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Architecture in Aix-en-Provence  
The Bourg-Saint-Sauveur may or may not have been as it is depîcted by the fifteenth century artist of the chapelle Saint Mitre . Whatever the truth of the matter, it is safe to say that street plans of Aix north of the Cours Mirabeau reflect an interlaced, muddled labyrinth of "sheep tracks" now trodden by flocks of tourists, students and Aixois. An aerial view of the streets around Saint Sauveur, on the other hand, shows successive ovals, suggesting that they imitated the pattern of ramparts whose centre was the cathedral itself. To the south, in the ville des comtes houses rise four and five storeys high, their external resemblance to one another belying the rich variety of their interiors and the yard/garden space within. Convents, chapels, stables, vaulted chambers and elegant cloisters have been absorbed and molded into blocks of apartments only some of which retain the outward and visible signs of their origin. The hotel des Augustins, and the bookstore of the same Order in the rue Espariat, the hôtel du Manoir with its Franciscan cloister, and the restaurant l’Abbaye des Cordeliers in the rue Lieutaud invite inspection.
If it is true but regrettable that much of the Middle Ages lies buried in the accretions of succeeding centuries There remain, nevertheless, fragments of the fourteenth century ramparts which have been restored on either side of the rue Jacques de la Roque and the imposing Tourreluque , a substantial bastion for the defence of the city on the Boulevard Jean Jaures.

The sixteenth century has left behind two intact (almost) remarkable buildings, one as far beyond the ramparts to the north as Saint Jean de Malte is to the south. The Hôpital Saint Jacques, a model of sturdy, practical, purpose building for the benefit of the sick, the needy, and the aged, though crowded in by more recent additions of less noble stature and design, remains a landmark of interest, both for its impressive proportions and sobriety. In contrast, its contemporary, the hôtel Peyroneti, n° 13 rue Aude, is unique, an elegant Renaissance display cabinet, embellished in 1649 by a portal of vermiculated stone that distinguishes it from all other Aix town houses.
Dominating the hodgepodge of styles and epochs, plastered over by the imperativess of need, taste, and economy, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries reign, both by their quantity and by the quality of their conservation. The cours (Mirabeau), the quartier Mazarin that lies to its south, the handsome archbishopric and adjacent mansions, Villeverte, and Villeneuve, neither green nor new, the City Hall, the Halle aux Grains, its neighbour, the Place d’Albertas, the hôtel de Valbonne, raise their voice in a harmony that blends easily with their neighbours, not strident, never vulgar, though conscious of the need to “belong” and the grandeur thus implied.
The "town mansions" known as hôtels particuliers, may, by their contiguity, remind one of the rowhouses that disfigure the industrial towns of the nineteenth century except, of course, for their scale, their distinctive exteriors and interiors, and their evident satisfaction at being at the top rather than at the bottom of an economic and social scale.
In 1647 a straight line, 440 meters long and 42 meters wide, was drawn across the southern perimeter of the ville des comtes ; it replaced ramparts, lists, and ditches that separated the "archbishop’s meadows" from the ville des comtes. A building site on a scale unknown since the days of the Roman colony (15 B.C.) restored Aix-en-Provence to its former eminence. Intended as a carriageway, the cours was not accessible from the Marseille road ; the land bordering it was sold by archbishop Mazarin, brother to the cardinal, and divided into lots. These were snapped up by members of the parliamentary council, the nobility, the military, magistrates, lawyers, merchants, tax collectors, officers and representatives of the king, the court, and the church. The treasury, (cour des comptes) and members of the parlement, were sufficently numerous and prosperous to plan, finance, and inhabit a Provençal Champs Elysées.
The Quartier Mazarin did not, however, mushroom overnight, nor did building begin in instantaneous obedience to Michel Mazarin’s prophetic vision. *(Coste, Aix-en-Provence et le Pays d’Aix, p.75 plan de Cundler 1680) The baroque and the classical find in the hôtels particuliers of Aix-en-Provence common ground that curbs tendency to excess on the one hand and frozen symmetry on the other. Whereas, to the north of the cours the hôtels are disposed according to the illogical but picturesque whims inherited from their Roman and mediaeval forebears, those of the new neighbourhoods conformed to a linear Cartesian logic, handsome in proportions, seemly, restrained, and even playful in their decorative motifs.
The Hôtel de Maurel de Ponteves, famous for its long suffering Telamones, exemplifies a certain standard in orientation, height, proportion, and, to a lesser extent, decoration. It faces north, its main entrance, Italian style, giving directly onto the cours. The façade of each house bears the stamp of originality, respecting the proportions, dimensions, materials, and decorative variables characteristic of the seventeenth and eighteeth centuries. While affirming each its own personality, the hôtels particuliers of the cours are remarkably similar in the manner in which they occupy their allotted space. They share the Roman tiled roofs common to almost all "vieil Aix", their walled gardens, artfully planted to give the impression of greater space, the fountain, refreshingly cool, the shade of a chestnut tree, and the outbuildings shielding them from the streets that border their southern flank.
Generalisation gives to the exception its particular savour. In this case, and worth a visit for that reason alone the Hôtel de Caumont, which now houses the Music Conservatory in the rue Cabasssol. stands handsome and aloof, facing west instead of north like all its neighbours, its courtyard in front and garden behind, plum in the middle of its plot. Its orginal orientation and its elegant, sober, aristocratic air must have raised a few eyebrows in the quartier Mazarin.


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