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La Porte d’Aix in Marseille

Located at the junction of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd arrondissements of Marseille, La Porte d’Aix is the name given to a triumphal arch that stands on Place Jules-Guesde. It was built on the site of the gate, within the old city walls, opening onto the road to the city of Aix-en-Provence, from which it takes its name.

The Roman tradition of triumphal arches

Triumphal arches are originally a Roman tradition. It is a monumental free-standing structure that spans a road and uses the architectural form of an arch with one or more vaulted passages.

A monumental arch built in Rome was used for purification after a victorious war. It was thus intended to commemorate victorious combatants or to celebrate important events (death of a member of the imperial family, accession to the throne of a new emperor, construction of a road, etc.).

Other imperial cities also had triumphal arches during Antiquity, including Orange in the South of France. In France, the most famous monumental arch is probably the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, located at the top of the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

La Porte d’Aix, a recent triumphal arch

The Arc de Triomphe project dates back to 1784, when the aldermen decided to build a triumphal arch in honour of Louis XVI, the victorious ally in the American War of Independence. The location of the Porte d’Aix was chosen by a deliberation of the city council.

However, the project was abandoned during the French Revolution, before being resumed during the Restoration in the 1820s. On the initiative of the Marquis de Montgrand, Mayor of Marseille, the Arc de Triomphe commemorates the campaign of Louis de France, who had restored the absolute power of Ferdinand VII of Spain in Madrid.

Completed in 1839, under the reign of Louis Philippe I, la Porte d’Aix pays tribute to the victories of the French army during the Spanish expedition of 1823. The name Porte d’Aix refers to the existence of an open door in the city walls that allowed the road from Marseille to Aix-en-Provence to pass through.

A monumental arch in the ancient style

La Porte d’Aix was inspired by the Arch of Titus, built in Rome in 84 AD. Its dimensions are monumental, with a height of 18 metres. On the facades and sides, one can see representations of the battles of Austerlitz, Fleurus and Heliopolis. The arch has evolved over time, particularly in terms of its statues. The statues, which are almost three metres high, were made of stone, a crumbly material, and eventually collapsed on the public highway in 1937. The Parisian sculptor Marneuf was commissioned to create the ornamental sculpture of the triumphal arch on the Place Jules-Guesde. He was inspired by the decoration of the ancient triumphal arch of Orange. In 1982, the arch was classified as a historical monument.

A landscaped park on the Place Jules Guesde

For a long time, the Porte d’Aix arch was surrounded by roads, but it has been enhanced by a 3500 m² landscaped garden. It is a pleasant place to walk around, with numerous Mediterranean scents, a hundred or so trees and a play area for children. This park is a real green lung and was designed by the landscape architect Alfred Peter. The project is primarily student-oriented, with the aim of creating an American-style campus.

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