Saturday, December 29, 2012

Every Day is Market Day in Aix-en-Provence

We probably spend more time in Aix-en-Provence than any other town or village in the South of France except for Cassis, Sablet, our home away from Northern California or nearby Vaison-la-Romaine where we go to the weekly market.

We don't go to Aix-en-Provence for historical sites or for the museums but rather we go to shop and meet up with cousin Annick who lives close by. We love the outdoor markets, pretty squares, the Cours Mirabeau, the charming old historic town, the beautiful fountains, and the 17th and 18th century mansions.

Aix is home to some art schools and several universities, including some American, attracting a young population that gives the town youthful energy. It is said that of the 142,000 people who reside in Aix, some 40,000 are students. Founded in 123 BC by the Roman consul Sextius Calvinus, residents of Aix are called Aixois.

Aix-en-Provence hosts open-air markets every day of the week: there is a produce market daily at Place de Richelme, flea markets Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at the Palace of Justice, flower markets on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at Place de l'Hôtel de Ville as well as a book market on the first Sunday of each month.

On a Thursday morning in October, we were off to Aix-en-Provence with two of Shirley's co-workers who were on their first visit to Provence. We got to Aix and and found parking in one of the public parking garages near the old town. We don't seem to find the same garage so we don't have a favorite place to park; we would love a recommendation from any of you who live close by.

As it turned out, the Thursday morning Flower market was in full "bloom" at Place de l'Hôtel de Ville. If you are interested, come along on our walk around Aix-en-Provence. I will include pictures of what we saw and what caught my eye. I will also give you a head's up about a place to eat the next time you are in Aix.

The clock tower, the former belfry of Aix-en-Provence and symbol of local government power, straddles the street on Roman foundations. Erected in 1510, the tower has two clock faces,a traditional face and below that, an astronomic clock that was added in 1661. Four wooden statues symbolising the four seasons appear in turn.

The tower of Saint Sauveur Cathedral rises over the bustling street filled with pedestrians.

The Hôtel d'Estienne de Saint Jean is said to be one of the finest mansions from the end of the 17th century. It's the work of Aixois architect Laurent Vallon. The finely carved door opens into a hall with a wrought iron balustrade. The main living areas, which still have parts of the 17th century decor, have housed the Musée du Vieil Aix (Museum of Old Aix) since the 17th century.




Variety of Lillies.


Roses in multiple Colors.

More roses.

The flags fly on the Hôtel de Ville (town hall).

I think these are Kalanchoes.

Pretty, but don't know what it is. Do you?

Red roses.

The Hôtel de Ville, a building in the classical style of the middle of the 17th century, looks onto a picturesque square (Place de l'Hôtel de Ville). At its side, rises the clock-tower erected in 1510.


Again, I think these are a variety of different Kalanchoes.

A variety of flowering plants including Azaleas, Kalanchoes, and Cyclamens.

A vendor waits for customers to buy his large variety of flowering plants.

A variety of flowers including Azaleas and Pansies.

Olive trees for sale.

A variety of flowering plants.

The Roman base of the clock tower.

Inspiration for a flowering garden.

The fountain of l'Hôtel de Ville (town hall) was decorated by Jean Pancrace Chastel who sculpted the gargoyles which spill water from the Pinchinats. The fountain which dates from 1756 supports a Roman column.

The Hôtel de Ville.

Nearby at Place de Richelme, the daily produce market was underway.

More of the produce market.

The fish mongers had their own spot in the market.

As you walk around Aix-en-Provence, you will spot many of these sculptured heads over doorways. I can't seem to find anything about them despite searching the internet and different guide books.

A plaque on a building commemorates the liberation of Aix-en-Provence on August 21, 1944 by the US Army's 3rd Infantry Division with participation from French forces since landing on the shores of Provence.

A close-up view of the face of the astronomical clock on the tower at l'Hôtel de Ville.

You also find niches for statues of saints and other religious figures such as the Madonna and child on the corners of buildings throughout the old part of Aix-en-Provence.

