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



History of Aix-en-Provence, a stroll through time  
The site of the counts’ palace and the commerce that their presence generated, gave rise to what is known as the "ville des comtes". It includes most of the area between the belfrey tower adjoining the city hall and the Cours Mirabeau to the south. The reign of the counts was not all peaceful or even happy. The black plague, the hundred years’ war, and the intrusion of armed bands of "rouitiers", crusaders on the loose, precluded peace and plenty. One figure among this bellicose company stands out, his fame surpassing that of Aix’s most distinguished citizens. His statue stands at the east end of the Cours Mirabeau, like a high priest gazing beyond his flock toward the baptismal font spouting to the west.

René d’Anjou (1434 - 1480), king of Jerusalem, king of Naples and Sicily, duke of Lorraine, the summum bonus in local lore, the penultimate "count" to reign in Provence is credited with great virtue and noble character. His reputation as poet, artist, musician, patron of the arts,of agriculture and the courts of love, importer of the muscat grape into Provence, does him more than justice. The sour judgement of a recent historian refers to him as "in reality, a deplorable, wily individual onto whom the Provençal populace projected a generous hearted bonhomie".
In 1482 Provence was united to France, according to the proclamation as "equal to equal", pious words hardly borne out by subsequent history, the benefits of "union" being a generous portion of the political and religious conflicts that marked the sixteenth century. Noteworthy among the buildings of this epoch is the hospital dedicated to Saint Jacques. Founded and endowed by Jacques de la Roque. Refreshingly, in a vein more reminiscent of the eighteenth century or even of the twentieth, de la Roque’s deed stipulates that "shall be admitted any man who suffers, whatever his beliefs, etiam diabolus (even the devil)". He continues in similar truculent terms, shall be refused admittance to the administration of the hospital any ecclesistic, whatever rank he may hold in the church, etiam papa. (even, the Pope.)
The prodigious urban development that characterised Aix in the seventeeth and eighteenth centuries, including the Cours Mirabeau, the "Quartier Mazarin" and the two suburbs to the southeast and southwest of the "ville des comtes" account for much of what one sees in Aix today. The king and his Intendants, governors, and churchmen, at last brought order to the fierce opposition born of centuries of Provence’s independence. Michel Mazarin, brother to the Cardinal and archbishop of Aix, must be credited with the most ambitious remodeling of the city since Roman times. The "faubourgs" to the southeast and southwest of the City of the Counts, the cours (later Cours Mirabeau), and many splendid town mansions sprinkled among less dignified dwellings in the bourg Saint Sauveur and the ville des comtes, testify to a prosperity and ambition whose scale and conception transformed the social, economic, and aesthetic equilibrium of "good king René’s city".
The prosperity of the eighteenth century was followed by the long Rip van Winkle sleep of the nineteenth. The French revolution had done its work. From "capital" of a region Aix was demoted to the humiliating obscurity of a "sous-préfecture". As usual, Aix-en-Provence had played its political cards badly, and the new "préfet" Delacroix, named in 1791, found it "un village froid et orgueilleux" ; he decided that the future lay with Marseille. Incidentally, the law of the "28 plûviose" had decreed that prefects’ emoluments must be based on the number of inhabitants in their circumscription. "Honni soit qui mal y pense".

The nineteenth century passed Aix by, the railway from Paris to Marseille was routed through Avignon, Arles, and Miramas, and once proud Aix dawdled its daydream country market town existence into the twentieth century. Thus was saved from the ravages of a builder such as Baron Haussman, a swath of history and beauty that the twentieth century has not yet succeeded in destroying. Much superb countryside has surrendered, many highways and bypasses, new suburbs and box architecture have encroached upon its ramparts. The march of the twentieth century continues inexorably, with traffic clogging narrow streets, and the clamor of commerce, tourists, students, and, yes, a few "true Aixois" who rub shoulders, often ruefully, with a millennium as unpredictable and diffuse as the Roman era was vigorous, single minded, and ruthless.


Copyright © Provence Live 2011