Self-guided Walking Tour of Aix en Provence (with maps!)

Aix-en-Provence, Place De La Mairie
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Rolf Kranz

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Aix-en-Provence, nestled in southern France approximately 30 kilometers (or 20 miles) north of Marseille, boasts a rich history dating back to its foundation by Roman Consul Sextius Calvinus in 123 BC. Originally named Aquae Sextiae, meaning “Waters of Sextius,” in reference to the warm springs dotting the area, Aix evolved into the capital of Provence during the Middle Ages.

Experiencing a cultural renaissance after the 12th century, Aix flourished as a hub of art and culture under the patronage of the houses of Aragon and Anjou before officially becoming part of France in 1487. Mirabeau Boulevard, a grand thoroughfare bordered by majestic plane trees, serves as a gateway to the city’s historic heart, characterized by narrow medieval lanes and opulent mansions dating from the 16th to the 18th centuries.

To the south lies the Mazarin District, an elegant 17th-century urban development project spearheaded by Cardinal Mazarin. Revered as the “city of a thousand fountains,” Aix boasts an abundance of these artistic water features, with the most notable adorning Mirabeau Boulevard. Dominating the skyline is the medieval Aix Cathedral, situated atop the remnants of a Roman Forum.

Aix-en-Provence proudly claims French Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cezanne as its native son, commemorating his legacy with the Cezanne Trail, a pedestrian route tracing his life and artistic journey from his birthplace at Mirabeau Boulevard to his schools and studios.

The city comes alive with vibrant musical events year-round, with the Aix Festival of Lyric Art rivaling renowned festivals such as Bayreuth and Salzburg. The Grand Theater of Provence serves as a prestigious venue for operas and musical performances, while the annual Music in the Street festival and Festival of Music in June offer immersive cultural experiences.

Despite its proximity to the Riviera, Aix-en-Provence has managed to preserve its charm amid the rapid development seen along the coast. Renowned for its cultural vibrancy and favorable climate, Aix continues to captivate visitors and residents alike, leaving an indelible impression that echoes the sentiment expressed by Cezanne himself: “I always missed Aix when I was away from it.”

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Cathedrale Saint-Sauveur d'Aix-en-Provence

Baptistère Cathédrale Saint Sauveur Aix En Provence
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Ddeveze

For millennia, the cathedral of Aix-en-Provence has stood as a revered sanctuary, evolving into a significant religious icon within the region. This imposing edifice showcases a harmonious blend of architectural styles, seamlessly intertwining Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque elements, alongside subtle traces harkening back to the Roman era. Its grand proportions command attention, drawing visitors from far and wide to marvel at its magnificence.

Designated as a national monument, Aix Cathedral holds a prominent position within the Old Town, solidifying its status as one of the most frequented attractions in the Provençal town. Its sacred aura and historical significance continue to captivate visitors, ensuring its enduring legacy as a revered symbol of faith and architectural prowess.

Location: Paroisse Cathédrale Saint Sauveur Aix-en-Provence, Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur d'Aix-en-Provence, Place des Martyrs de la Resistance, Aix-en-Provence, France | Hours: All year round, every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Celebration of Masses: Monday to Friday at 8 a.m. Saturday at 8 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday at 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. | Price: Free | Website
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Musée des Tapisseries

Aix-en-Provence-palais Archiépiscopal
CC BY-SA 4.0 / François GOGLINS

From the Cathedral head south along Rue Gaston de Saporta. Turn left into Place des Martyrs de la Résistance at the end of which is the Musée des Tapisseries.

Established in 1909 and now recognized as an accredited Musée de France, the Tapestry Museum occupies the first floor of the former Archbishop’s Palace, nestled within the grand staterooms. This palace, designated as a listed Historic Monument, comprises four wings and an interior courtyard, serving as the residence for various Aix prelates until the early 20th century. Over time, the palace has undergone renovations and restoration efforts, preserving its architectural heritage influenced by different eras and occupants.

The museum’s collection, primarily focusing on 17th and 18th-century tapestries, is organized into three distinct suites: ‘The Grotesque,’ inspired by Berain; ‘The Story of Don Quixote,’ by Natoire; and ‘Russian Games,’ by Leprince. Additionally, the collection features notable pieces of furniture such as cabinets, chairs, and dressers, enhancing the museum’s cultural offerings.

On the ground floor, the ‘Gothic’ room serves as a venue for temporary exhibitions, while the courtyard hosts the Theatre of the Archbishop, a significant venue for the renowned Aix-en-Provence Festival (Opera Festival).

With its growing international acclaim, the Aix Festival has played a transformative role in shaping the museum’s direction since the 1970s. This influence has led to the establishment of collections showcasing textile arts, contemporary arts, and performing arts, with a vision to create an ‘Opera Centre’ dedicated to housing the town’s opera heritage collections originally created for the Aix Festival and the Jeu de Paume theatre.

