Currently Aix en Provence is a thriving community. Its main promenade Le Cours Mirabeau is a beautiful street that is always full of people who are there to dine, shop, and visit with one another.
Three times a week, the street opens only to pedestrian traffic in order to host a glorious open air market.
People watching from a table in one of the many comfortable cafes that line the street is always acceptable. Sooooooo much fun.
At one end of the boulevard you can find the statue of good King Rene. The hand of the statue holds a cluster of muskat grapes. Rene was responsible for bringig the grapes to Provence.
The most beautiful fountain in Aix, the Fontaine de la Rotonde, can be found in a circle at the other end of the street.
Good or bad weather, citizens and tourists alike gather here to eat and talk.
Aix dates back to medieval times. As such, the “old” section of the town is cobbled, with winding, narrow streets. The town is full of squares and plazas. Just when you think you’ve seen them all, another little neighborhood pops up.
These ancient neighborhoods live side by side with the more modern sections of Aix, but if you use your imagination you can easily see how the plague could slip its way down these narrow streets. The ancient people of Aix prepared themselves spiritually for this horror, and today you need only look up to see the lasting evidence of this preparation. Although science had not advanced enough to alert citizens to the actual causes of the plague, people feared that crowded spaces enhanced the possibility of catching it. That is why London’s theatres were closed down at the very threat of the plague. In Aix, it was common to attend mass in order to pray for protection against the plague. Even though they feared attending mass, many feared not attending churches, like the Chapel of the Oblates, even more.
Many citizens wanted to pray, but also wanted to avoid the crowds of the mass. Clever city residents solved the problem by erecting street corner shrines. A few devout, but worried people could stop and pray without the concern of the crowds, or because the shrine was no higher than the first floor, the fearful could lean out of windows to pray. These oratories(English) or oratoires (French) taken from the Latin (orare) meaning to pray, depicted saints, the Madonna, or bishops. Today, acestors of these shrines, some old and some new, can be seen all over the medieval area of Aix.
Some shrines share a space with a business like these two…
Some have been painted.
Some need care.
Some have been destroyed or are out for restoration.
A few seem to need protection, but all in all, there are ninety of these shrines citywide.
Some of the shrines have stories to tell. My favorite is the story of Saint Roch. The version of the story I heard describes Roch as a confessor who contracted the plague. Roch was cured of the black death by a dog that licked plague boils that covered him. Roch, thereafter, devoted himself to those suffering from the plague.
The sickness of the black death is no longer a threat to present day Aix, but modern, everyday concerns have taken the place of the plague. Then, there are those who like to offer up a prayer of thanks for lasting love, good health, dear friends, and other blessings. For some, these little shrines are still fulfilling a need….. in sickness and in health.
So falling head over heels in love with Aix, The Unseasoned Traveler