6 Must-See Squares in Aix-en-Provence
At the heart of French culture — not to mention community and architecture — is the place, or square. Every town, big or small, has its fair share of places that have overseen festivals, markets, and families for centuries. Here are 6 worth finding in Aix-en-Provence.
1. Place des Martyrs de la Résistance (previously Place de l’Archevêché)
Less grand than some Aix places, the Place des Martyrs de la Résistance still draws attention for two primary reasons:
1. The world-renowned Aix Music Festival is held here each July and attracts music aficionados from all over the globe.
2. L’Archevêché, the former palace of the archbishops of Aix-en-Provence, built between 1650 and 1730, not only is home to the Music Festival, but part of the monument also houses La Musée des Tapisseries (the Tapestry Museum) with a fabulous collection of tapestries from the 17th and 18th centuries.
2. Place Richelme
Looking for a great Provencal food market? Look no further than Place Richelme. I’ll never forgive my husband for rushing me past the stacks of honey pots, piles of fluorescent green olives, and strawberries to put any American organic farmer to shame. If you miss today’s market, not to worry; there’s one every day of the week.
The Aixois have been buying their food in Place Richelme for eons: there’s a small enclave called La Place aux Herbes that was the original location of the fish and vegetable market back in 1360.
3. Place des Trois Ormeaux
If you’re looking for a shady place to sit and relax for a while, try Place des Trois Ormeaux. Named after the Consul of Aix, Bertrand Berici, this place hasn’t always been as peaceful as it is now: it was the alleged site of the hanging of Honoré de Puget, Lord of Prats in 1524.
You don’t have to worry about witnessing a hanging now. It’s more likely to attract coffee drinkers or hungry locals at spots like L’Epicerie d’Aix en Provence. The plane trees make the shade a welcome respite from the summer sun, and the sounds of water trickling from the fountain will rejuvenate you after a long day of walking around Aix.
As for the name? The word ormeaux means abalone in English, a species of sea snail, sometimes called sea ears. Their shells can be at times iridescent. The flesh is served both raw and cooked. Perhaps people once feasted on them in this very square.
4. Place des Prêcheurs
The Place des Prêcheurs has a bit more going on than some of the places on this list, primarily due to the fact that it’s home to the Palais de Justice (courthouse). And just behind the courthouse is the Appeals Court.
The fountain in the square is a visual highlight: designed by Jean Pancrace Chastel and erected in 1758, the fountain includes four lions that support an obelisk, decorated with medallions representing key figures including Sextius and Louis XV.
If Place Richelme didn’t scratch your itch for markets, plan out your visit to Place des Prêcheurs for a Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday, when a giant market with antiques, silverware, spices, linens, soaps, and flowers takes place. There are more than 300 vendors year-round selling the freshest fruits and vegetables, spices, cheese, olive oil, honey, and cured meats as well! It’s a great place to pick up a spit-roasted chicken, couscous, or even paella for lunch.
The Church of the Madeleine, located in the place, has been rebuilt several times since the 13th century. It was classified as a historical monument in 1988. This church is often referred to as one of the most beautiful in Provence and was recently renovated.
5. Place d’Albertas
For a great view of local architecture, as well as a photogenic fountain, head to Place d’Albertas. Named after the influential d’Albertas family, who migrated to Aix from Italy, the square was built at the request of Jean Baptiste d’Albertas, President of the Audit Office (la Cours des Comtes) in 1745. He wanted a better view from the windows of his home across the street, so he bought the buildings around the square and had them demolished (rational solution!). The houses were then rebuilt in a baroque style adhering to strict building guidelines and sold to Aix inhabitants. This was a housing development before its time!
6. Place des Quatres Dauphins
If you like symmetry and perfection, you’ll appreciate Place des Quatres Dauphins. In contrast to the irregular patterns of the medieval streets and squares in the area, this one has perfect proportions. Four chestnut trees surround the square, and the Italian influence can be noted in the ornate fountain decorated with four dolphins. The dolphins symbolize the importance of the thermal origins of the city of Aix.