Location: Musée des Tapisseries, Place des Martyrs de la Resistance, Aix-en-Provence, France | Hours: Open every day except Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. | Price: €4
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Place de l'Hôtel de Ville

Place De L’Hôtel De Ville, Aix-en-Provence
Public Domain / Aix-en-Provence

Continue down Rue Gaston de Saporta, look for the Niche votive, a shrine to the Virgin Mary on your left. You will see the Tour de l’Horloge at the start of the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville.

The town hall, known as the ‘Hotel de Ville,’ in Aix-en-Provence boasts a rich history dating back to the fourteenth century, with subsequent renovations occurring in 1655 and 1678. Adjoined by a majestic clock tower, the building serves as a repository for the portraits of numerous Counts of Provence and Kings of France, echoing centuries of political and cultural heritage. A focal point of the square outside is the fountain, erected in 1755 atop a Roman column, serving as a captivating centerpiece where locals and visitors alike converge to peruse the bustling market or simply savor the ambiance. Dominating the square is the granary, a striking edifice constructed in 1754, adorned with a remarkable triangular-framed carving depicting allegorical figures representing the Durance and Rhone rivers, symbolizing the life-giving benefits of their waters. Cafes and restaurants dot the square, offering a charming respite for indulging in coffee or a delightful meal, making it an inviting destination for both relaxation and culinary delights amidst the vibrant energy of Aix-en-Provence.

Location: Place de l'Hôtel de Ville, Rue Vauvenargues, Aix-en-Provence, France
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Place et Fontaine d'Albertas

Aix-Place D’Albertas
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Bjs

Leave the square at the bottom right corner and walk down Rue Maréchal Foch. At the crossroads walk straight across down Rue Aude. At the end of Rue Aude you come to the square with the Albertas Fountain.

The Albertas Fountain stands proudly at the heart of Albertas Square, its construction dating back to the year 1862. In the 18th century, the Albertas family held a prominent position among the city’s elite. In 1724, Henri Rainaud d’Albertas commissioned the architect Laurent Vallon to design the façade and entrance of his opulent private mansion. Seeking to create an expansive and grand vista, Henri acquired and subsequently demolished the buildings opposite his mansion between 1735 and 1741. His vision was to fashion a square reminiscent of the royal palaces found in Paris. Henri’s son, Jean-Baptiste d’Albertas, carried forward his father’s legacy, overseeing the project from 1742 to 1746. The construction duties were entrusted to Laurent Vallon’s son, Georges. The fountain situated at the square’s center was added later, in the year 1862, serving as a testament to the enduring legacy of the Albertas family and their contributions to the architectural and cultural landscape of the city.

Location: Place d'Albertas 11 Rue Espariat 13100 Aix-en-Provence France | Hours: 24 hours | Price: Free
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Fontaine de la Rotonde

CC BY-SA 2.0 / Rainbow0413

Head west down Rue Espariat. You will come to Fontaine Des Augustins. It was built in 1620, transformed into a public washhouse in 1786 and completely rebuilt in 1820; it is adorned with an ancient Roman granite column at the end of which rests a twelve-pointed copper star; for many years, water from the fountain was used to supply the steam locomotives of the nearby railway station. Continue down Rue Espariat to the Fontaine de la Rotonde.

At the heart of Place du Général de Gaulle lies the Rotonde, a pivotal point where Aix’s urban history converges with its future development. This expansive square, boasting a diameter of 100 meters, was meticulously crafted between 1840 and 1850 to serve as a central gathering place for the city’s inhabitants.

In 1860, the Rotonde fountain emerged as a striking centerpiece, brought to life through the collaborative efforts of engineers Tournadre and Sylvestre. Standing at an impressive height of 12 meters, this majestic fountain is crafted from cold stone and comprises two intricately designed basins. Adorned with exquisite sculptures by Truphème, featuring lions, dolphins, swans, and cherubic figures, the fountain exudes a sense of timeless elegance.

Atop the fountain, three statues symbolize the virtues of Justice, Agriculture, and the Fine Arts, each facing towards prominent destinations—Cours, Marseille, and Avignon, respectively—forming a symbolic road star. These captivating sculptures, crafted by Ramus, Chabaud, and Ferrat, further enhance the fountain’s significance as a cultural and architectural landmark.

Originally supplied with water from the Zola canal in 1854, the fountain now receives a continuous flow from the Verdon canal since 1875, and today, it remains connected to the Provence canal, ensuring its perpetual vitality as a cherished symbol of Aix’s heritage and progress.

