A country that I always wanted to return was going to show me some other part of it, that I never been and could never imagine. This time the plane landed in Marseille on a beautiful sunny day. But it was not going to be included on our plans, at least on that day. Friends met me at the airport and with a cab we started our journey on the Southern part of France.
For the beginning we had a small city tour in a beautiful town Aix-en-Provence, or as locals call it short – Aix. We spent there few days, but I won’t separate the story into them. Instead I’ll tell you about all the treasures and hidden gems that I’ve seen there.
So let’s start our walking tour in a cozy city-commune, which is also a former capital of Provence. It turns out that Aix was founded in 123 BC by Roman consul Sextius Calvinus and was involved in many historical events during centuries. The city is known as a 1000 fountains city, as in every corner here you’ll see small or big fountains that are fed from water springs. From some of them you can also drink water on a hot days. But the main and the most famous fountain is the historical Fontaine de la Rotonde, which is located in the center of Aix, on the Place de la Rotonde, at the bottom of Cours Mirabeau. The fountain was designed in 1860 by Theophile de Tournadre. It’s 32m wide and 12m high. The spectacular fountain is surrounded by bronze sculptures of 12 lions, sirens, swans and angels. At the top of the fountain there are three sculptures of female figures, that are looking to different directions (Cours Mirabeau, Marseille, Avignon) and presenting Justice, Agriculture and Fine Arts. Unfortunately some part of it was under construction and was not possible to come closer to admire with that amazing historical landmark.
The square Place de la Rotonde where the Fontaine de la Rotonde is situated was built before the fountain, from 1840 to 1850. I’d say everything starts from here in this city. For me as well. The bus station was located nearby. Here also was a tourist office where you can get a free city map, a lot of souvenirs, get some advises from the office agents about how to spend your time, where to go and how etc. Here also was a small modern art gallery. The entrance was free but it was empty inside.. and I understand why. The expositions were not usual and not everyone could get the meaning of them.. either me 🙂
Here just in a few steps after the tourist office our attention caught few monuments dedicated to Armenian genocide. One of them was a cross-stone and the other was a sculpture of a kneeled man with open arms. The author of this statue is an Armenian sculptor Toros. There is also a writing on the plinth that says: “In memory of two million Armenians killed by Turks during the first genocide of XX century in time period of 1894-1922”.
From the Place de la Rotonde also starts the main walking street Cours Mirabeau, which is a 440m long and 42m wide thoroughfare and one of the most famous and lively places in town. The street has wide sidewalks planted with double rows of plane-trees. There are many cafes, which are always full. Here you can have a tasty lunch or dinner, of just have some wine in the evening with friends. The street also divides the city into “old town” and “new town”. On both sides there were many narrow streets where each of them was showing the spirit of the town. On some of them you could see branded shops, on the others mainly souvenirs, and on the next ones bakeries and sweet shops.
|One of the oldest bakeries in town|
On one of those narrow streets by chance we found a small cute gallery. We were looking for some museum entrance, which was already closed. But there was a woman who invited us to check her gallery, which was just right there and was free to visit. In was empty, as there was no poster, nothing saying about this place, but when we stepped in, we were surprised with the building where the gallery was set, the adorable garden, and of course, with the paintings inside. This was a small place, where a young artist Ophelie Vaganay was showing her lovely paintings of colorful nature to us, simple people. This was the first museum/gallery I visited here and to be honest, I “fell in love” with her paintings..
But this was far to be the last treasure here. As some of you may know, Aix is the birthplace of the famous artist Paul Cezanne (19 January, 1839). An Aix is also a beloved place for other artists. This is why here you can have one of the most fabulous museums of the town, Musee Granet. The museum is devoted to painting, sculpture and archaeology. It’s adjacent to the Church of Saint-Jean-de-Malte since 1838 and still shares a common garden with it. The museum contains major paintings by Jean-Dominique Ingres, an authentic self-portrait by Rembrandt and works by Anthony van Dyck, Paul Cezanne, Alberto Giacomentti and Nicolas de Stael.
If you’ve visited Musee Granet, keep your ticket, as with it you can visit another lovely museum Granet XX, where you’ll have a great collection of Jean Planque. It’s mainly focuses on works of Modern Art representing various movements such as Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Cubism and Faubism. The collection contains over 300 works of art, including paintings and drawings by Degas, Renoir, Gauguin, Monet, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Picasso, Pierre Bonnard, Paul Klee, Fernand Legar and much more. Some of the artists were newly discovered and already became beloved ones!
This 2 museums are very close to each other, just 3 minutes walk. And when we were walking on the street, one man came to us and asked a way to one of those museums. He was kind of lost and when he showed a map to us showing where we are and where he should go, he showed some streets, directions and between words showed Place d’Armenie.. We were surprised as first of all he didn’t know we are Armenians to say this to us, and second, we didn’t know there is such square. So we started to look for that square. We checked few blocks nearby but didn’t find it. But on the way back we suddenly saw a very small square with a few cafes and a small plate on a wall with writing “Place d’Armenie”. It was nice to have something more dedicated to our home country in a foreign place.
|Armenian Genocide memorial, located near the Tourist Office|
And the last place I want to tell you about is the Paroise Cathedrale Saint Sauveur. It’s situated to the north in the Medieval part of Aix and is built on the site of a former Roman forum dating from the 1st century. It has an adjacent basilica which contains a mixture of all styles from the 5th to the 17th centuries and includes Romanesque, Gothic and Neo-Gothic elements. But from the Roman times the only octagonal baptismal pool and the lower part of the walls remain from that period. The other walls and the dome were rebuilt in the Renaissance. On the walls of the Roman Baptistery you’ll still see some remaining figures made in mosaic way.
According to the legends, the church was built on top of a Roman temple dedicated to Apollo. The historian Pitton (1668) claimed that the temple had been dedicated to a sun god, basing his claim upon the discovery of the leg of a statue uncovered at the site.
According to the Christian tradition, the first church on the site was founded by Saint Maximinus of Aix, who arrived in Provence from Bethany, a village near Jerusalem, with Mary Magdalene on a boat belonging to Lazarus. Maximin built a modest chapel on the site of the present cathedral and dedicated it to the Holy Saviour (le Saint Sauveur).
Inside of the Cathedral there is an entrance to the Cloister which was being opened on an exact hours during the day. The cloister was used by the canons, the priests who served the bishop and administered the church’s property. It was built upon the old Roman square, dating from the 12th century AD and was discovered just by chance during archaeological excavations.
The cloister itself was a garden surrounded with white columns. There was a women, who was making a small excursion inside, telling all the history in details. It turns out that each column was telling a story of Christianity and each of the four columns at the angels were decorated with carvings of the symbols of the four evangelists: an angel for St. Matthew, a lion for St. Mark, a bull for St. Luke and an eagle for St. John. And finally, the beautiful garden was “replacing” the Eden garden from the Bible. This was really a peaceful place, with no noise, where unfortunately we couldn’t stay as much as we would like. Once the woman finished her story, she thanked and asked to give some payment if we wish as there was no exact fee for this excursion.
One thing I started to love. It’s do something spontaneous, go on some places that were’t planned, see some buildings that were not in the list, discover small and big parts of the city, live the moment. From those random discoveries was also a library of Aix, which had a shape of few books and on one of them (not seen on the picture) was a street art style painting of “The Little Prince” made. This was quite nice and made me smile 🙂
What can I say more? Seems 2 days weren’t enough to discover all the treasures of Aix, as there were still more places to go, more museums to visit and more memories to collect. But whenever you’ll be in the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, dedicate some time to visit this old but in the same time young and rising town. You’ll like it 🙂