Of precious stones and water…
Water. It sculpts the stone village like time itself, forging secret pathways and plentiful memories… Let us linger by a fountain.
From the moment the village appears on the horizon, water is omnipresent. The fountain sculpted by Félix Tilio, facing Chapelle Sainte-Claire, sits like a totem guarding Saint-Paul de Vence. Water spurts from its smooth stone mouth, refreshing thirsty visitors.
The mighty stone arches between the chapel and the ancient oil press are remnants of the aqueduct that, for centuries, channelled precious water from the foothills of Vence to all of the village’s oil presses and flour mills.
The echo of washerwomen’s voices next to the Colombe d’Or
From the chapel, the eye falls directly upon the “pétanque” pitch. The square discovered by artists in the 1920s remains unchanged today, nestling between the ramparts and the washhouse. Nature’s incredible light and colours - flowers, vines, olive trees - flood the countryside.
Local washerwomen would have seen scores of artists at the famous inn’s terrace, such as Matisse, who would sit at a table under the fig tree. The inn still welcomes artists today.
An elegant fountain within the ramparts
Just beyond the fortified entrance, a round fountain and a drinking trough stand on place du Tilleul. The nearby 14th century tower-gate dates from when Saint-Paul was a strategic outpost. For five centuries, the hilltop village surveyed the border between Provence and the County of Nice.
Donkeys scaled sloping Rue Grande
From the nearby bench, observe how time has smoothed the stones edging the «well of the 4 corners». It stands where César Sauvan’s house formerly stood, demolished in 1771 to widen Rue Grande - the village’s surprisingly narrow main street. For centuries, donkeys and mules were the only solution for such a steep and hilly village.
All roads lead to the main fountain
At the heart of Saint-Paul, a monumental stone fountain, erected in 1850, inspires awe and admiration. It stands on the former market square alongside the vaulted washhouse where fishmongers from Cagnes would less their wares. The Count of Provence authorised Saint-Paul to hold a market in back in the 13th century, when the village was booming.
A smooth stone trench runs down Rue Grande from the washhouse to the Porte de Nice. Further on, a fountain sits on courtyard-sized square, surrounded by elegantly detailed façades. Night and day, its water serenades its imposing neighbours.
A discrete fountain against the sturdy ramparts
At the end of Rue Grande, chose either to climb the ramparts or to enter the cemetery through the Porte de Nice. Behind a great pine tree hides a fountain; it snuggles into powerful 16th-century fortifications that were listed as Historical Monuments in 1945. Built in the mid 1540s by order of King François I, the stone ramparts give Saint-Paul de Vence its unique silhouette. Two attacks on Provence by rival Charles V - and a historical visit to Saint-Paul de Vence in 1538 - convinced François I to have the village fortified by military architect Jean de Renaud de Saint-Rémy.
Standing on the ramparts, the view of the Alps, the hills and the Mediterranean is stunning. The immaculate white of a rose-grower’s greenhouses, the olive and orange trees and the water collectors dotting the landscape, remind us of Saint-Paul’s agricultural roots.
Chagall spent the last 19 years of his life here and his grave is in the cemetery with those of the Maeghts, whose art foundation opened in 1964.