Discover the Artists and Artistic Side of Aix en Provence
Aix en Provence was founded in 122 BC by the Romans and called Aquas Sextius. The remains of the Roman baths can still be seen today at the entry to the Thermes Sextius, which offers a range of decadent spa treatments.
The city of Aix en Provence was not officially part of France until 1481. However, in a short time, by 1555, it had become a pivotal administrative capital of the French Kingdom. Like many parts of Europe, Aix was badly hit by several plagues. The plague of 1720 killed nearly 50% of the inhabitants.
Present day, Aix en Provence is a university town with just over 143,000 residents, and it is home to an Appeals Court. The Aix Marseille University has exchange programs with dozens of American Universities including Vanderbilt, Wellesley and University of Wisconsin. There are many French nationals and expats engineers in the region thanks to international initiatives in environmental research, nuclear energy and fusion at ITER and Airbus helicopters.
Provence often has over 300 days of sunshine annually, and the inhabitants of Aix enjoy those days on the many outdoor terraces. As attractive places tend to be a magnet for creative types, Aix en Provence is no exception. This city is often called the City of Art, with good reason. Many famous painters have lived in or spent time in the area.
Paul Cezanne was born in the city on January 19, 1839 and died here 67 years later. After attending the City’s prestigious law school on his father’s request, he pursued his true passion, painting. He had a studio on the Chemin des Lauves where he painted daily until his death in 1906. The studio is still open to visitors and it is well worth a visit. Cezanne is known as the father of impressionism and a prolific painter of still life and remarkable landscapes that often featured Mount Ste. Victoire. The mystical mountain, which dominates the Aix en Provence landscape, became his consecrated subject and the emblem of his many works.
Pablo Picasso, the Spanish artist and sculptor, has a large body of work that is linked to Provence and the Cote d’Azur. The Aix region inspired Picasso enough to purchase the Château de Vauvenargues in 1958. The chateau is at the foot of Mount Sainte Victoire and Picasso once said that he had purchased the mountain Cezanne painted so often. Picasso was buried there in 1973.
What would a French city be without a few famous literary types?
British advertising executive turned writer Peter Mayle put Provence on the map in 1989 with his book A Year in Provence.
Emile Zola, a French writer who was born in Paris, moved to Aix as a child and attended school with Cezanne. His father was an engineer who designed a dam outside of town, which still bears his name today. Zola is famous, for his controversial, letter (1898) to French President Félix Faure: “J’accuse “, in which he accuses the President and the Army of obstructionist justice.
When, you see signs in both French and Provençal, it is thanks to Frederic Mistral. He was awarded the 1904 laureate for the Nobel Prize for Literature. Mistral was one of the seven founding fathers of Felibrige, a group dedicated to protecting the Provençal language. He completed the only French-Provençal dictionary in 1886 and wrote a series of poems, one of which “Mireille” was adapted for the Opera.
Ernest Hemingway, the famous American author and prolific journalist also spent time in Aix. His book The Garden of Eden was set in La Napoule located about 1.5 hrs away on the Cote d’Azur.
Marcel Pagnol is a well-known contemporary writer who grew up in Provence and whose novels are entirely situated here.
For your own artistic tour of Aix, pick up a map from the tourist office.