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Architecture in Aix-en-Provence  
For their distinctiveness and the interplay of stylistic motifs and decoration : doorways, doors, door knockers, caryatids and Telamons, balconies, wrought iron balustrades, pediments, pilasters, mascarons, cornerstones, superposed Greek columns, scrolls, street corner shrines, etc. each hôtel particulier is a study in itself.
Among the many striking architectural masterpieces must be counted : the mairie (City Hall), the halle aux grains (tithe barn, its neighbour now known as the ‘old post office), the place d’Albertas (rue Espariat), the hôtel d’Albertas (facing the above), the hôtel Boyer d’Eguilles (its next door neighbour) the Pavillon Vendôme (rue Celony), the hôtel d’Estienne de Saint Jean (17 rue Gaston de Saporta).
Access to the private and semi-private Aix is sometimes a matter of luck, a courtyard and grand staircase glimpsed through a half-open doorway, hôtel d’Albertas, idem the hôtel d’Estienne de Saint Jean. A redeeming feature of the Crédit Lyonnais bank on the Cours Mirabeau is the monumental stone staircase on the left of the entrance to what is still, after all, the hôtel de Forbin.
The revolutionary epoch added little to Aix’s architectural inheritance. However, two remarkable landmarks, entirely different in conception, purpose, and execution, originate from this same period. For differing reasons, they have left their mark on the city :
The late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries reveal an Aix reduced from its rank of "capital" to that of souspréfecture. The great surges in town development, mercifully, were restricted principally to "cosmetic" improvement (the fountains of la Rotonde and the Roi René) and more earthy considerations of the water supply, (canal Zola 1838-1854) and Canal du Verdon 1831-1875) , and the development of roads, schools, and university faculties. Neglect, not always benign, may be accounted as the chief source of Aix’s architectural preservation in the nineteenth century. The Paris - Nice mainline railway was routed through Avignon, Arles, Miramas and Marseille. Aix’s Rip van Winkle snooze of over a hundred years meant that no great building sites have slashed through the maze of the old town whose economy remained largely rural. The chief town squares are still occupied by markets: place des Prêcheurs, Place Richelme, and Place de la Mairie, while the twentieth century has here, as elsewhere, fumbled an uncertain path through a jungle gym of socio-economic demographics.
The place des Cardeurs located behind the mairie, like a broad gash in the city’s fabric, is an example, rare in Aix-en-Provence, of a self inflicted wound, so far without equivalent aesthetic or functional compensation.
To the north on the hilltop near the atelier Cézanne stands the cité Beisson (1955) built to accommodate the immigrant Algerian population who had hitherto occupied that "run-down city block" between the rue des Cordeliers and the rue des Cardeurs. Beisson now shares with Entremont, the mediaeval Tour César, the Mont Sainte-Victoirei, Eguilles, and the Montaiguet, the onus of dominating Aix’s horizon.
Barre among barres, (views of N. Marseille and Mazargue) Beisson is a statement of architectural, economic, and social bankruptcy, less depressing than many more recent models, but important as witness to what in our age passes for communal living. Le Corbusier whose cité radieuse, consciously copied or not, gave birth to a hope that was stifled in infancy by dismal economic reality. (quartiers nord Marseille, Corsy) Well intentioned efforts by the local municipality have spared Aix much of the squalor associated with larger cities.
The Z.U.P. (Zone d’Urbanisation Prioritaire), the Z.A.C. (Zone d’Aménagement Concerté), and a profusion of individual housing developments from the (relatively) modest Verte Colline to the grand standing of the nearby Parc Mozart reflect a city whose scattered soul and resources are no match for the merchants of the temple. Mirabeau-Sextius is the name given to the immense building site now under construction on Aix’s western front.
This, the former "industrial zone", once producing matches and home to the rail freight station and abattoirs, are being hammered, bulldozed, and refashioned into the image of a twenty first century megopolis... no arhictectural Michelin stars awarded, either, to the new industrial zone of Aix-les-Milles, and only a sigh to be heaved at the pretentious and ponderous behemoths already created.
A special mention, however, must go to the source of Aix’s history which, since earliest times, has given life, hope, and prosperity to a city that bears its name :
Aix = aqua = water. Today’s fountains not only evoke those of the past two thousand years, they attenuate the lethal effects of conflicting traffic flows meeting at right angles, and they bear a message suggesting that deceleration, a touch of natural beauty, and a few curves help us to live longer, and better.


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