Aix-en-Provence is a city close to my heart. I lived here for three years shortly after arriving in France in 2003. This is where I learned the French language. For the first couple of years I spoke French with a southern accent, which was eradicated once I moved to Paris. It is a small city in the heart of Provence, easily navigable by foot. The heart of the city is filled with Provencal and artisanal shops, cafés, and restaurants featuring every imaginable cuisine.
Adding to the beauty of the city are its twenty-or-so magnificent fountains found in the city center. Called the City of a Thousand Fountains, you will no doubt encounter one while you make your way down its quaint streets.
In the late 19th century, the canal du Verdon and the Zola Dam allowed water to run in the basins of the fountains of the city. At first, these fountains were made for its practicality; the Fountain of the Nine Cannons by Laurent Vallon, for example, was originally a fountain where herds would drink while migrating, while the Fountain of Hot Water (a moss-covered fountain nicknamed Moussue) runs hot waters of the Bagniers spring.
The fountains later became stylistic and ornamental. The La Rotonde fountain at the heart of the city is no doubt the most imposing one in Aix-en-Provence. Constructed in 1860, it is flanked by three statues depicting Justice, Agriculture and Fine Arts – the town’s main activities. In the heart of the Mazarin quarter stands the Fountain of the Four Dolphins, by sculptor Jean-Claude Rambot in1667. It features four dolphins supporting an obelisk, with a baroque motif hinting at the Italian design influence on the Aix nobility during that period.
Further up Cours Mirabeau is the Fountain of Roi René, a 19th century fountain designed by David of Angers. Credited to have introduced Muscat grapes to Provence, the statue of King René statue holds a bunch of grapes in his left hand.
Some of these fountains, though, are in need of restoration work. It is reported that renovations are to be done to the fountains according to their needs starting in autumn 2012. Water conservation measures are also being applied in Aix. The soon-to-be restored fountains will be installed with closed circuits to minimize water flow. For five years now, to conserve water, the city’s fountains water flow is turned off from 11pm to 6am.
With its inspired architecture, hidden gems and Provencal charm, Aix-en-Provence is a city to get lost in; a city where turning a corner can bring you unexpected pleasures. Take it from me; it’s been six years since I’ve left, and I still find myself coming back.