The Fountains of Aix en Provence

Fontaine d'Albertas, Aix en ProvenceAix en Provence is often called the City of a Thousand Fountains - and they come in all shapes and sizes. This picture gallery offers up a small sample for you to enjoy.

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Aix en Provence was known by the Romans as Aquae Sextiae, "The Waters of Sextius" and it has always been a lush and leafy city. The Romans used aqueducts to feed the town's water supply - and the thermal baths that the ancients loved.

When they moved out, Aix fell back on its natural springs and, in the 19th century, big irrigation projects such as the canal du Verdon and the Zola and Bimont dams.

Its fountains date from every century. We've never quite managed to find a full thousand of them, but you will see lovely examples at every turn during a stroll through the centre of town. Click here to view our gallery.

The fountains are functional as well as beautiful: some were once used as watering stages for herds moving through the area on the Transhumance (the passage of animals between their summer and winter pastures). The locals came to others - especially the warm-water Fontaine Mossue - to do their washing. Today some terrace restaurants in Aix use the fountains to chill their bottles of rosé wine, pictured!

Wine chilling in fountain in Aix en ProvenceThe Cours Mirabeau is an excellent starting-point for an exploratory walk, with its four contrasting fountains. At the bottom of the boulevard, on the great Rotonde roundabout, is the city's most grandiose fountain dating back to 1860 and loaded with allegorical figures (slides 1 and 2).

A little way up is the Fontaine des Neuf Canons, where those sheep stopped for a drink (slide 19), as you might do too. Then comes a moss fountain (the Fontaine Mossue), the natural hot water fountain (slide 13). Both these date back to the 17th century.

At the top of the Cours is a 19th century fountain representing Good King René (1409-1480), the cultured and benevolent ruler who made Aix famed throughout Europe as a centre of learning and culture (slide 18). Click here to read more about the fountains of the Cours Mirabeau.

Off the Cours Mirabeau, the star fountains are the gorgeous baroque Fontaine des Quatre Dauphins (Fountain of the Four Dolphins, 1667) designed by Jean-Claude Rambot in the Mazarin Quarter. It's supposedly the first free-standing fountain in Aix (slides 10 and 11).

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And over on the other side of the cours, in the Old Town, there's an emblematic cast-iron fountain on the place d'Albertas (1912), named after Jean-Baptiste d'Albertas, one of the most powerful men in the city who also built magnificent gardens in his name just outside Aix in Bouc Bel Air (slides 6 and 20).

The famous fountains of Aix aren't just about elegant 17th, 18th and 19th century sculptures. The city continues to expand its treasury and in 2014 got its biggest fountain yet: a massive, ultra-modern wall of water that claims to be the largest in Europe (slide 8).

Unlike Aix's classic fountains, it's not in the Old Town or Mazarin Quarter, but instead spans the avenue Juvenal, one of the main traffic thoroughfares leading into the city. Already jokers are describing it as Aix's biggest ever free car-wash.

The mur d'eau, as it's called in French, spreads over 700 square metres / 7,534 square feet and cascades down through 17 metre / 56 feet. And of course it doesn't flood the cars passing underneath (in theory, at least): a cunning technical device channels the water around the arch.

Designed by Christian Ghion, it's on the edge of (though not easily visible from) Aix's Forum culturel, the cultural district where you can already find a grand cluster of starchitect-designed buildings: the Pavillon Noir, the Conservatoire de Musique, the Grand Théâtre de Provence and the Hotel Renaissance, on which Ghion worked as part of the design team.

The mur d'eau runs on a closed circuit of recycled water and is illuminated by night. On the other, northern side of the same bridge is the equally impressive mur végétal or plant wall, which skirts Aix's brand-new bus station.

UPDATE: the first Mistral (strong wind) to hit the water wall has been causing technical troubles. These are - supposedly - being fixed; meanwhile the fountain will only run at limited times until the end of September. They are: 11am-1pm, 4pm-6pm and 10pm-midnight.

 

Detail: Fontaine de la Rotonde (1860)
Fontaine de la Rotonde (1860)
Fontaine du Sanglier, place Richelme (1980)
Fontaine de l'Hôtel de Ville (1756)
Detail of fountain
Fontaine d'Albertas (1912)
Fontaine Espeluque, place des martyrs de la Résistance (1618)
Mur d'Eau, avenue Juvenal (2014)
Fontaine de la place des Trois Ormeaux (early 17th century)
Detail: Fontaine des Quatre Dauphins (1667)
Fontaine des Quatre Dauphins (1667)
Detail of fountain
Fontaine Moussue, Cours Mirabeau (1667)
Detail: Les Fontêtes, rue Merindol (1858)
Les Fontêtes, rue Merindol (1858)
Fontaine des Bagniers, place des Chapeliers (1687)
Fountaine de la rue Boulegon (1532)
Fontaine du Roi René, Cours Mirabeau (1823)
Fontaine des Neuf Canons, Cours Mirabeau (1691)
Detail: Fontaine d'Albertas (1912)
Detail: Fontaine de la Rotonde (1860)

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