Aix-en-Provence is a beautiful town in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of France. It’s about 20-30 minutes by train from Marseille, with tickets averaging $15 one-way. Aix-en-Provence (or Aix for short) is the home town of Paul Cézanne and offers many attractions relating to the artist and his paintings.
Aix-en-provence is incredibly charming with a wonderful small-town feel, very contrasting to the large city of Marseille. The word Aix originates from Aqua + Sextius. Sextius was the name of an important military figure in the area, and water is very important and prevalent in the city. Aix-en-Provence was at one time part of Catalonia, and they still fly the “blood and gold” striped flag!
Cours Mirabeau is a wide thoroghfare in Aix, that stretches from the Tourist Office beside the Rotonde Mirabeau to Place Forbin. Cours Mirabeau is a great place to explore, filled with with markets, restaurants, moss-fountains, and plenty of people watching!
Rotonde Mirabeau is a large fountain in the middle of a round-a-bout, just beside the tourist office. Three figures sit atop the fountain representing Avignon, Aix, and Marseille. This fountain was built to celebrate once a dam was built to bring more water access to the town. François Zola, father of Émile Zola, moved to Aix to build this dam!
At the end of the Cours stands Fontaine du Roi René, a fountain featuring the Count of Provence. René of Anjou was from Italy, and his statue is holding a cluster of grapes. Rumor has it, he is the one who brought the Muscat grape to France from Italy!
One of my favorite areas was the flower marker in front of the old market building. The top of the former Great Market building features two figures which represent the two rivers in the area: the Rhône and Durance. The woman on the right with her leg hanging out represents the Durance river and the problems they have with flooding!
Paroisse Cathédrale Saint Sauveur
Paroisse Cathédrale Saint Sauveur has three sections, each from different centuries! The entire cathedral is made up of 1,500 years of construction – the first section was part of a roman forum while the Romanesque style section is from the 12th century. The newest section was finished in 1502 and features the beloved walnut doors. They are very protective of these doors – the doors are revealed at 11:30 in the morning for only 30 minutes!! Otherwise, they are covered up by panels. Apparently people used to rip off parts of the door and steal them, hence the current protection. From inside, each section is drastically different!
Terre de Peintres
Painter’s Ground is named such because it is such a popular spot amongst painters! Countless artists sat there to paint the gorgeous Mount St. Victoire. Not only is the mountain beautiful, the surrounding area is also stunning. The regional wind called Le Mistral makes the grass dance! It is easy to see why it was such a popular painting ground. There are copies of paintings of the mountain on display on the patio area.
Life of Paul Cézanne
I’m a huge fan of walking tours, so I am always seeking out tours through free walking tour companies (such as Sandemans) or through local tourist offices. The tourist office in Aix-en-Provence offers two very affordable walking tour options: a generic walking tour or a Cézanne-themed walking tour. My friend and I chose to take the Cézanne tour because I love impressionist and post-impressionist art.
The Cézanne walking tour follows a path of his “footsteps” or markers leading to different locations that relate to his life in Aix.
A famous post-impressionist painter, Cézanne unfortunately did not gain popularity until after his death. He was rejected multiple times by the Salon in Paris. However, his work inspired many other artists. Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger wrote:
Cézanne is one of the greatest of those who changed the course of art history . . . From him we have learned that to alter the coloring of an object is to alter its structure. His work proves without doubt that painting is not—or not any longer—the art of imitating an object by lines and colors, but of giving plastic [solid, but alterable] form to our nature.
You can view the building where Cézanne first lived, above his father’s hat shop. The shop is now a bank, but the old sign is still visible (thought faded). Cézanne’s apartment workshop window is easy to distinguish as it does not match the rest of the building’s windows. In order to access the workshop, he had to climb a narrow staircase. In his older age, this was more difficult so he had another studio built in town. This studio costs money to enter (and no pictures allowed!) but it is supposed to be the place where you can most feel Cézanne’s presence. The studio remains almost exactly how it was left, with tons of items from his still lifes. There is a letter between Monet and Cézanne, which is really cool to read as well.
Until next time!