Sunday, March 18, 2012

Aix-En-Provence: Day Two

My parents spent a second leisurely day in Aix-En-Provence.

They were in no hurry to get up and get out and about this morning, wanting and choosing to get as much rest as possible the first night after their overnight flight.

It was the middle of the morning before my parents left the hotel and began a walk around the center of Aix-En-Provence.

Their first stop of the day was the Cathedral of Aix-En-Provence, Cathedrale Saint-Sauveur (“Holy Savior Cathedral”), seat of the local Bishop.

Erected between the 5th and the 15th Centuries, Cathedrale Saint-Sauveur is marked by its incomplete tower. Portions of the Cathedral are Merovingian, portions are Romanesque, portions are Gothic and portions are Early Renaissance. The Cathedral’s foundations rest on ancient Roman ruins of disputed origin.

The Cathedral is home to numerous artworks, the two most famous of which—a celebrated triptych and a noted tapestry—are on display only one hour each week (for reasons of preservation). Neither work is shown on Sunday.

My parents greatly enjoyed their visit to the Cathedral—and they were fascinated by the beautiful Cloisters and the exquisite Baptistery, purely Merovingian and of great historic importance (the interior of the renowned Baptistery appears below)

From Cathedrale Saint-Sauveur my parents walked to nearby Eglise de la Madeleine, a Baroque structure erected between 1691 and 1703. Eglise de la Madeleine is generally considered to be Aix-En-Provence’s most beautiful house of worship. Paul Cezanne was baptized at Eglise de la Madeleine.

Eglise de la Madeleine is currently closed for renovation; my parents were able to view only the exterior, itself in need of some attention.

After viewing the two churches, my parents walked around the town for a couple of hours, more or less aimlessly, with no particular agenda to cover, after which they had a light lunch at an outdoor café.

My parents report that Aix-En-Provence is exceedingly beautiful, with many interesting and distinguished buildings (most of Baroque origin).

However, the town’s inherent beauty is allowed to be spoiled by countless outdoor vendors, their tables spread everywhere, overloaded with low-quality merchandise. The vendors sell everything from cheap clothing to cheap footwear to cheap jewelry to cheap cosmetics to cheap house wares to cheap electronics. The vendors are mobbed by an avaricious French public on the lookout for bargains. According to my father, the entire center of Aix-En-Provence was one giant garage sale, with a poorly-dressed French public excitedly picking over goods as if celebrating some ancient pagan feast day.

After lunch, my parents took a taxi to Atelier Cezanne, the painting studio of the great artist. Persons who have visited Atelier Cezanne had informed my parents that Atelier Cezanne was not worth visiting and should be skipped—but my parents found it unthinkable to make a trip to the great artist’s hometown and not to visit the artist’s final studio, preserved exactly as it was at the time of Cezanne’s death in 1906.

Atelier Cezanne is open only a few hours each day. My parents timed their arrival for 3:00 p.m., which gave them an hour to view an introductory film and explore the premises on their own before the only English-language tour of the day commenced at 4:00 p.m.

Cezanne used Atelier Cezanne only for four years. Constructed especially for him and completed in 1902, Atelier Cezanne was the artist’s workplace from 6:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. each day, after which he would return to his home in the center of Aix-En-Provence.

The first floor contains several small rooms displaying mementoes and artifacts related to Cezanne’s life and work. The second floor, one giant room, was Cezanne’s workplace. Filled with light from a skylight and giant windows, the place was pure art studio, a haven for the creation of paintings large and small. My mother said there was a reverence about the space that could not be explained.

The importance of the studio was recognized as soon as Cezanne died. Although a succession of owners have controlled the property in the 106 years since the artist’s death, all owners purposely acquired the property for preservation purposes, treating the building as a shrine that must never be altered. Even the furniture and work utensils on display are those that were in the building at the time of Cezanne’s death—and numerous items that appear in the artist’s many famous still-life paintings may be observed in person.

My parents were very moved by Atelier Cezanne. Even though no Cezanne artworks were on display, the spirit of Cezanne hovered everywhere.

After their visit to Atelier Cezanne, my parents returned to the hotel—and began meeting other participants in the organized tour, most of whom appear to be retired. All tour participants were required to assemble in the early evening, and be transported to a Provencal restaurant outside of town for a “welcome dinner”.

My parents enjoyed the evening, and said the food was excellent.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Andrew,
    I would like to use the beautiful photo of Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur that you have at the top of your March 18, 2012 blog in brochure I am creating for a Novena Tour of PROVENCE to Saint Mary Magdalene. I am organizing a 10 day tour of the Saints and traditions of Provence centered around the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene (dates of tour - July 20-30, 2013). Can you please let me know if I can have permission to use this photo?
    Thank you very much.
    Paula Lawlor - Solana Beach, California