Aubagne, Where the Land Sings of its Love for Provence

Tucked between Marseille and Cassis, at the foot of the Massif du Garbalan so dear to Marcel Pagnol, Aubagne embodies the soul of a sincere and authentic Provence. And, it’s the capital of "santon" figurines.
By Claire Vincent

It’s a rare authenticity that gives the market and the narrow streets of the old city its charm. Wandering through them, we discover the workshops of ceramicists and santon figurine-makers, bakeries selling delicious fougasse breads, wooden toy shops and a small restaurant specializing in regional dishes…

If we should begin our stroll with a visit to the Museum of the Little World of Marcel Pagnol, and to the family home of this writer/filmmaker, we could easily imagine ourselves accompanied by the santons, climbing up to the church at the very top of the old city…

Santon, or santoun in Provençal, means “little saint.” These little clay figurines were born during the French Revolution. As crèches were forbidden in churches at the time, Provençal families made them in their homes, “disguising” the characters of the nativity within a veritable Provençal village that mixed the traditional pastoral characters with those performing traditional activities and crafts: millers, farmers, laundresses, grinders, hunters, etc. Originally made from raw clay, today these figurines are fired, painted or clothed, and being a santon-maker, or santonnier, has become a craft in its own right.

In Aubagne, there are many workshops dedicated to these artisans. The city’s santon fair, along with the one in Marseille , are among the most renowned, and last for more than a month. Provençal families pass on their santons from generation to generation and add new characters every year, which they buy at these fairs or directly from the santonnier’s atelier.

It was the sister of the ceramicist Louis Sicard, the Aubagnaise santon-maker Thérèse Neveu, inventor of the famous Provençal cicada, who had the idea of adding a santon bearing the traits of a famous personality, Virginie de Garbalan, to the traditional characters of the Provençal crèche. Thus, she paved the way for Marcel Pagnol’s future “Little World,” where we find Raimu, Fernandel, Gérard Depardieu, Yves Montand and many others… “santonified!”

Discover  
Office du Tourisme
8, cours Barthélémy
13400 Aubagne.
04 42 03 49 98

Aubagne, Where the Land Sings of its Love for Provence
Aubagne, where the land sings of its love for Provence
Provence
Photography José Nicolas
Aubagne, Where the Land Sings of its Love for Provence
Aubagne, where the land sings of its love for Provence
Provence
Photography José Nicolas
Aubagne, Where the Land Sings of its Love for Provence
Aubagne, where the land sings of its love for Provence
Provence
Photography José Nicolas

Latest articles

Aromachologie by L’OCCITANE

Aromachologie by L’OCCITANE

L'OCCITANE presents its new Aromachologie collection and reissues for the occasion its first ever bottle, designed by Olivier Baussan in 1976. Authenticity and effectiveness are guaranteed!
The Jardin des Cordeliers: A Voyage of Discovery

The Jardin des Cordeliers: A Voyage of Discovery

Nestled in the heart of the town of Digne-les-Bains in the Alps of Haute-Provence, the Cordeliers botanical garden makes for an exotic change of scenery and is a true piece of paradise to visit alone, with friends or family.
Apricot & Almond Tart

Apricot & Almond Tart

In the mood for a sweet break? Virginia Besançon shares the secrets of the Apricot and Almond Tart that she prepares in her restaurant Les Petites Tables in Volx. A guaranteed delight!