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Arles is a city and commune in the south of France, in the Bouches-du-Rhône department, of which it is a subprefecture, in the former province of Provence.
A large part of the Camargue is located on the territory of the commune, making it the largest commune in Metropolitan France in terms of territory (though Maripasoula, French Guiana, is much larger). The city has a long history, and was of considerable importance in the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis. The Roman and Romanesque Monuments of Arles were listed as UNESCOWorld Heritage Sites in 1981. The Dutch post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh lived in Arles from 1888 to 1889 and produced over 300 paintings and drawings during his time there. An international photography festival has been held in the city since 1970.
|TIME ZONE :||• Time zone CET (UTC+1)|
• Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2)
|AREA :||758.93 km2 (293.02 sq mi)|
|ELEVATION :|| 0–57 m (0–187 ft)|
(avg. 10 m or 33 ft)
|COORDINATES :||43°40′36″N 4°37′40″E|
|SEX RATIO :|
|AREA CODE :|
|POSTAL CODE :||13004 / 13200|
|DIALING CODE :|
- The Gallo-Roman theatre
- The arena or amphitheatre
- The Alyscamps (Roman necropolis)
- The Thermae of Constantine
- The cryptoporticus
- Arles Obelisk
- Barbegal aqueduct and mill
The Church of St. Trophime (Saint Trophimus), formerly a cathedral, is a major work of Romanesque architecture, and the representation of the Last Judgment on its portal is considered one of the finest examples of Romanesque sculpture, as are the columns in the adjacent cloister.
The town also has a museum of ancient history, the Musée de l'Arles et de la Provence antiques, with one of the best collections of Roman sarcophagi to be found anywhere outside Rome itself. Other museums include the Musée Réattu and the Museon Arlaten.
The courtyard of the Old Arles hospital, now named "Espace Van Gogh," is a center for Vincent van Gogh's works, several of which are masterpieces. The garden, framed on all four sides by buildings of the complex, is approached through arcades on the first floor. A circulation gallery is located on the first and second floors.
The Ligurians were in this area from about 800 BC. Later, Celtic influences have been discovered. The city became an important Phoenician trading port, before being taken by the Romans.
The Romans took the town in 123 BC and expanded it into an important city, with a canal link to the Mediterranean Sea being constructed in 104 BC. However, it struggled to escape the shadow of Massalia (Marseilles) further along the coast.
Its chance came when it sided with Julius Caesar against Pompey, providing military support. Massalia backed Pompey; when Caesar emerged victorious, Massalia was stripped of its possessions, which were transferred to Arelate as a reward. The town was formally established as a colony for veterans of the Roman legion Legio VI Ferrata, which had its base there. Its full title as a colony was Colonia Iulia Paterna Arelatensium Sextanorum, "the ancestral Julian colony of Arles of the soldiers of the Sixth."
Arelate was a city of considerable importance in the province of Gallia Narbonensis. It covered an area of some 99 acres (40 ha) (400,000 m²) and possessed a number of monuments, including an amphitheatre, triumphal arch, Roman circus, theatre, and a full circuit of walls. Ancient Arles was closer to the sea than it is now and served as a major port. It also had (and still has) the southernmost bridge on the Rhône. Very unusually, the Roman bridge was not fixed but consisted of a pontoon-style bridge of boats, with towers and drawbridges at each end. The boats were secured in place by anchors and were tethered to twin towers built just upstream of the bridge. This unusual design was a way of coping with the river's frequent violent floods, which would have made short work of a conventional bridge. Nothing remains of the Roman bridge, which has been replaced by a more modern bridge near the same spot.
The city reached a peak of influence during the 4th and 5th centuries, when Roman Emperors frequently used it as their headquarters during military campaigns. In 395, it became the seat of the Praetorian Prefecture of theGauls, governing the western part of the Western Empire: Gaul proper plusHispania (Spain) and Armorica (Brittany). At that time, the city was perhaps home to 75,000 - 100,000 people.
It became a favorite city of Emperor Constantine I, who built baths there, substantial remains of which are still standing. His son, Constantine II, was born in Arles. Usurper Constantine III declared himself emperor in the West (407–411) and made Arles his capital in 408.
Arles became renowned as a cultural and religious centre during the late Roman Empire. It was the birthplace of the sceptical philosopher Favorinus. It was also a key location for Roman Christianity and an important base for the Christianization of Gaul. The city's bishopric was held by a series of outstanding clerics, beginning with Saint Trophimus around 225 and continuing with Saint Honoratus, then Saint Hilarius in the first half of the 5th century. The political tension between the Catholic bishops of Arles and the Visigothic kings is epitomized in the career of the Frankish St. Caesarius, bishop of Arles 503–542, who was suspected by the Arian Visigoth Alaric II of conspiring with theBurgundians to turn over the Arelate to Burgundy, and was exiled for a year to Bordeaux in Aquitaine. Political tensions were evident again in 512, when Arles held out against Theodoric the Great and Caesarius was imprisoned and sent to Ravenna to explain his actions before the Ostrogothic king.
The friction between the Arian Christianity of the Visigoths and the Catholicism of the bishops sent out from Rome established deep roots for religious heterodoxy, even heresy, in Occitan culture. At Treves in 385, Priscillian achieved the distinction of becoming the first Christian executed for heresy(Manichaean in his case, see also Cathars, Camisards). Despite this tension and the city's decline in the face of barbarian invasions, Arles remained a great religious centre and host of church councils , the rival of Vienne, for hundreds of years.
Roman aqueduct and mill
The Barbegal aqueduct and mill is a Roman watermill complex located on the territory of the commune of Fontvieille, a few kilometres from Arles. The complex has been referred to as "the greatest known concentration of mechanical power in the ancient world". The remains of the mill streams and buildings which housed the overshot water wheels are still visible at the site, and it is by far the best-preserved of ancient mills. There are two aqueducts which join just north of the mill complex, and a sluice which enabled the operators to control the water supply to the complex. The mill consisted of 16 waterwheels in two separate rows built into a steep hillside. There are substantial masonry remains of the water channels and foundations of the individual mills, together with a staircase rising up the hill upon which the mills are built. The mills apparently operated from the end of the 1st century until about the end of the 3rd century. The capacity of the mills has been estimated at 4.5 tons of flour per day, sufficient to supply enough bread for the 6,000 of 30-40,000 inhabitants of Arelate at that time. A similar mill complex existed also on the Janiculum in Rome. Examination of the mill leat still just visible on one side of the hill shows a substantial accretion of lime in the channel, tending to confirm its long working life.
It is thought that the wheels were overshot water wheels with the outflow from the top driving the next one down and so on, to the base of the hill. Vertical water mills were well known to the Romans, being described by Vitruvius in his De Architectura of 25 BC, and mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia of 77 AD. There are also later references to floating water mills from Byzantium and to sawmills on the river Moselle by the poet Ausonius. The use of multiple stacked sequences of reverse overshot water-wheels was widespread in Roman mines.
In 735, after raiding the Lower Rhône,Andalusian Saracens led by Yusuf ibn 'Abd al-Rahman al-Fihri moved into the stronghold summoned by Count Maurontus, who feared Charles Martel's expansionist ambitions, though this may have been an excuse to further Moorish expansion beyond Iberia. The next year, Charles campaigned south to Septimania and Provence, attacking and capturing Arles after destroying Avignon. In 739. Charles definitely drove Maurontus to exile, and brought Provence to heel. In 855, it was made the capital of a Frankish Kingdom of Arles, which included Burgundy and part of Provence, but was frequently terrorised by Saracen and Viking raiders. In 888, Rudolph, Count of Auxerre (now in north-western Burgundy), founded the kingdom of Transjuran Burgundy(literally, beyond the Jura mountains), which included western Switzerland as far as the river Reuss, Valais, Geneva, Chablais and Bugey.
In 933, Hugh of Arles ("Hugues de Provence") gave his kingdom up to Rudolph II, who merged the two kingdoms into a new Kingdom of Arles. In 1032, King Rudolph III died, and the kingdom was inherited by Emperor Conrad II the Salic. Though his successors counted themselves kings of Arles, few went to be crowned in the cathedral. Most of the kingdom's territory was progressively incorporated into France. During these troubled times, the amphitheatre was converted into a fortress, with watchtowers built at each of the four quadrants and a minuscule walled town being constructed within. The population was by now only a fraction of what it had been in Roman times, with much of old Arles lying in ruins.
The town regained political and economic prominence in the 12th century, with the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa traveling there in 1178 for his coronation. In the 12th century, it became a free city governed by an elected podestat (chief magistrate; literally "power"), who appointed the consuls and other magistrates. It retained this status until the French Revolution of 1789.
Arles joined the countship of Provence in 1239, but, once more, its prominence was eclipsed by Marseilles. In 1378, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IVceded the remnants of the Kingdom of Arles to the Dauphin of France (later King Charles VI of France) and the kingdom ceased to exist even on paper.
