Arles Tourist Attractions

Roman Arena in ArlesRoman Arena in Arles

The ancient town of Arles lies on the Rhône south of the point where the river divides into two arms - the Grand Rhône to the east and the Petit Rhône to the west - and flows through the Camargue, with its ponds and lakes, before entering the Mediterranean.

Impressive Roman and medieval historical monuments serve as a reminder of its great past.

Arènes Amphitheatre

The Roman amphitheater of Arènes is the largest and most complete ancient monument in the town of Arles, dating probably from early in the A.D. first century. The great oval once had accommodation for 21,000 spectators. With a length of 136m/149yd and a width of 107m/117yd the arena was one of the largest in Gaul. The facade has a double row of arcades with 60 archways each 3.38m/11ft wide; the four arches used as main entrances are 4.80m/16ft wide.
Seating for the spectators was once on 34 rows of tiered steps; the arena itself was built into the bedrock of the site. In Roman times a wooden floor was provided over the rock; the holes in which the supporting joists were fixed can still be seen in the wall surrounding the arena.
In the Middle Ages the citizens converted the amphitheater into a fortress by the addition of towers and the walling up of the arcades, of which there were originally three rows; the third no longer exists. When Prosper Mérimée cleared and restored the arena 150 years ago three of the towers were left standing. The one over the entrance can be climbed and from it there is a charming view over the roofs of the Old Town and of the nearby ancient theater. Nowadays in summer bull-fights take place in the arena.

Van Gogh Foundation

The Fondation Vincent van Gogh was installed in 1984 in the Palais de Luppé in Arles. Many famous artists, painters, photographers, writers and composers paid homage to van Gogh, and there are exhibits and documents covering his life on display. Thus his dream of a "House of the Artist" has been realized.
Address: 26 Rond-Point des Arenes, France

Roman Theater

The Roman theater in Arles is located in Rue de la Calade/Rue du Cloître; opening times are the same as those for the Arènes.
It was built in the time of Augustus and, with seating for 8,000 on 33 tiers of steps, was as large as the theater in Orange. In the early Middle Ages the theater was used as a quarry, and with the material it provided the town wall was erected. Of the rear wall of the stage only a few stumps of pillars and two more or less complete columns remain. Since the theater is now used again during the summer it is protected on the outside by screens and the interior is somewhat spoiled by the necessary technical apparatus.
Most of the relics brought to light during excavation can be seen in the Musée d'Art Païen - the most important of these is the "Venus of Arles", a representation of the goddess Diana, which was discovered near a fountain in 1651 and is now in the Louvre in Paris.

Place de la République

The Place de la République in Arles has an Egyptian obelisk 15m/50ft high. It was found in the amphitheater and erected here in 1676.
On the north side of the square stands the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) built in 1673-75. Its bell-tower dates from 1553 and came from the building which previously stood on the site.

St Trophime

The church of St-Trophime in the Place de la République in Arles, once the cathedral, was founded it is believed in the year 606. Its patron was a Greek disciple who brought Christianity to Provence. In its present form it is a Romanesque basilica, built 1152-80, the interior of which reveals Early Gothic forms.

St Trophime's Doorway

The recently restored facade of St Trophime in Arles facing the square has a magnificent doorway with some most impressive figures - a masterpiece of Provençal sculpture. It was placed in front of the existing Carolingian building in the 12th century and shows a certain similarity to the doorway of the Church of St-Gilles. On the pillars are figures of saints and Apostle: on the extreme inside of the front on the left is St Trophime being crowned with a mitre by two angels and on the right the Stoning of St Stephen. Above the door in the tympanum can be seen the Last Judgment with glory, surrounded by the symbols of the Evangelists and with the Twelve Apostles at his feet. This frieze is continued on the left and the right in the portrayal of the Last Judgment, with the "chosen" on the left and the "damned" on the right; below on the capitals on the left is the Annunciation and on the right the Birth of Jesus.
Both side doorways are considerably smaller than the main doorway and were added in the 17th century. They give access to the rather dim interior. All three aisles are very narrow and high and show the transition from Romanesque to Gothic, the transept being 11th century and the center aisle 12th century. In the first bays on the right and the left hang large Gobelin tapestries. The choir and the choir ambulatory are 15th century High Gothic.

