Arles, is the third largest town in the Bouches-du-Rhone in population, but it is the largest township (“commune”) in France in surface area. Arles is listed on three different types of UNESCO World heritage lists. Arles is the gateway to the Camargue, the delta of the Rhône River, among the most beautiful natural sites in Europe. Its fauna and flora, protected by the Regional Park of Camargue, are exceptionally rich and varied. To the north of the city stretches the Regional Park of the Alpilles, the second park in the Arles area, with agricultural land and Mediterranean forests, habitat for more than one hundred rare or protected species.
The name of Arles is closely connected with that of Vincent Van Gogh. His stay in Arles ( 1888 to 1889) was the most productive period of his career : more than 300 paintings and drawings done in 15 months. But Arles is also the city of the Gypsy Kings, Chico and the Gypsies, Christian Lacroix, Yvan Audouard, the photographer Lucien Clergue, an inspired city where musicians, authors, artists and designers feel at home.
The language, dress costumes and traditional festivities make of Arles the capital of Provençal culture. Many events take place each season and the city is the annual meeting point for lovers of photography, music, literature, theatre and bullfighting. Arles is proud to be a city of the south where life is pleasant, where local products and multiple landscapes change with the seasons of the year.
Excavations have brought to light the existence of a Celtic town on the site of Arles, which was colonized by the Greeks from Massalia (Marseilles). The war between the Massaliotes and the army of Julius Caesar put an end to that colonisation. Most of the great Roman monuments were built at that time (from 46 BC). Under the reign of Augustus (44 BC to 14 AD), the town received the name of “Colonia Julia Paterna Arelate Sextanorum” (“colony of the veterans of the VIth legion founded in Arles by my father Julius Caesar”). When the Emperor Constantine (313) had his palace built, the city enjoyed an important period of economic and cultural development. At that time the town may have had about 50 000 inhabitants. Arles possesses 112 sites listed as National Heritage Monuments. In 1981 all the Roman and Romanesque monuments were listed among the UNESCO World heritage monuments. Most of these sites belong to the town, whose small size and limited financial resources are out of proportion to the treasures of its heritage.
The name of Arles is closely connected with that of Vincent Van Gogh. It is impossible to evoke Arles and its quality of light without thinking of his paintings. It was this luminosity that attracted Van Gogh to the south of France. Vincent arrived in Arles one day in February 1888 looking for the outside daylight but also seeking an interior illumination.
Arles is located where the Rhône River splits in two, creating the Grand Rhone and the Petit Rhone. It is a strategic spot, the gateway to the Camargue, where trade and river transportation have always played an important role. Since 1991 the port of Arles can receive river- and sea-going vessels of up to 3000 tons. It is the only port on the Rhone River able to receive boats this large, with a passage to the Mediterranean Sea.
The Arles Amphitheatre is a two-tiered amphitheatre which thrived in Roman times. The building measures 136 m long and 109 m wide, and features 120 arches. It has an oval arena surrounded by terraces.
Built in 90 AD, the amphitheatre was capable of seating over 20,000 spectators, and was built to provide entertainment in the form of chariot races and bloody hand-to-hand battles. Today, it draws large crowds for bullfighting during the Feria d’Arles as well as plays and concerts in summer.
Arles Amphitheatre is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, together with other Roman buildings of the city, as part of the Arles, Roman and Romanesque Monuments group.
The Church of St. Trophime is a Roman Catholic church and former cathedral located in the city of Arles. It was built between the 12th century and the 15th century, and is in the Romanesque architectural tradition. The sculptures over the church’s portal, particularly the Last Judgement, and the columns in the adjacent cloister, are considered some of the finest examples of Romanesque sculpture.
The church was built upon the site of the 5th century basilica of Arles, named for St. Stephen. In the 15th century a Gothic choir was added to the Romanesque nave.
The cloister was constructed in the second half of the 12th century and the first half of the 13th century. for the use of the Canons, the priests who attended the bishop and managed the church property. Under a reform instituted by Pope Gregory, the Canons were required to live like monks, with a common dormitory, refectory and cloister within the cathedral enclosure, separated by a wall from the city.
The refectory, or dining hall, was built first, next to the church, along with a chapter house, or meeting room, for the canons. The dormitory for the canons, a large vaulted room on the east side of the cloister, was built next. Work on the cloister began with the northern gallery, then the eastern gallery, which were finished around 1210-1220. Then work suddenly stopped.
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