Location: Fontaine de la Rotonde, Place du Général de Gaulle, Aix-en-Provence, France | Hours: 24 Hours | Price: Free
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Cours Mirabeau

Aix En Provence, Le Cours Mirabeau
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Ketounette

Fontaine de la Rotonde is at the western end of Cours Mirabeau.

No thoroughfare captures the essence of Aix-en-Provence’s elegance quite like this 440-meter-long street adorned with charming fountains, Renaissance private mansions, and a verdant canopy of plane trees during the summer months. Originally conceived in the 1650s, the street was later christened in honor of the Revolutionary figure, the Comte de Mirabeau. It links the Place de la Rotonde (west) and Place Forbin (east), and remains the busiest part of town.

This picturesque avenue served as a gathering place for luminaries such as Cézanne and Zola, who frequented Les Deux Garçons, among the bustling pavement cafes that line the street.

One of the most striking private mansions along this prestigious boulevard is the Hôtel d’Espagnet, located at No 38 and dating back to 1647. A quintessential example of Aix’s baroque style, this architectural masterpiece was commissioned by a prosperous cloth merchant who ascended to the ranks of the aristocracy.

Location: Cours Mirabeau, Aix-en-Provence, France | Hours: 24 Hours | Price: Free
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Hotel de Caumont

Aix-Hôtel De Caumont
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Bjs

Walk along the Cours Mirabeau until you reach the Fontaine des Neuf-Canons (nine stream fountain), then turn south down Rue Joseph Cabassol. Hôtel de Caumont is on the corner of the next block.

Nestled just a stone’s throw away from Le Cours Mirabeau and framed by the majestic setting of an 18th-century mansion, Caumont Centre d’Art emerges as a true hidden treasure in the heart of the city. Boasting meticulously landscaped gardens, evocative historical chambers, a grand courtyard, and an array of captivating temporary exhibitions, this museum offers a serene respite from the vibrant energy of the bustling main thoroughfare.

Indulge in a slice of delectable cake at the museum’s charming restaurant and luxuriate in the warmth of the midday sun while lounging on the terrace, where inviting seats are thoughtfully scattered to provide a tranquil oasis amidst the urban hustle and bustle. Caumont Centre d’Art promises a delightful blend of cultural immersion and relaxation, inviting visitors to embark on a journey of exploration and rejuvenation in its enchanting surroundings.

Location: Hôtel de Caumont, Rue Joseph Cabassol, Aix-en-Provence, France | Hours: Open every day. From 9 October to 3 May: 10am to 6pm From 4 May to 8 October: 10am to 7pm | Price: Adult: €15,50
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Mazarin District and Fountain of the Four Dolphins

Aix En Provence Quatre-Dauphins
CC BY-SA 2.5 / Wolfgang Moroder

Continue south down Rue Joseph Cabassol and turn left into Rue Cardinale until you reach Place des Quatre-Dauphins.

Situated in the heart of the Mazarin district (Quartier Mazarin) of Aix, the Square of the Four Dolphins occupies a central position at the intersection of Cardinal Street (rue Cardinale) and September 4th Street (rue Quatre-Septembre), adjacent to the picturesque Mirabeau Boulevard. Encircled by stately mansions, including the illustrious Boisgelin Hotel, designed by architect Pierre Pavillon in 1655, the square exudes an air of refined elegance.

The origins of the Mazarin district trace back to 1645 when the archbishop of Aix, Michel Mazarin, obtained King Louis XIV’s authorization to demolish the south ramparts of the city, paving the way for the creation of a modern and upscale residential area. Entrusting the urban planning to architect Jean Lombard, Mazarin envisioned a layout inspired by Italian Renaissance concepts, characterized by a symmetrical grid pattern.

At the heart of Lombard’s design stood Saint-Michel Square, now known as the Square of the Four Dolphins. The focal point of this charming square is the Fountain of the Four Dolphins, a masterpiece sculpted by Jean-Claude Rambot. The fountain features four intricately adorned dolphins encircling a pyramid supporting a column topped with a pine cone. Water gracefully spouts from the dolphins into a large circular basin below, creating a tranquil ambiance. Surrounding the fountain are four majestic chestnut trees, further enhancing the square’s serene atmosphere and offering shade to visitors seeking a moment of repose amidst the urban landscape.

Location: Place des Quatre-Dauphins, Place des 4 Dauphins, 13100 Aix-en-Provence, France | Hours: 24 Hours | Price: Free
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Musee Granet

Aix En Provence-musee Granet
CC BY-SA 4.0 / François GOGLINS

Continue along Rue Cardinale until you reach Place Saint-Jean-de-Malte and both Musée Granet and Eglise et Paroisse Saint-Jean-de-Malte.

