Arles Antique Museum

The town of Arles is home to an exceptional density of monuments and remains dating from the Gallo-Roman period. The arenas, the theater, the cryptoporticus or the ruins of the thermal baths bear witness to this ancient prosperity. Successive excavation campaigns have uncovered exceptional archeological remains, which you are invited to discover in the Musée départemental Arles antique (departmental museum of Ancient Arles).

Arles, a Roman town

The position of the town, not far from the mouth of the Rhône, makes it a strategic site which was occupied by the Celto-Ligurian peoples and then by the Greeks who settled in Massalia, the future Marseille. The town took off in the first century B.C., when the town supported Julius Caesar. The winner, who was magnanimous, made it a Roman colony that welcomed many veterans. An ambitious town plan was launched with the creation of a fortified wall, the development of public spaces, the construction of the forum, the theater and the Arc du Rhône.

Under Roman rule, Arles experienced an era of exceptional prosperity. Trade flourished, with the city controlling river traffic on the Rhône. The arenas that we still know today were built in the 1st century AD. An amphitheater was erected in the 2nd century. The city adopts Christianity around the 3rd century. At the beginning of the 4th century, Emperor Constantine regularly resided in his Arlesian palace.

Many monuments and countless remains have been preserved from this glorious period. The ancient Gallo-Roman villas and shipwrecks have given archeologists their lots of amphoras, coins, mosaics, sculptures, etc.

A long archeological tradition

The city of Arles has a long archeological tradition. As early as the 16th century, Arlesian amateurs and collectors set up curiosity cabinets. At the beginning of the 17th century, the Common House hosted the first presentation of antique works to the public. In the 17th century, this awareness was also reflected in a decree ordering that new discoveries be deposited in the Common House. The Town Hall then offered an exhibition space in the entrance hall. Some of the most beautiful works from the Musée départemental Arles antique, such as the Medea statue or the torso of Aiôn, have thus come down to us.

The first archeological museum was created in 1784 on the Alyscamps site. An imperial edict, signed by Napoleon I, allowed the creation of a museum in the Sainte-Anne church during the Bourbon Restoration. The museum was enlarged in 1936 with the annexation of the Jesuit chapel. The Musée départemental Arles antique was built at the end of the 20th century to house, with a rethought and modernized museography, all the collections. It is built on the site of the ancient arena, where the Romans used to attend chariot races.

Discovering the museum

The Musée départemental Arles Antique is conceived as a real museum city. The architect Henri Ciriani has created a space where visitors can wander freely and wander between the works as they would stroll through the streets of a city. The route is organized in a loop and revolves around a central patio reminiscent of architecture in old Roman homes. Privileged areas, offering special viewpoints, allow visitors to appreciate the greatest works of art, such as the imposing marble statue of Augustus. A footbridge also allows you to cross the mosaic pit, thus highlighting this artistic expression at the heart of ancient culture.

The different pieces are presented according to a double chronological and thematic logic. The pre- and post-Roman periods are addressed at the beginning and end of the journey. The Roman civilization, for its part, is presented through several complementary themes. Light also plays a strong symbolic role, reinforcing the strong cultural and civilizational role of Roman culture for the city of Arles and Provence.

Concrete archaeological actions

With the support of a team of 8 specialized restorers, the mosaic conservation and restoration workshop is invested with a mission of preventive conservation, but also of restoration and presentation of mosaics and ancient painted coatings. The workshop is sought after in France and abroad, in museums or directly on archaeological sites that require advanced expertise and know-how unique in France. Symposia, conferences and publications highlight this essential work. The workshop also has a mission of mediation with adults and children.

The museum’s archeological service also deals with archeological operations. Excavations carried out in the Rhône between 2008 and 2011 have notably enabled the wreck of a Gallo-Roman barge to be refloated and nearly 480 various objects to be discovered, while tackling new themes relating to navigation, trade and the activities of the former river port.

Events and exhibitions

The exhibition Actéon, le chasseur est la proie (Actaeon, the hunter is the prey) attracted the museum’s visitors in 2019 and 2020. Modern, audacious, and based on innovative technology, this exhibition revisited the myth of Actaeon, a Greek hunter who, for having dared to defy the goddess Diana, was in turn devoured. Exhibitions can also occupy outdoor spaces, such as On dévore le musée : Big Torrent (We’re devouring the museum: Big Torrent), which has been displayed in the gardens.

Symposia and conferences are held throughout the year in the auditorium. You can attend theatrical investigations, the screening of movies, documentaries and peplums, as well as various live shows.

Family visits can also be enriched by workshops for adults or children.

Practical information

  • Visiting time: about one hour
  • Opening days: Open every day except Tuesday. Closed on January 1, May 1, November 1 and December 25.
  • Schedule: from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
  • Address: Presqu’île du Cirque Romain, 13200 Arles
  • Access: the museum is located in the south-west of the ancient city, at the confluence of the Rhône and the navigation canal from Arles to Bouc.
  • Accessibility: National Tourism & Handicap labelled facility
  • Website: http://www.arles-antique.cg13.fr/

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