Aix-en-Provence is one of the most beautiful cities in France, located halfway between the Luberon and Marseille mountains. Old streets paved with stone, palaces of the Provencal nobility of the 17th-18th centuries in the Italian baroque style, elegant facades of old mansions with openwork wrought iron balconies, the city hall with a Gothic clock tower and, of course, many fountains that once saved the city from the plague – all this creates the unique charm of the city, through which the wind – the eternal Provencal mistral minstrel – spreads the dry leaves of plane trees.
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Despite its luxurious historical and cultural heritage, the city is full of life and young creative energy – mainly thanks to the local university, the famous European Academy of Music and the many art festivals that fill the historical capital of Provence with the atmosphere of a living creative laboratory.
Aix-en-Provence is also considered the Provencal center of antiques: collectors and amateurs from all over the world “dig” in the local flea markets and antique shops in search of rarities.
How to get there
The nearest international airport is located in Marseille. From there and from the railway station, auto-expresses go to the city. Can also be reached from the airports of Toulon, Nimes and Nice. Paris – Aix -en-Provence: 2 hours 50 minutes by TGV.
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City `s history
In the 4th century BC e. Lower Provence was occupied by the Celtic-Ligurian tribes. Their capital, Antremont, was located just north of the location of modern Aix-en-Provence. In 123 BC. e. the Roman consul Sextius defeated the Ligurians and built a colony for legionary veterans Aqua Sextiae (lat. Aqua Sextiae) on the site of their settlement. In the 4th century, the city received the status of the capital of the Roman province of Narbo, and for the next eight centuries it turned into a tasty morsel for the Visigoths, Franks, Lombards and Saracens.
The city reached its heyday only in the 12th century – under the rule of the counts of Provence (the houses of Anjou and Barcelona), who made Aix their residence and brought into fashion a lush court culture with concerts, carnivals, festivities and sumptuous meals. In the 15th century, the Duke of Anjou, nominal king of Sicily, King René turned Aix into an important cultural, commercial (muscat and almond import) and university centre. He organized folk festivals and processions that lasted several days and attracted hundreds of troubadours from all around.
The outstanding painter Paul Cezanne was born and lived most of his life in Aix-en-Provence. Student years at Bourbon College brought him together with Emile Zola.
In 1486, after the annexation of Provence to France, Aix-en-Provence becomes the capital of the region and the seat of the royal governor. In 1501, Louis XII transferred the institutions of the Supreme Court here and established a regional parliament in the city, which was so unpopular that it gave rise to the saying: “Parliament, mistral and Durance (river) are the three main troubles of Provence.” But it was during this era that residences and mansions in the Italian Baroque style were rebuilt in Aix with an abundance of sculptural elements and compositions. Louis XIV stayed in Aix several times. It was here that peace was signed with the Prince of Condé. From here comes the famous deputy from the third estate, Honore de Mirabeau.
The outstanding painter Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) was born and lived most of his life in Aix-en-Provence. Student years at Bourbon College brought him together with Emile Zola. At the University of Aix, young Cezanne studied law, but without completing the course, he began studying at the School of Fine Arts of Aix-en-Provence. The father did not approve of his son’s choice, but supported him by allocating a significant annual annuity. After the “Parisian” wanderings and creative searches of the 1870-1880s, the artist will finally return to Aix-en-Provence, where he will find his best “model” – Mount Saint-Victoire.
Aix-en-Provence is also famous for its balneological resort, located at an altitude of 175 m above sea level in the Arc river valley. Healing warm springs were discovered here by the Romans, and today bicarbonate calcium waters (with a temperature of up to 36 ° C) are used for baths and drinking treatment for diseases of the cardiovascular system, organs of movement and support, and kidneys.
How to navigate
The majestic Mirabeau Boulevard divides the city into two parts that are so different from each other. On the one hand, these are the streets of the Old Town, overgrown with fashionable and designer boutiques, respectable restaurants, cozy coffee shops, artistic ateliers and gathering people to local colorful markets with lavender oil, pastis, Marseille soap and Provencal sweets. The legendary place of this quarter is the cafe des Deux Garcons, whose visitors at different times were Zola, Girardot and Cocteau. On the other hand, the grandiose quarter of Mazaran is pacified with wide sparsely populated streets, classicist and baroque facades and high wrought-iron fences that hide magnificent mansions of the local aristocracy and numerous state institutions of the 17th-18th centuries behind lush garden vegetation.
Cuisine and restaurants
In the restaurants and cafes of Aix-en-Provence, you should try freshly cooked fish, the famous basil soup, Provencal stew (with herbs) and garlic aioli served with seafood, fish soup and croutons. As gastronomic souvenirs, local almond biscuits with candied fruits and icing are suitable – callissons and pastis anise liqueur, which includes more than 50 plant and spice extracts. It is consumed as an aperitif and is traditionally diluted with water in a ratio of 1/5.
This drink, the most popular among local residents, owes its appearance to the ban on the production and sale of absinthe. At the beginning of the 20th century, when the ban on the “green witch” came into force in most European countries, one of the main producers of absinthe, Pernod, changed the drink’s recipe, replacing wormwood with anise and significantly lowering the degree from 70% to 30%. So in 1915 pastis was born. In 1922, the degree of liquor increased to 40%, and in 1938 – to 45%.