St Paul de Vence has so much to please everyone that’s it’s easy to see why it’s such an incredibly popular tourist location. Yet underlying the many art galleries, elegant boutiques, even more elegant hotels and plethora of restaurants, eateries and snack bars is also its distinct medieval history. And this is never so evidence than at La Placette, a small square along rue Grande near to Porte de Nice as you head towards the cemetery.
At the height of the tourist season when so many people come to visit St Paul de Vence it’s easy to miss this charming medieval square or just see it out of the corner of your eye. Yet this small square, made up of tall narrow houses dating back to the Renaissance and 17th century, has a beautiful stone fountain where water has flowed there since 1611.
Past this stone fountain, on the right you’ll find an arched stone lintel inscribed with the words “Par ce val”. Rumour has it that may well be the entrance to the ancient Alziary de Roquefort home, where one of its family members would ride their horse up the main staircase.
They were an old aristocratic family from the region of Nice and held important public offices during the 17th and 18th century. During the Revolution, Jean-Honoré became a member of the Board of Directors for the Var department, while his brother, Antoine, was the district judge and Commander of the National Guard. He died in October 1793 at the Battle of Gilette which opposed the French to the Austrians. Their sisters, Marie-Pauline and Marie-Blanche, were both actresses with the Comédie Française, with Marie-Blanche having the stage name of “Demoiselle de Sainval” – another allusion perhaps to the arched stone lintel.
As a byline it is interesting to note that, at the time of the French Revolution, the Isle of St-Honorat and its monastery were confiscated in 1787, becoming the property of the nation and later sold to Marie-Blanche Alziary de Roquefort’s father. The island went on to be sold twice.