Arles, a city of art and history at the gates of the Camargue, in the Bouches-du-Rhône department, is a city with an exceptional heritage that must be discovered. Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city reveals all its beauty between past and modernity. The historic heart is full of architectural treasures such as the arenas, the ancient Roman Amphitheater, the Roman Theater, the cryptoporticus, the Roman baths of Constantine, etc. Architecture enthusiasts will also appreciate the innovative building along the Berges du Rhône (Banks of the Rhône) which houses the Musée de l’Arles antique (Museum of Ancient Arles).
Provençal culture spreads through the narrow streets of the city during traditional holidays. These events are an opportunity to highlight the traditions of the city and its costumes as those of the Arlesian women. The city’s monuments have inspired many artists who have tried to represent the beauty of the place under their paintbrush or lens. Arles has particularly inspired Van Gogh who painted many canvases during his stay. It is also the city of the Gipsy Kings and Christian Lacroix. Every season, events are organized to promote culture: photography, music, literature, drama and bullfighting.
The Arles Amphitheater, located in the center of the city, once was a Roman amphitheater that could hold 21,000 spectators. The building rises over several floors and is equipped with various doors, galleries and staircases to allow spectators to move around easily. Today it is the most visited monument in the city. Numerous bullfighting events are organized there, such as the Easter Feria, La Cocarde d’Or and the ACE trophy final, but also musical or theater shows, reenactments of gladiator fights… The monument inspired many artists, including the famous painter Vincent Van Gogh who, in 1888, painted “Les Arènes,” a painting depicting the crowd on a bullfighting day.
The Roman Theater
The Roman Theater of Arles is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It had a capacity of 10,000 spectators. After numerous excavations, various remains of decoration were found, such as the “Venus of Arles,” now in the Louvre Museum, the statue of Augustus, preserved in the Musée de l’Arles antique (Museum of Ancient Arles), or the Altar of Apollo. Built on the L’Hauture hill, only a few tiers, the orchestra, the pit and two high columns remain of the building today. It is in summer that the theater regains its function as a performance venue. Various cultural and traditional events take place there, such as the Arles festivals, the Costume Festival, international photography meetings, the Les Suds Festival and the Peplum Film Festival.
Roman Baths of Constantine
The thermal baths were in ancient times a particularly widespread and frequented public place. The thermal baths allowed the population to get together to enjoy the hot and cold baths, but also to practice sports. Located on the banks of the Rhône, the Roman baths of Constantine were built at the beginning of the 4th century before undergoing a major restoration to clear the remains visible today. They are the best preserved in the commune although only a third of them can be seen. The building is a listed historical monument.
Cryptoporticus of the Forum
The cryptoporticus is located under the central square of the Roman City, called the forum. Thanks to its pillars supporting the vaults, it stabilizes the esplanade built on a sloping ground. Organized in three galleries, forming a U, the cryptoporticus served as cellars for private individuals, as catacombs, but also as a deposit of wood and marble. The galleries were opened to the public in 1966 and are now classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Cloister of Saint Trophime
Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Cloister of Saint Trophime is located between the ancient theater and the town hall square. During the construction of the buildings organized around a cloister, the galleries were built. The first two are decorated with sculptures representative of Provençal Romanesque art. Two other galleries were later built in a Gothic style. The restored rooms are now used to host contemporary art exhibitions, thematic presentations of the city’s heritage, but also the International Fair of the Santon and the “Lecture en Arles” (reading in Arles) festival in summer. The cloister is highlighted during visits on European Heritage Days. In 2006, spectators discovered a magnificent exhibition of medieval objects.
- Tourist Office of Arles: https://www.arlestourisme.com/fr/
- Road service: A54 Highway (from Marseille or Nîmes)
- Air access: Nîmes Airport (25 minutes), Avignon Airport (1 hour), Marseille Provence Airport (1 hour), Montpellier Méditerranée Airport (1 hour)
- Railroad access: train station