St Trophime Cloisters

The Cloisters of St-Trophime adjoin the church on the southeast. They are accessible through the building to the right of the facade of the church and the courtyard behind it.
In the cloisters pillars alternate with columns in pairs, the capitals of which are decorated with fine sculptures of Biblical scenes; on the pillars will be found figures of Apostles and saints, and between them reliefs of stories of Christ and the saints. The 12th century north and east wings are the oldest parts, while the south and west wings date from the 14th century; thus the cloisters reveal both Romanesque and Gothic elements. The Chapter House adjoins the cloisters; in it hang two Gobelin tapestries and in the gallery is a small lapidarium. The other rooms adjacent to the cloisters are used for temporary exhibitions. The stairs leading to the galleries and the rooms above also provide access to the terrace-like roof gallery which encircles the cloisters and provides a charming view of the latter.

Museum of Pagan Art

In Arles, the Musée d'Art Paën (Museum of Pagan Art) or Musée Lapidaire (lapidarium) is located opposite St Trophime in the former Church of Ste Anne (1630). It exhibits works of the Roman Age and especially of Hellenism. Most of the exhibits come from the Roman theater, the former Forum and other ancient buildings in Arles.

Museum of Arles

The Museon Arlaten was founded in 1899 by the famous Provençal poet Frédéric Mistral. The Palais de Laval-Castellane, in which it is housed, is built on the remains of an ancient basilica, and was first a nobleman's palace and then a Jesuit college. Mistral, a Nobel Prize winner of 1904, donated the amount of his prize to create in his native region a permanent museum. It is now the most important collection of Provençal folk art, displaying furniture, costumes, ceramics, tools and farming implements.
Address: 29 rue de la République, F-13200 Arles, France

Arles Forum

The Forum, the market and meeting-place of the Roman town, was situated on the south side of the present-day Place du Forum. The best-preserved part is known as the "Cryptoporticus" (crypto doorway ca. 40 B.C.), a horseshoe-shaped loggia 89m/97yd by 59m/65yd in extent, built probably to compensate for the slope of the site. Entrance is from the Musée d'Art Chrétien.

Museum of Christian Art

In Arles, the Musée d'Art Chrétien lies a short distance northwest of the Musée Lapidaire on Rue Balze. Housed in the chapel of the former Jesuit college which was built in 1652, it possesses one of the most important collections of Early Christian sarcophagi from the fourth century; many of them come from the Necropolis of the Alyscamps and from the Early Christian burial place of St Genest in the present-day suburb of Trinquetaille. The sarcophagi are decorated with reliefs showing scenes from the Old and New Testaments.
The "Cryptoporticus", a partly subterranean arcade of the ancient Forum, can be reached from the museum.

Thermes de Constantin

The Thermes de Constantin (Baths of Constantine), the Roman bathing complex, dates from the A.D. fourth century and is situated on Rue D. Maisto in the north of the town near the arm of the river called the "Grand Rhône". Of the once-extensive series of buildings, which resembled a palace, only the Caldarium (warm bath) and parts of the Hypocaust (underfloor heating) and the Tepidarium (warm air room) remain.

Espace Van-Gogh

The Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh (1853- 90) spent 15 productive months in Arles in 1888-89. The artist - together with Cézanne and Gauguin one of the main pioneers of modern painting - lived in this former hospital for a time, and included it in several of his paintings. The 16th C. building has been made into a cultural center and equipped as a "School of Books".

Pont de Langlois

The Pont de Langlois, which once stood at the end the avenue du Plan-du-Bourg and was made famous by van Gogh, no longer exists. The drawbridge in rue G. Monge, which is often referred to as the Pont de Langlois, is some 2km/1.2 mi from the "genuine article" and is a later copy.

Musée Réattu

The Musée Réattu in Arles, housed in a 15th/16th C. building on rue G. Monge which was once the Grand Priory of the Knights of Malta, stemmed from the collection of the painter Réattu (1760-1833) and exhibits drawings and paintings by Provençal artists of the 18th and 19th C., as well as a collection of contemporary art, largely owing to the generosity of Pablo Picasso. In addition to the gallery of photographs by Lucien Clergue and others, the drawings by Picasso himself make this friendly little museum particularly interesting; in the main they are portraits with the faces wreathed in loving or amused smiles, evidence of the humanity and sense of humor of the artist.