One of the many narrow streets in the old historic town.

A fountain that looks like it could also serve as a watering trough.

Another street corner. I love the detail.

Another view of the clock tower at l'Hôtel de Ville.

An interesting triangle-shaped building in the old town.

An ornate door and entry way.

The fountain at Place Albertas was constructed during the 19th century. In 1912, cracks in the stone made it necessary to replace it. It was reworked identically, but with a fountain basin made by students of the Aix School of Arts and Crafts.

The Cours Mirabeau is one of the most beautiful boulevards in the South of France. Created in 1650, it is one of the most popular and lively places in Aix-en-Provence. 440 meters long (1444 feet) and 42 meters wide (138 feet), it is lined with cafés, one of the most famous being Les Deux Garçons.

The plane-tree shaded Cours Mirabeau divides Aix into two parts, the Quartier Mazarin, or "new town", which extends to the south and west, and the Ville Comtale, or "old town", which lies to the north. The Cours Mirabeau is decorated by four fountains, the most impressive of which is La Rotonde, a large fountain that functions as a roundabout at one end of the street.

In the foreground of this picture I photographed back in March, you can see a mossy stump in the center of the boulevard which is the 17th century Fontaine Moussue which is fed by hot water.

The construction of the Rotunda fountain in 1860 at the end of Cours Mirabeau was unusual for Aix-en-Provence because of its size and because it was the first to have a water basin. Three statues: Justice, Agriculture and Fine Arts adorn the fountain and recall the main activities of the town. The fountain is at the former Porte Royale, for centuries the main entrance to the town.

A statue which represents arts and sciences on the north side of the Cours Mirabeau by Aix-en-Provence born sculptor François Truphème.

Shirley and friends at the fountain at Place des Augustins.

The clocher des Augustins (Augustine bell tower) stands over Rue Espariat; it's the only remnant from the old Augustinian convent which was built about 1292. The iron belfry was added in 1677.

Another sculptured head over an Aix-en-Provence door.

Another niche on a street corner with the Madonna and child.

Another corner niche with a statue.

South of the Cours Mirabeau is the Mazarin quarter. This residential district was constructed for the gentry of Aix-en-Provence by the brother of Cardinal Mazarin in the last half of the 17th century and contains several notable buildings including the thirteenth century church of Saint-Jean-de-Malte.

The fountain of the four dolphins, generally considered to be the most beautiful fountain in Aix, by sculptor Jean-Claude Rambot is in the heart of the Mazarin quarter and dates from 1667. The fountain flows into a circular basin of Sainte Baume stone.

When we took off for Aix that morning, I had it in my mind that we would go eat lunch at Le Poivre d’Ane, a restaurant at Place Forum des Cardeurs that Tuula over at Belle Provence Travels had written about on her blog.

While my female companions browsed through shops in the old town, I walked over to Place Forum des Cardeurs to make a reservation for lunch. Unfortunately, I discovered that Le Poivre d'Ane only serves dinner. Luckily, Place Forum des Cardeurs has quite a few restaurants that line the square, I checked out the menus on all of them before making a reservation at Bistrot des Philosophes.

All the restaurants that line the Place Forum des Cardeurs have seating on the square, and Bistrot des Philosophes is no exception. Here Shirley and her friends enjoy some rosé while they wait for lunch to be served.

Our lunch choices included this shrimp dish which looks very tasty but I can't recall what it was.

A seafood pasta.

Linguine with pistou, Shirley's choice as it was vegetarian.

A tasty beef fillet.

For dessert, a chocolate fondant, or molten chocolate cake with ice cream.

Our neighbor ordered this beautiful Grand Aïoli. I thought it was an amazing sight. By the end of the meal, she had done a good job with all those vegetables.

Our food was not refined but it was very good and service was super friendly, not something you always find in restaurants on busy town squares

Bistro des Philosophes
20 Place Forum des Cardeurs
13100 Aix-en-Provence
Tel: 04 42 21 64 35

Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt.