Two new persons have joined to the Board of directors in 2018:
- Bertrand du Vignaud de Villefort, President of the Evergete Foundation
- Henri Cavallo, Castle Villandry.
The Domaine du Grand Saint-Jean, given to the city of Aix by Blanche d’Estienne de Saint-Jean, is the FDESJ’s principle concern, focusing its attention and financial support to the restoration of the site’s historical structures, the 11th century chapel, the 16th century chateau, the farm house, the sheep barn as well as the gardens and the park with its fountains and ponds.
The estate covers 240 hectares of which 72 hectares is farmland and heath, a landscaped cemetery unique to Europe, 12 hectares of parkland and gardens where one can find 26 different species of trees. The combined collection of buildings covers 3300 square metres.
The Renaissance chateau was built by the local Aix master masons Antoine Laurens and Esprit Boyer between 1583 to 1591. It replaced a former fortified manor of which in 1564, received King Charles IX, Queen Catherine de Medici and Henri de Navarre. The present chateau received Kings Louis XIII in 1622 and Louis XIV in 1660.
One year before the construction of this new chateau, the first basin of the garden was established. The garden would later evolve to be themed around water features with an elaborate hydraulic system featuring eight ponds.
The Romanesque chapel was restored in 1555 by André Estienne de Saint-Jean who was later appointed by Charles IX as Archbishop of Aix in 1569.
During the 2013 Festival international d’art lyrique, the Portuguese composer, Vasco Mendonça, referenced his inspiration to his opera, “The setting of Grand Saint-Jean is a magical and mysterious space which I had in my mind when I composed the opera, ‘The house taken over’, its building was the third, silent character. I hope that this place will continue to host productions and performances for years to come and it will inspire artistes and musicians as it was the case for all those who participated in this creation”.
The same year was also distinguished by a particularly important revelation in the history of the estate. The municipality of Aix-en-Provence commissioned the chief architect of historical monuments, Mr Olivier Naviglio, to survey the chateau and it’s outbuildings.
His very precise investigations confirmed the true extent of the original site stretching between Puyricard, Saint-Cannat and Rognes covering 6000 hectares with several buildings.
The former, much larger garden, was more productive than ornamental and is now partially landscaped. The water reservoir network gives it a geometric structure and supplies a set of fountains and pools designed in the 16th century on a very particular symbolic theme relating to the water linking the Old and New Testament.
The architect’s survey also focused on the chateau of which the architecture has an Italian influence. Short-term preservation work was undertaken. Longer term renovations have been proposed but will depend on what decisions are taken in relation to the future use of the interior spaces.
The FDESJ commended the quality of the work done at the request of the Municipality and agreed to support and contribute to the restoration program proposed by Mr. Olivier Naviglio and his team.
Throughout the year, the estate is home to the Centre Permanent d’Initiatives pour l’Environnement (CPIE) of the community of Pays d’Aix. This association, founded by the City of Aix, coordinates educational programs, teaching and promoting awareness of the environment and sustainable development.
More generally, and in line with the intentions of Blanche d’Estienne de Saint-Jean, the FDESJ has undertaken to monitor and ensure the conservation of the environment of the site and to maintain the high quality of its countryside, agriculture and forestry on the Puyricard plateau at the foot of Trévaresse.
The FDESJ board decided in May 2014 to finance the restoration of the statue of Adam. This two metre high figure, attributed to Puget, adorned the fountain of Adam situated below the castle terrace.
This funding of the FDESJ is the first private contribution to the restoration of the Domaine du Grand Saint-Jeans.