Provence Live an Aix-périence guaranteed Aix-en-Provence Study opportunities in Aix-en-Provence An ideal introduction to Aix-en-Provence
Practical information Maps and where abouts History of Aix
Kiosk, news and events Camargue Architecture in Aix
Festivals, concerts, night life Short cut Traditions in Aix
Art gallery to send us an e-mail Looking for Cézanne



Architecture in Aix-en-Provence  
Behind the high altar of Saint Sauveur’s Gothic nave, a small chapel dedicated to Saint-Mitre contains a fifteenth century painting depicting an important moment in the life of the saint. (He has just picked up his severed head) Some accounts say that he kissed it, though this episode appears to have been beyond the powers of the artist. The cathedral tower is portrayed uncrowned, which is the way it was until the end of the nineteenth century. The palaces that surround it, however, are variously interpreted as the product of a fertile "Renaissance" fantasy - the artist was of the school of Avignon - or as the unique surviving record of Aix’s architecture in the late fifteenth century.
The monument Sec in the avenue Pasteur, is an incongruous and eclectic medley of autobiographical, socio-economic, and biblical fantasy with a touch of freemasonry : Moses, Noah, European and African homo sapiens sapiens, the Old Testament and the New, Joseph Sec, the new, himself, and the other Joseph, also a carpenter, commemorate a moment when high thinking was undergoing Rousseauesque revision ; liberty from bondage, the spirits of time and eternity, feedom and slavery, were clamouring, if not for precedence, at least for a supreme pecking order. No Jehovah or royal vicar by divine right, but Themis implacable, female personification of even-handed justice, scales in hand, crowns the highest pinnacle of the monument above Moses himself with his books of the Law, and gazes incorruptibly in the general direction of Marseille (why not ?). The 17th century statuary that borders the garden behind the monument itself is a typically discriminate instance of "borrowing", in this case from the unforunate Jesuits who were ousted from their chapel in 1765. The pavillon next to the monument is noteworthy for its multicolored tiled roof, unique in a town where the ancient Roman curved tile is synonymous with a certain proximity to the northern shores of the Mediterranean.
The other Aixois "revolutionary" is quite a different proposition. The ancient palace of the counts of Provence, a rambling patchwork of a building embracing three Roman towers and the substantial mediaeval masonry that united them, was abruptly condemned in 1775, less for its dilapidation and the tile that injured a passer-by than for the huff of Parliamentarians who had been evicted from it in 1771, and replaced by detestable upstarts from the national Audit Office.
Thus disappeared Aix’s largest and most ancient Roman survival. But construction of the Palais de Justice was suspended until 1822 ; its massive pillars and perron greet those arriving by the ancientvia Aurelia, (rue d’Italie). It was not completed until 1832. The ancient stones of the counts’ palace became modern rubble, serving to raise the level of the road from Marseille, giving to the Cours Mirabeau both direct access and a fine platform for Aix’s biggest, most effusive fountain. The Monument Sec and the Palais de Justice emerge as different statements of the same "enlightened" eighteenth century. The majesty of "the Law" fills the void created by the demise of royal and ecclesiastical authority.
The church of Saint-John of Malta (Saint-Jean de Malte) stands at the eastern end of the rue Cardinale. Its stark simplicity offers a striking contrast to the venerable but heteroclete bazaar of the cathedral. Built in the second half of the 13th century, it is a fine example of Provençal Gothic, bare, and spare as a Cistercian abbey. Built outside the city walls it was protector and host to pilgrims and travellers on their way from Italy. Its 67 meter spire and promise of safe haven doubtless gladdened hearts and hastened steps along the Aurelian Way. At each angle of the west end, a turret, more military than ecclesiastical, more plain than fancy, stands guard ; three tall defence towers dating from the thirteenth century, two to the south and one to the north announced to roving brigands, cutthroats, and routiers that the Knights-Hospitaliers of Saint-John meant business, and that order could be enforced, even outside the city ramparts. The northern tower still stands, gaunt and forbidding in its bourgeois habit at No. 20, rue d’Italie.


Copyright © Provence Live 2011