Tucked away in the periphery of Aix-en-Provence in the Faubourg des Cordeliers district and accessible from Rue Célony or Rue de la Molle, sits le Pavillon Vendôme, a spacious 17th century mansion overlooking a sumptuous French-style garden. Built as a haven to shelter the forbidden love of Louis II de Vendôme and Lucrèce de Forbin-Soliés -King Louis XIV opposed their marriage – the mansion was erected in between 1665 and 1667.
It is written that upon nightfall, the Duke of Vendôme ushered into the mansion Lucrèce and her ladies in waiting, all of whom were disguised in masks to avoid being recognized. They became knowns among the peasants as “Birds of Prey”, “Las Machouettos” in the Provencal dialect and “Les Chouettes”, in French. Upon the death of the Duke, whispers said that is was Las Machouettos who had killed him.
The mansion is styled after classical Provencal architecture was built with Bibémus stones, which came from a quarry on the outskirts of Aix-en-Provence. At the time, the yellow luminous stones were very popular, but were later abandoned for similar stones of a higher grade sourced from Rognes, a village 30 minutes north of Aix en Provence.
The front facade of the mansion features various ornements including fruit garland meant to represent summer. There are two mascarons, stone carved human figures, flanking the entryway. These rather frightening figures served to deter evil spirits from penetrating the demure and some even said that the figures resemble Lucrèce de Forbin-Soliés.
The mansion has undergone changes since it’s original construction most notably the addition of a level during the 19th century. The two stone consoles on the second floor for example once held the bustes of King Louis XIV and the dauphin.
The enclosed French-style garden of the the Vendôme is today a public garden lined with plantains and benches to the east where the walls are covered with climbing rose bushes. In the center resides a circular fountain, a junction joining four walkways that divide the garden into four plots of grass with parallel flower beds. The path facing the mansion is lined with hedged bushes and trees. Opposing the mansion on the opposite side of the garden is a secondary fountain conceal by greenery, and in the left hand corner adjacent to the mansion sits a pavilion, the last of four, which was transformed into a chapel during the 19th century. Outside of the main gates, is a small garden alive with a bed of rose bushes.
Today the Pavillon Vendôme reminds us of the grandeur of yore and is a gallery for various expositions open to the public for a self and guided tours.