Arles remained economically important for many years as a major port on the Rhône. In the 19th century, the arrival of the railway diminished river trade, leading to the town becoming something of a backwater.
This made it an attractive destination for the painter Vincent van Gogh, who arrived there on 21 February 1888. He was fascinated by the Provençal landscapes, producing over 300 paintings and drawings during his time in Arles. Many of his most famous paintings were completed there, including The Night Cafe, the Yellow Room, Starry Night Over the Rhone, and L'Arlésienne.Paul Gauguin visited van Gogh in Arles. However, van Gogh's mental health deteriorated and he became alarmingly eccentric, culminating in the well-known ear-severing incident in December 1888 which resulted in two stays in the Old Hospital of Arles. The concerned Arlesians circulated a petition the following February demanding that van Gogh be confined. In May 1889, he took the hint and left Arles for the Saint-Paul asylum at nearby Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
The river Rhône forks into two branches just upstream of Arles, forming the Camargue delta. Because the Camargue is for a large part administratively part of Arles, the commune as a whole is the largest commune in Metropolitan France in terms of territory, although its population is only slightly more than 50,000. Its area is 758.93 km2 (293.02 sq mi), which is more than seven times the area of Paris.
Arles's open-air street market is a major market in the region. It occurs on Saturday and Wednesday mornings.
Transportation - Get In
There are several bus lines from towns all over the Bouches-du-Rhône. You can always buy your passage from the conductor.
- Gare Routière (bus station).
Gare d'Arles (train station), Avenue Paulin TALABOT.
Take the Autoroute from Salon or yet another from Marseille, but give preference to the smaller routes and Alpilles towns like Fontvieille, Paradou, les baux, etc.
Transportation - Get Around
- Walk. Arles is for the most part small enough to enjoy by foot, if you aren't lazy. Otherwise, rely on taxis and buses. It's not even worth doing anything besides walking. Rent bicycles for day trips in the alpilles.
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Saucisson d'Arles (traditionally made with a bit of donkey meat), marinated olives from the market, Languedoc cheeses from the market, etc. Other dishes: Gardianne de Boeuf, Daubes, Fougasse d'Arles (with duck confit inside)
For restos, check out the menus on side street restaurants.
Coffe & Drink
- Pastis, the local wines are good with food. Take advantage of the proximity of Nîmes for wines.
- There's the embarrassingly touristy Café Van Gogh, painted to look like his Night Café painting and lots of Japanese tourists who seem to be on the verge of a euphoric break-down when they see it.
- Check out some of the other cafés in place du Forum, Rue Wilson, etc...
Sights & Landmarks
- Arènes d'Arles (Roman ampthitheatre).was built in the first or second century B.C. houses Corridas at Easter and the Rice Festa in September. Throughout the summer there are various courses camarguaises (bloodless bullfighting).
- Théatre Antique d'Arles (Classical theater). 10:00 to 18:00 except Tuesday. It was built at the end of 1st century BC. €8 (free every first Sunday of the month and for children up to 18).
- Cryptoportiques (Cryptoporticos) (Place de la Republic and Place du Forum). Now completely underground, the cryptoporticos, a semi-subterranean gallery, was a sort of a base for the Roman Forum in Arles. It was built at the end of 1st century BC. The current structure has a horseshoe form. The entrance is located inside the Hôtel de Ville d'Arles (aka Mairie d'Arles).
- Thermes de Constantin. The remains of the Roman baths
- Cathédrale Saint-Trophime (Church of Saint Trophime). A church in Romanesque style built in XIIth century. Besides the church there is a quite remarkable cloister.
- Espace Van Gogh (Médiathèque & Bibliothèque Municipale), Place Docteur Félix Rey, . A former hospital with a courtyard where Van Gogh was kept under medical treatment.
Out of historical centre
- Alycamps. An ancient burial site and early Christian cemetery. Eglise Saint Honorat is at the SE end of the place.
- Pont de Langlois (Pont Van Gogh) (quite a bit out of the city centre). It was the subject of several paintings by Vincent van Gogh.
Museums & Galleries
- Musée de l'Arles et de la Provence antiques (Musée de l'Arles antique), Presqu'île-du-cirque-romain BP 205, , e-mail:[email protected]. An archeological museum of Arles. At the NE side of the museum there are some very scarce remains of the Roman circus.
- Musée Réattu (Fine Arts museum), 10, rue du Grand Prieuré, . Tuesday to Sunday, November-February: 10am to 5pm, March-October: 10am to 6pm. €8.
- Museon Arlaten, 29-31 rue de la République, , e-mail: [email protected]. Closed for renovations until 2018.