Aix-en-Provence’s Cours Mirabeau – the Fate of the Plane Trees
Having just returned to Aix after some weeks away, my second shock (after seeing the excavations in front of the Palais de Justice being filled in – inevitable I know) was to see the gaps in the Cours Mirabeau where plane trees had been. I had read about the ‘chancre coloré’ that had infested these magnificent trees,
Continue reading here for Lynne’s photos of the Cours Mirabeau without its leafy canopy. It is such a change.
Cours Mirabeau History
Cours Mirabeau is a street and, more than a street, it is the very heart of Aix. The French word cours comes from the Italian “corso,” meaning promenade. In 1651, Archbishop Mazarin used the site of the old ramparts as the base for a new street – now the famed Cours Mirabeau. The central road, which divides the old town into two sections, was once reserved for the exclusive use of the aristocracy. Now we can all enjoy walking along the wide sidewalks beneath the beautiful canopy created by the double rows of plane trees. The original trees along the Cours were elms, but the plane tree, a Sycamore common in the region, replaced them (until now!).
The Cours Mirabeau is one of the most popular and lively places in town. Originally there were no shops on the street, only the residences of the wealthy. Today, both sides are lined, not just with elegant houses but also shops and banks. The side that gets the longest hours of direct sunshine is where the cafés and restaurants have set themselves up. They line the street from the imposing Rotonde Fountain at the foot of the street to the statue of Roi René at Place Forbin, the top of the Cours.
In 1876, the street was named after the Count of Mirabeau who was born in 1749. He was a well-known figure during the French Revolution who advocated a parliamentary system similar to the one in the UK and served as an advisor to Louis XVI.
Some of the buildings on the street deserve particular attention. Les Deux Garçons is deservedly the most famous brassiere in Aix and remains a social landmark. Two of the waiters purchased the restaurant from the original owners and named it the Les Deux Garçons — or the Two Waiters — although it is locally referred to as Les 2G. It has attracted local artists and writers for years, including Paul Cézanne and Emile Zola, who met there regularly, and later Albert Camus and his friends. Like them, you can go inside and enjoy the ornate First Empire interior or bask on the terrace, a peerlessly pleasant spot to have a glass of something refreshing and watch the passing parade.
The Cours is lined with some of the finest mansions in the city. Take a look at the official Tribune de Commerce or Commercial Courthouse. Paul Maurel, a local merchant who became Lord de Pontavès and a financial administrator, built Hôtel Maurel de Pontevès in the middle of the 17th century. Lombard designed the baroque style façade with the door flanked by two large figures holding up the lintel.