Henri Pointier, who served as the curator of the Museum of Aix from 1892 to 1925, harbored a strong disdain for Cezanne. Legend has it that he adamantly declared that Cézanne’s works would only be exhibited at the museum “Over my dead body.” Pointier’s words proved to be eerily prophetic, as he passed away in 1949, opening the door for a dramatic shift in the museum’s attitude towards Cezanne. Subsequently, in the same year, the museum was renamed in honor of François-Marius Granet, one of its most generous patrons.

Originally housed in a building once belonging to the priory of Saint Jean-de-Malte, the Musee Granet continues to share its grounds with the adjacent church, maintaining a sense of historical connection. In 2009, the museum made a bold statement by organizing an exhibition commemorating the 100th anniversary of Cezanne’s death, serving as a powerful vindication for the artist.

The museum’s impressive collection includes notable works by Jean-Dominique Ingres, such as the monumental masterpiece “Jupiter and Thetis,” as well as a self-portrait by Rembrandt and pieces by Van Dyck, Cezanne, Giacometti, and de Stael.

In June 2011, the Foundation Jean et Suzanne Planque launched an exhibition at the Granet Museum featuring over 180 works from the extensive collection of the renowned Swiss collector Jean Planque. This collection, spanning a period of 15 years, showcases a diverse array of artworks, with plans to expand to over 300 pieces. Artists represented include Degas, Renoir, Monet, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Picasso, Bonnard, Klee, Giacometti, and Dubuffet. Housed in a dedicated annex within the Chapel of the White Penitents, this exhibition provides a unique opportunity to explore the legacy of one of the art world’s most significant collectors.

Location: Musée Granet, Place Saint-Jean de Malte, Aix-en-Provence, France | Hours: Tues-Sun, closed Mondays. Jan2- June 10 noon-6pm; June 11-Oct 2 10am-7pm; Oct 3 - Dec 31 noon-6pm | Price: Adults: €5 | Website
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Eglise Saint-Jean-de-Malte

Église Saint-Jean-de-Malte
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Earwiglet

Located at the intersection of rue d’Italie and rue Cardinale, the St. John-of-Malta Church likely dates back to 1272-1278. It occupies the site of a former sanctuary dedicated to the Hospitallers in the 11th century. Notably, the church stands as the first Gothic sanctuary erected in Provence, breaking away from the prevalent Romanesque architectural style of the region during that era.

The bell tower, a prominent feature of the church, boasts a sturdy base set upon a massive square foundation supported by buttresses. The first floor is adorned with four tall and slender windows, housing the sole bell. Above, a spire rises, encircled by four turrets adorned with eight dormer windows. During the Middle Ages, the bell tower was crowned by a metal cob surmounted by a Latin cross. However, in 1754, the cross was struck by lightning and subsequently replaced with a Maltese Cross.

Standing tall at a height of 67 meters, the tower claims the title of Aix’s tallest structure, surpassing even the Aix Cathedral in stature.

Within the vaulted nave, the side chapels once served as the final resting places for the distinguished tombs of the Counts of Provence and the House of Barcelona, bearing witness to the rich history and heritage of the region.

Location: Eglise et Paroisse Saint-Jean-de-Malte, Rue d'Italie, Aix-en-Provence, France
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Place des Prêcheurs

Place Des Prêcheurs
CC BY-SA 4.0 / François GOGLINS

Continue along Rue Cardinale left along Rue d’Italie until you reach Place des Prêcheurs.

Situated in front of the Palais de Justice, the Place des Prêcheurs has been a focal point of public and social life since its creation in the 15th century, serving as the central gathering place before the advent of the iconic Cours Mirabeau.

Around 1640, architect Jean Lombard continued the urban development initiated by Jean de Paris during the city’s expansion with the Villeneuve district. Lombard’s contributions included the enhancement of the east bank of the Place des Prêcheurs, marked by the addition of imposing corner buttresses adorned with slits. The Prêcheurs fountain, originally adorned with four medallions by Jean Pancrace Chastel in 1748, suffered destruction during the upheaval of 1793. However, it was restored in 1833, thanks in large part to the support of American benefactors.

The Madeleine church, constructed between 1691 and 1703 under the guidance of Laurent Vallon, underwent a significant transformation between 1855 and 1860 with the addition of a monumental facade crafted by Revoil. Designated as a historical monument in 1988, the church boasts a wealth of artistic treasures created by local artists, including the remarkable Altarpiece of the Annunciation (1444). While undergoing restoration, this masterpiece is currently on display at the Saint-Esprit church (rue Espariat). The Madeleine church holds special significance for the renowned artist Paul Cézanne, as it is the site of his baptism in 1839, his parents’ marriage in 1844, and his sister Rose’s wedding to lawyer Maxime Conil in 1881.

Location: Place des Prêcheurs, Aix-en-Provence, France | Hours: 24 Hours | Price: Free
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Slowly make your way back to the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville for a relaxing coffee.

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