In 1971, when Felix Ciccolini begins his second term as mayor of Aix-en-Provence, he is faced with the administration of a city undergoing major changes.
At the time, Aix-en-Provence is benefiting from the emergence of new institutions of higher education as well as the industrial development of Southeastern France (creation of the Etang de Berre petrochemical industry park, the Cadarache Nuclear Research Center). Since the 1950s, the city is also reaping the benefits of mass tourism. Summer events continue to develop, such as the Festival de Musique Lyrique (created in 1948). During this period, Aix-en-Provence is known as a city of art and museums. With its seven museums, its ratio of museums to inhabitants is 1:25,000, while that of Paris is only 1:31,700. Museum visits continue to increase, largely due to the increasing demands of cultural tourism.
Mayor d'Aix-en-Provence from 1965 to 1979
In the early 1970s, Aix-en-Provence was one of the most dynamic cities in France.
The population nearly tripled in thirty years, going from 54,000 in 1954 to 137,000 in 1982. All of the area surrounding Aix-en-Provence was now inhabited, and the city continued to overflow beyond its natural limits to allow the construction of big housing complexes. These were built on the hills north of the city in 1960s-70s, then west of the city in the Jas de Bouffan area.
On April 16, 1969 a decision was made to develop an Integrated Development Zone (Zone d’Aménagement Concerté – ZAC) in Jas de Bouffan. The project included 5075 medium-sized housing units, schools, shops, a secondary school for 120 students, a stadium and a sports center spanning 169 hectares of land.
In the newspaper Le Courrier d'Aix of December 22, 1973 (Issue #159), F. Ciccolini explained the need for this zone and how the city intended to implement it. “Indeed, this growing area symbolizes our entire city, which for several years now has undergone some of the biggest changes in its history."
Aix-en-Provence once lived almost entirely on its past and its traditions. It was now opening to new industrial and commercial activities.
It became necessary to ensure economic balance while making the most of the region’s growth.
Not only was it important that the city maintain its vitality but it also sought to prevent the creation of gigantic “commuter towns” and preserve the area’s cultural and tourist attractivity.
It wasn’t long before Victor Vasarely chose Aix-en-Provence. In a note he wrote on the subject, he explains: “The location of this center had been a concern to me for over twenty years. At first I imagined it in La Garrigue, near my house where I own a few acres of wild land. I then turned my attention to the magnificent ‘Cèdres’ site north of Cabrières d'Avignon… but the isolation, poor access and unfavorable opinion of the Historic and Cultural Sites Commission all drove me away from this option. At the same time, my Musée Didactique was taking shape at the Château de Gordes. Just two miles away from the museum, a site called ‘La Gardette’ offered a suitable alternative... and I wound up having to choose between three cities: Avignon, Marseille or Aix-en-Provence. Avignon offered a handsome but run-down building; there was even talk of a wing of the Palais des Papes. I decided that the classification of the Château de Gordes as a historic heritage monument was a sufficient architectural tribute to the past. For an avant-garde institution, I had to build an ultra-modern building. The vast space available around the Marseille-Luminy University was very seriously considered, but two major obstacles stood in our way. First, access to the site would be made difficult by the congested city streets of Marseille and second, the independence of the building was vulnerable in the long term... And the spirit and mission of the Foundation required complete freedom of action. In addition to the support and devotion of the city’s administration and personalities, the choice of Aix-en-Provence was dictated by the city’s rich history, its artistic and architectural activities, its world-renowned festival, its exceptional network of motorways and finally, my own personal admiration for Cézanne. The Foundation is located in the ‘Jas de Bouffan’ area, where the great founder of contemporary plastic arts himself lived".
Victor Vasarely accepts the city’s proposal and on March 30, 1973 and July 9, 1974, the land is donated to the Foundation.