baou des Noirs towering over the town, and the prominent Baou de St. Jeannet further down the line of hills. To the northwest, on the hills to the left of the Baou des Blancs, you can see the ruins of the Château de la Reine Jeanne.
In a "Visite de la Cité Historique", numbered panels throughout the village describe, in French and English, the ancient "portes", chateaux, fountains and other interesting sites within the town. The panels are a discrete pale grey so they don't detract from the location, with a red number keyed to a map you can obtain from the Office de Tourisme.
The Broad-Chauvin English Library
- 9 rue St Luce
- tel:0493 589 771
- 9-12h, Tue, Fri, Sat; visitors welcome
D. H. Lawrence moved to Vence in early 1930 when he was very ill with tuberculosis. He was visited here by H. G. Wells, the Aga Khan and Aldous Huxley just before his death. Lawrence is buried in the cemetery of Vence.