Arles sits just downstream from where the Rhone River forks into 2 branches, forming the Camargue delta. The city has a long and interesting history. The Ligurians were in the area from about 800BC. Later the Celts were there, followed by the Phoenicians who set up a trading post. Later it was taken over by the Romans.
It became an important town and an aqueduct, amphitheatre, triumphal arch, Roman circus and city walls were built. It was closer to the sea at that time and it served as a port.
The Roman amphitheatre is still standing…with some help, and is still used.
For a fee you can enter this very impressive building.
…all the way to the top for some great views over the town to the river.
Just around the corner from the amphitheatre is another Roman ruin, also still in use for performances…those Romans built things to last.
The centre of town is Place de la Republique, a lovely, open square lined with interesting buildings and little streets heading off in all directions.
To one side is the church of St Trophime, a major work of Romanesque architecture. The Last Judgement on its portal is considered one of the finest examples of Romanesque sculpture.
The 12th century portal was restored in 1988 – 1995. On the right side chained souls are being dragged off to hell and on the left the righteous are being delivered into the hands of the saints. Full length statues of apostles and saints stand guard on either side.
The nearby cloister from the late 12th century has pillars with capitals decorated with sculptures of biblical scenes.
The city reached its peak during the 4th and 5th centuries. It remained important until the 19th century when the railway diminished river trade. By the time Vincent Van Gogh arrived in 1888 it had become a bit of a backwater…exactly what he was looking for. He produced over 300 paintings and drawings during his time there.
The surrounding countryside offered lots of inspiration, but the city centre did too. The laneways and cafes were captured by the artist. A cafe he painted is still there.
Today it is a busy, vibrant town that manages to mix old and new very well. The streets are extremely narrow, making driving a bit difficult in the city centre. Luckily, there is ample parking at the edge of town and the centre is not large, so it is easy to cover on foot.
We stayed in the Hotel de la Muette, a hotel in a 12th century house. It was in a great location, the room and bathroom were lovely and the young woman at reception was delightful. She spoke excellent English and was extremely helpful. We enjoyed perfect croissants for breakfast…we will be back.
There is an amazing market held every Saturday. It is the biggest and best stocked street market I have ever seen and I will show it to you in another post, as well as some street scenes in lovely Arles.