lundi 21 septembre 2009

Happy Birthday, Roi René!

Aix-en-Provence has two favorite sons: Paul Cezanne and Roi René, known as "Good King René." They've been immortalized in bronze and stone and anchor either end of the Cours Mirabeau. Here's Cezanne (and Josh's grandmother--Hi, Mom-mom!):
. . . and here's Roi René:
This year marks the 600th anniversary of Roi René's birth, and even though his birthday is long past (it was in January), our annual culture weekend focused on him this year. 600 years is a big deal.

Roi René did all kinds of great things for Aix, back in the day when Provence was an independent and autonomous "county"-- land ruled by a count. Roi René wasn't actually king of Provence, though he hung out here quite a bit. His title of King came because he was King of Naples (including Sicily), Jerusalem, and somewhere else that I can't remember. This was a time when the European nobility passed around territories like they were Pokemon cards. René had lands all around the Mediterranean and brought the Italian Renaissa
nce to the south of France, along with either A) a special kind of grape or B) all grapes. Sorry I can't be more specific, it's hard to know what's going on when it's all happening in French.
But you'll see that Roi René is holding a bunch of grapes in his sculpture.

This weekend the town celebrated his birthday. You could pay two euros for a piece of birthday gallette down on the Cours Mirabeau:
The women serving the cake were decked out in traditional provençal fabrics.
They weren't the only ones dressed up. (The building in the background of this picture is where I went to school last year.)

The streets were full of booths with information about Aix during the time of Roi René. A sculptor was exhibiting some of his work, including this in-progress bust of Roi René's wife Jeanne.

One presentation showed old maps of Aix. I like this one from the 1400s; you can see the cathedral just inside the north gate. The area outlined in yellow is the oldest part of the town; that's where we live!

Big chunks of the town wall are still intact today, and they've been incorporated into houses and buildings like the one housing the authorized mac dealership. I like knowing that we live just inside the walls; it makes me feel connected to the town's history. And here's a great connection: turns out that the door across the alley from us is the oldest door in Aix!

We came home before all the culture-day festivities were over, and as we were sitting on the couch checking facebook, we heard the amplified voice of a tour guide in our alley.

She was telling a group that this door dates from 1480 and was part of a mansion that once stood here. I guess she means it's the original wooden door that's the oldest, because in a town this old, there must be a doorframe still around that comes from an earlier date . . . I'll have to do some research.

I'm glad we didn't sleep through culture weekend again this year (we were still really, REALLY jet lagged last year). The town looked beautiful in the post-rain afternoon sunlight, and it was fun to stroll around and enjoy it like a tourist instead of a commuter on the way to the bus station.

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