The city of Aix-en-Provence in southern France is the perfect destination for amateurs of libraries in unusual spaces. Four of the public library branches in Aix are in converted buildings: from the main library in a former safety match factory, to branches in a former schoolhouse or a Provencal bastide farm compound, to this one situated in the city’s grain vault.
In 1718, the city mandated architect Laurent Vallon to build a wheat store adjacent to the market square. The structure was eventually found to be insufficient to contain all the grain that was traded on the busy market and in 1759 Georges Vallon, son of the original architect, was tasked with expanding the structure erected by his father. Completed in 1766, the new granary not only offered more storage space but also was fronted by a monumental facade on market square to match that of the city hall that the city had recently erected there. Crowning the classically-inspired facade was a sculpted frontispiece by Jean-Pancrace Chastel representing an allegory of the two rivers bathing this fertile region: the Rhone is figured by Saturn, god of agriculture, while the Durance is represented by Cybele, goddess of fertility, whose foot dangles out of the frieze, alluding to the river’s tendency to overflow its banks…
The city granary remained in function until the French Revolution. In 1923, it was converted by city architect Armand Liautaud to become the main post office. Service counters were installed in the vaulted main floor space, which was decorated by Émile-Félicien Lombard, a painter who was also the municipal counsellor in charge of the postal service. On the west end of the hall, Lombard chose to represent the Fontaine des Chevaux Marins, a fountain demolished in 1783 when the avenue on Cours Mirabeau was widened.
In 1963, a committee recommended that the Halle aux Grains be repurposed to the Méjanes public library, which was in nearby city hall and sorely needed more room. This was partly achieved in 1971, when a portion of the granary opened as library, but the main library remained at city hall until 1989 when it moved to its current home at Cité du Livre in a former match factory.
Today, the Halle aux Grains library occupies a portion of the ground floor of the former granary. Though small, this space is more central than the main library. The stone arches offer a dramatic contrast to the modern furniture, mounted on wheels so as to keep the space flexible and modular. As far as I can tell, the rest of the building is still occupied by a post office.
I am grateful to the staff at the Méjanes public library for their welcome during my visit in September 2021, when the above images were taken.
- Boyer, J. (1960). L’ancien grenier à blé d’Aix. Les Vallon. Provence Historique, 10(40), pp. 108–126.
- Halle aux grains d’Aix-en-Provence. (2020). In Wikipédia.
- Bibliothèque Méjanes. (2021). In Wikipédia.
- Chronologie de la Méjanes. (2015). Cité du Livre.
- Brayer, T. (2019). La fontaine de la Rotonde. L’Aixois.
- Sicard-Desnuelle, M.-P. (2022). L’eau: Notre patrimoine [Journées Européennes du Patrimoine]. Ville d’Aix en Provence.
Library detail pages are primarily a place for me to collect information I gather on the libraries I visit, and are frequently updated. None of this should be considered authoritative, I am not an architect, nor a historian. If you notice something incorrect, please let me know!