Almost facing the Natural History Museum of Aix-en-Provence lies the elegant Place d’Albertas, certainly one of the finest examples of baroque architecture in Provence.
The Albertas, a parliamentarian family originating from the Italian city of Alba, came to Aix in the 18th century to take possession of the private mansion which they had inherited from the Séguirans. Located at 10 rue Espariat, before Place d’Albertas even existed, it was later renamed “Hôtel d’Albertas”.
In the 18th century, they quickly became one of Aix’s most influential families. In 1724, Henri d’Albertas commissioned architect Laurent Vallon for the reconstruction of the façade of his private mansion. Then he bought the opposite block of houses with the intention of demolishing them.
In 1742, Henri’s son Jean-Baptiste d’Albertas asked Laurent’s son Georges Vallon to build a square in his honour, of semi-colossal proportions and echoing the fashion of royal squares that were built at the same time in Paris (Place de la Concorde, Place Vendôme).
The square and its mansions were completed successfully in 1745 by the architect. D’Albertas’ plan was not only motivated by aesthetic reasons. He also realised a great financial deal by renting the newly built apartments to other people.
The façade shows a Regency style ornamentation by reinterpreting Baroque features freely. Four mansions border the square with identical façades whose large windows are adorned with wrought-iron balconies.
The fountain standing at the centre of the square was designed in 1912 by the students of the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts (ENSAM). This elegant cast-iron fountain sits in perfect harmony with the Baroque façades bordering the square.
The square was listed as a “Monument Historique” in 2000 and underwent a major restoration in the last decade.
A little mischievous observation
One has to look into the balconies of the square with attention to notice some mischievous motives which refers without any ambiguity to the sex of a man. Locally called “phallic balconies”, no one can really explain exactly their origins. Maybe it was due to the influence of a nearby brothel as the city of Aix went through a season of libertinism in the 18th century? Or maybe this was a cheeky prank by the craftsmen in wrought-iron?
The same observation can be made even more clearly on the balconies of the Hôtel Boyer d’Éguilles.