Composed of the Saint-Sauveur market town and the City of the Counts, it is the oldest part of the centre of Aix.
|The old town
The Bourg Saint Sauveur
On the site of the former Roman town, stretching from the Cathedral to the Church Tower (Town Hall). Some of the small streets have kept their evocative names, such as the rue Esquicho-coudo, a narrow passage dating from the middle ages. Ruins of the old medieval ramparts may also be seen right at the top of the rue Gaston de Saporta (rue J. de la Roque to the left.)
Opposite the cathedral, in the Place de l'Université, the former law faculty (1409) was replaced by the Institute of Political Studies. The Palais de l’Université, reconstructed by Georges Vallon in 1734, proudly carries out its official functions.
The Saint Sauveur Cathedrale
Built on a temple of Apollo, according to the legend, the Cathedral developed between the 5th and 18th centuries. This architectural melting pot is distinguished with a mere glance at its facade. On the right, to the south, the Romanesque gate from the 12th century adjoins a Roman wall, whilst on the left, to the north, the vast, richly carved Gothic gate from the 15th and the 16th centuries is surmounted to the north by a church tower erected between 1323 and 1425. Inside are three naves of different styles (Romanesque,Gothic and Baroque), which flank the Baptistère which rests on an octagonal stand dating back to the 5th century. Its central font recalls the ancient rite
of baptism by immersion.
Crossing the chancel, we reach the Cloister. Built at the close of the 12th century, it breathes serenity and elegance.Of small dimension, covered with solidly built galleries, the abundant and varied decor of the pillars draws its inspiration from the animal, plant, and fantasy worlds as
well as Gospel symbols.
The hidden Treasures of the Cathedral
A masterpiece of French painting, the triptych of the “ Buisson Ardent “ (burning bush) was painted around 1476 for King René by Nicolas Froment. On the lateral panels are praying donors. Jeanne de Laval to the right, King René to the left in Canon's robes is surrounded by Saints, one of which is Mary Magdalen, the patron saint of Provence.
The leaves of the gate were carved in walnut tree heartwood by Jean Guiramand at the beginning of the 16th century. This delicate piece of work has been meticulously preserved and is a pleasure to the eye.
The Archbishop's Palace
Adjoining the cathedral,the former palace of the archbishops of Aix-en-Provence, closed off the square which was cleared in the 18th century (it is at present the square of the martyrs of the Resistance). Due to their ecclesiastical and political power,these princes of the Church owed themselves worthy of their rank. The buildings seen today were built between 1650 and 1730,and the gate is attributed to the sculptor Toro.
On the first floor,Tapestry Museum may be admired (see page XX). Since 1948,the heart of the Archbishop’s Palace serves as a setting for the main events of the Festival of Lyric Art during the month of July.
The Cité Comtale. Past the belfry, you find yourselves in the former city of the counts. The episcopal city and the city of the counts were actually separated by medieval ramparts. Today a busy pedestrian shopping area, perfect for a quiet stroll.
The Clock Tower. Former belfry of the town and symbol of local government power, the tower spans the street on Roman foundations. Erected in 1510, it houses an astronomic clock built in 1661, containing four wooden statues. The Four Seasons fountain by the sculptor Chastel in the 17th century is surmounted by a Roman column in its core.
Down the Rue Gaston de Saporta. An ancient street, today a lively semi-pedestrian street, and containing four superb mansions from the 17th and 18th centuries.
- At No.23, the Hotel MAYNIER-D’OPPEDE belonged to a famous Parliamentary family. Rebuilt in 1730 by the architect Georges Vallon and the sculptor Chastel, it is today the Institute of French Studies for foreign students. It is also the setting for concerts held in June and July.
- The Hotel BOYER DE FONSCOLOMBE (at No.21)
displays an elegant facade dating back to 1757. Inside, it has a beautiful decor of painted ceilings and gypseries.
- The Hotel de CHATEAURENARD at No.19 was built in 1650. It is famous as the place where Louis XVI stayed during his visit to Provence in 1660. Its magnificent staircase in trompe l’oeil was painted by Jean Daret.
- The Hotel d'ESTIENNE DE SAINT JEAN, at No.17, is one of the finest from the end of the 17th century. Its facade adorned with high pilasters is the work of the Aixois architect Laurent Vallon. The finely carved door opens into a hall with a magnificent balustrate in wrought iron. The main living areas, which have preserved part of the 17th century decor, have housed the Musée du Viel Aix (Museum of Old Aix) since the 17th century, which contains memorials to Aix’s past.
The Town hall
At the foot of the tower since the 14th century, the Town Hall with its Italian style facade was built between 1655 and 1678 by Pierre Pavillon. Between the railings and the double turned
stairwells, the inner court embraces the building’s perfect harmony.
The Corn exchange
Designed by the Vallon architects, this 18th century building recalls the importance of the wheat trade at the time. The north facade is crowned by an allegoric pediment attributed to Chastel, representing the two essential elements of farming prosperity in Provence: the Rhone and the Durance rivers. The southern part overlooking the Place Richelme is rich in decorative motifs associated with the purpose of the building, fruits, cereals and olives.
Down toward the Place d'Albertas: The Hotel d’Arbaud (1670) on the rue Maréchal Foch offers visitors a view of its door supported by two telamons, a theme often repeated in Aixois decor of the 17th and 18th centuries. Further down, at No.13 Rue Aude, the embossed decor of the Hotel de Peyronetti (dating from 1625) seems to have come straight out of a Palace from the Italian Renaissance.
The Square et the Hotel d'Albertas.
A magical place, where everything competes to suggest a theatrical scene, the square was created in 1745, when the Marquis Jean Baptiste d’Albertas had the houses opposite his mansion demolished.
This leading Aix family lived a very luxurious life at the time.The vast mansion, altered in 1724, and the rococo style square are the work of the Vallons (father and son) who found inspiration in the fashionable royal squares of Paris.At the centre, the fountain with its basin dates back to 1912.
A few steps away stands the Hotel Boyer d'Eguilles (1672) with its imposing baroque style facade. Built in stone from the Bibémus quarry near the Sainte-Victoire mountain, it houses the Natural History Museum on its ground floor.
Catching the eye in the view of the rue Espariat is one of the most graceful wrought iron bell towers of the 17th century, that of the Augustins steeple. Just opposite is the Saint Esprit church,where Mirabeau and Mademoiselle de Marignane’s wedding was celebrated. It was reconstructed by the Vallons between 1706 and 1728.
The Law courts. Formerly the home of the sovereigns of Provence, the Parliament and the Counts’ court, the former palace was demolished toward the close of the 18th century, at the same time as its surroundings. In is place, the architect Ledoux designed a new palace, but the revolution unfortunately prevented its construction. Between 1825 and 1832, Penchaud built the Law courts and the prison on Ledoux' foundations. Inside, the "waiting room" with its elegant colonnades bathes in the filtered light of its great glass roof.Converted in 1998, the former prison is now an integral part of the new judiciary centre, and now houses the Court of Appeal, the current Palais Monclar. Before the courts stretches the Place des Prêcheurs, opened in the 15th century by King René.The centre of public and social life until the creation of the Cours Mirabeau, it now hosts the vast market and antiques fair.
The Madeleine church. The former Dominican Couvent des Prêcheurs (Preachers' convent) standing since 1274, was rebuilt in its entirety between 1691 and 1703. Behind its 11th century facade, this church-cum-museum contains works by several artists who lived in Aix, including the outstanding Altarpiece of the Annunciation dating from 1444.
From the place des Prêcheurs, return to the Cours Mirabeau either via Passage Agard or Rue Thiers.