Nonchalantly sitting on the two banks of the Rhône at the edge of the delta where the Camargue lies, Arles seems to snooze beneath the implacable light of its Mediterranean sun, comfortable in its 2500 years of history.
But to really believe the town is sleeping would be fanciful…
Arles watches over it riches.
The commune, of which the territory is undeniably the most spread out in all of France, covering 720 square kilometres (three times as much as Marseille and 7 times as much as Paris), boasts a number of natural sites as varied as they are exceptional: to the north lie the Alpilles, a limestone mountain range, to the east La Crau, a once arid steppe, and to the south is the Camargue, a magical spot between the sea and the sky where rangers, horses, bulls and birds roam.
View from the quays of the historic centre of Arles
The arena in Arles
Saint-Trophime Cathedral in Arles
The ancient Roman theatre in Arles
Costume Festival in Arles
Actes Sud bookstore in Arles
The old hospital and Espace Van Gogh in Arles
The Place du Forum in Arles
Arles, city of art and history, has been listed as a World Heritage Site by Unesco since 1981. More than 100 of its Roman and Romanesque buildings and ruins in the preserved historic centre are listed as “Historic Monuments”.
These are the Roman Amphitheatre (today the arena), the Antique Theatre, the Cryptoportiques, the Roman thermal baths of Constantin, the remains of the Roman circus, the Saint-Trophime cloisters and gate and the Alyscamps, to cite just the most important.
If the old historic centre of Arles is one of the main protected sectors, abounding in architectural treasures, the 20th century gave birth to some important edifices such as the Joseph Imbert Hospital, designed by the architect Paul Nelson and the Departmental Museum of Ancient Arles, conceived by Henri Ciriani and installed in a modern and innovative building on the banks of the Rhône.
The Espace Van Gogh, the former hospital and hospice restored in 1986, today houses the multimedia library, the city archives, the Collège International des Traducteurs Littéraires (association for the promotion of literary translations), a branch of the university, an exhibition space as well as many shops and businesses.
The building housing Supinfocom, the internationally renowned school for 3D-2D animation, is one of the premier architectural achievements of the 19th century. Built in the park of the former SNCF railway workshops, tt constitutes an important part of the university.
In addition to its heritage, the city's customs, language and traditional festivals make Arles the capital of Provençal culture. You may come across a woman in traditional costume in the streets during one of the many festivals organized by the city. A touristic city par excellence, many festivities take place here throughout the year: in December, the Drôle de Noëls, in April the Feria Pascale, the Rencontres internationale de la photographie photo festival in summer, the Fête du riz rice festival in early September.
Arles, which combines past and present, art and industry in an exemplary fashion, can also boast of the presence of such institutions as the Actes Sud publishing house, Harmonia Mundi, the independent music record label, and the internationally renowned theatre troupe The Groupe F, specialists in fireworks and artistic performances. They participated in the inauguration of the FabricA - Festival of Avignon.
Let's also note the École Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie installed since 1982 in one of the most beautiful town mansion from the 17th century, on Rue des Arènes.
Monuments & Heritage
The arena | The antique theatre | The Roman amphitheater
The Cryptoportiques | The Constantin Roman baths | The Alyscamps (cemetery) |
The remains of the Roman circus | The Saint-Trophime cloisters and gate
Private town houses and mansions from the 16th and 17th centuries
The 17th century town hall | The 19th century Hôtel de Chartrouse
Archevêché | The Chapel of la Charité | The Trinitaies Chapel
The Saint Marin du Méjean Chapel | The Church of the Dominicans
The Notre-Dame-de-la-Major Church | The Saint-Blaise Church
The Sainte-Anne Church | The Saint-Honorat Church |
The Saint-Jean-de-Moustiers Church | The Saint-Julien Church
Enclos Saint-Césaire | The Amédée Pichot fountain | The Podestats Palace
The clock tower, the Mourgues tower, the Cavalerie, the Ecochoir and the Ramparts towers
The Saint-Lazare leprosarium | The Sainte-Luce commandery
The Obelisk of Arles | The former SNCF railway workshops
The Montmajour Abbey
Musems of Arles
Departmental Museum of Ancient Arles
Espace Van Gogh
Museum of the Camargue
Salt Museum in Salin de Giraud and its sightseeing train
Nature & Gardens in Arles and the surroundings :
Summer Garden, Arles
Hortus park and garden, Arles
Domaine de Méjanes Park and garden, Arles
Domaine de la Palissade, Arles
The Camargue Nature Park
Ornithological Park of Le Pont de Gau
History of Arles
Let's talk about Arles' history. It begins around 550 BC when the Phocaeans of Marseille founded the trading counter of Théliné on the present-day site of Arles.
In the 4th century, Théliné became ARELATE (from “ar”: rocky knoll, or “are”: near, and “lath”: marsh). Between 125 and 121 BC, the "Provincia" was conquered by Rome. Taking advantage of its situation as a crossroads, Arles prospered under the Roman Empire and became an important trade centre. The city was called at the time “Colonia Julia Paterna Arelate”.
Navigation on the Rhône provided access to Gaul, all the way to Brittany (Sea-faring ships from throughout the empire could sail up to Arles where there was a transloading station). The Via Domitia, which linked Italy to Spain, crossed the river in Arles thanks to a pontoon-style bridge of boats. I49 BC marked the start of the civil wars. Caesar had ships built at the shipyard of Trinquetaille to lay siege to Marseille, allied at the time to Caesar's enemy Pompeii.
The economy created during the Roman Era would last until the modern age.
In the Middle Ages, big farms saw the day and gave birth to a rich landowning aristocracy. Across the countryside, big and beautiful “mas” were built grouping together houses and farm buildings. The commune of Arles thus became dotted with villages and hamlets.
Credit Anne-Marie David Peltier
Some well-known Arlésians:
Christian Lacroix, born in Arles on May 16, 1951 into a family very centered on elegance of dress and fashionable attire.
Frédéric Mistral, born in 1830 in Maillane, a small village to the north of Arles, at the foot of the Alpilles between the Rhône and the Durance.
Jacques Réattu, born in Arles on August 3, 1760, Painter.
And you may have forgotten her…
Anne-Marie David, born on May 23, 1952 in Arles. She won the Eurovision Contest in singing for Luxembourg in 1973 with the song Tu te reconnaîtras.
Some famous people who fell in love with Arles
Vincent Van Gogh arrived in Arles in February 1888 on his quest for the perfect light…
Pablo Picasso, a fan of bullfights, regularly came to stay in Arles. Réattu Museum.
Paul Gaugin came to Arles in 1988 upon the request of his friend Vincent Van Gogh. Here he painted Les Alyscamps (Orsay Museum) and Café de Nuit, amongst other works
Léo Lélée, Painter, illustrator
And the theatre troupe The Groupe F
Credit Anne-Marie David Peltier