Hotel de Ville at the Heart of Old and New Aix en Provence
Aix’s Hotel de Ville
The Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) and the busy square directly in front date from 1741 a time when Aix en Provence was the capital of Provence. The building was constructed for meetings between consuls and the Town Council.
Today, the building remains the place where most administrative requests are made. All residents of Aix who wish to marry must do so at the Hôtel de Ville as only civil ceremonies are considered legal in France.
This is a public building; you can enter without charge as long as the doors are open. Step through the majestic carved wooden doorway, decorated with lion heads and take a look at the cobblestone courtyard. Take note of the ornate wrought iron gates and the ochre stone, which came from the nearby Bibemus Quarry.
The clock tower in the square adjacent to the Hôtel de Ville was erected on Roman foundations in 1510. The tower was built to demonstrate the city’s importance to both the inhabitants and other regional cities. Inside the tower is an astronomic clock, added in 1661, with four wooden statues representing the seasons.
The elaborate wrought iron structure surrounding the bell is known as a campanile. In Provence where the powerful mistral winds can blow for days, these structures prevent the bell from ringing randomly.
The fountain in front of the Hôtel de Ville was sculpted by Jean-Pancrace Chastel in 1756. The fountain is known as the Four Seasons and it includes a Roman column that was salvaged from ruins.
On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings, a flower market brings a riot of colour and activity to the square. The market vendors sell flowers that are grown locally like tulips, mimosa and ranunculus as well as flowers from other parts of the world. Many flowers arrive directly from Hyères home to France’s largest wholesale flower market.
Hall aux Grains
Next to the Hôtel de Ville is the Hall aux Grains (grain exchange) built in 1718, at a time when the tax on grains represented substantial revenue source for Aix. In Provence and throughout France the construction of decorative buildings was not reserved for the nobility. Buildings of public interest were also considered works of art.
Today, this building houses a busy post office.
Chastel also sculpted the triangular portion of the façade that depicts an old man holding an oar symbolizing the Rhone River and the importance of navigation. The Rhone River source is in Switzerland. The river runs through principal cities including Lyon, Orange, and Avignon before reaching the delta on the shores of the Mediterranean. The goddess Sybille symbolizes the Durance River holds grapes and lemons in her left hand to represent the abundance of food cultivated locally. This made possible due to fertile soils and abundant water supply. Sybille’s trailing leg is meant to represent the frequent overflowing of the Durance riverbed.
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