Alyscamps

In Arles, along the Avenue des Alyscamps, on the southeastern edge of the Old Town, stretch the Alyscamps (the "Elysian Fields"), an extensive Roman burial place which, according to the legend of St Trophime, was dedicated as a Christian cemetery and, in the Middle Ages, was so famous that the dead were brought here for burial from considerable distances; Dante refers to it in his "Inferno". This led to the curious procedure of bringing the dead - in cleverly designed barrels together with a sum of money - along the Rhône to Arles, where they were fished out of the water by people employed for the purpose and duly interred. Their marble sarcophagi, which were later neglected, sold or destroyed, were not assembled again until the 18th C. Along the idyllic Allée des Tombeaux (Street of Graves), the only coffins now standing are the plain stone ones of the Middle Ages; the best ones are housed in the museums, especially in the Musée d'Art Chrétien, and in the Church of St Trophime. At the end of the Allée stands the Church of St-Honorat (12th C.), the only remains of which are the choir and the adjoining 15th-18th C. chapels. In the side-chapel on the left will be found a beautiful sarcophagus dating from the fourth century A.D.

Fête des Gardians

This annual May Day festival begins with a parade of guardians - men of the Camargue who herd wild horses. Other folk customs, music and traditions are also showcased during the festival.

Surroundings

Montmajour AbbeyMontmajour Abbey

Benedictine Abbey of Montmajour

The former Benedictine Abbey of Montmajour (Mont-Major), perched on a rocky hill 5km/3mi northeast of Arles, rather like a fortress, was founded in the 10th century and throughout the Middle Ages was an important place of pilgrimage. This pilgrimage could lead to the "Pardon of Montmajour" and provided the monastery with a plentiful source of income. Other monasteries were founded by the monks from this abbey. The plain surrounding the hill was originally marsh and alluvial land and was not drained until the abbey was founded. At the start of the 18th century the Baroque buildings were begun, as the original 12th century buildings had largely fallen into disrepair; however in 1785/86 the abbot, Cardinal Rohan, was implicated in the famous "necklace" affair and the monastery was closed. In 1791, together with most church property, it was confiscated and sold.
The large plan drawings in the lobby of the ticket office offer an initial overview of the abbey; other sketches are to be found in the parts of the abbey open to the public.
Address: Route de Fontvieille, F-13200 Arles, France

Montmajour Abbaye - Crypt

The first part of the Montmajour monastery to be visited is the huge Romanesque crypt, dating from the 12th century, which forms the load-bearing foundation of the church above, and which is partly built into the rock. The central space is surrounded by a vaulted corridor with apses in a semicircle, with which round-arched openings in the walls connect.

Abbaye de Montmajour Church

From the crypt the single-aisled church above can be reached; this is a short, rugged, austere building In Montmajour with only two bays in the nave, a semicircular main apse and two side apses; at the end of the left transept is the square Chapelle Notre-Dame-la-Blanche. In the 18th C. plans were made to extend the nave considerably to the west, but the plans were never realized.
Address: Route de Fontvieille, F-13200 Arles, France

Montmajour Abbaye - Cloister

The Montmajour cloister is entered from the second transept and adjoins the church on the southwest. It was probably built at the same time as the church, though only the east wing shows the original Romanesque outline. The rounded arches are divided by double pillars in threes or fours; rich ornamentation can be seen on the corbels which support the ribbed vaults. The cloister, in the middle of which stands a well mounted on a pedestal, is overlooked by the battlemented defensive keep, 26m/85ft high, which was built in 1369 and boasts a superb view from its roof.

Montmajour Abbaye - Baroque Ruins

To the west of the Montmajour Romanesque buildings are the ruins of extensions to it which date from the Baroque period and which are not open to the public. This enormous construction - a length of 135m/443ft was planned, while a further 90m/295ft were added during the building - was undertaken in 1703 by the architect Pierre Mignard. In 1726 a fire destroyed those parts which had been completed. Restoration of the damaged parts and further building under Jean-Baptiste Franque came to a halt in 1736.

Ste Croix

On the right of the road about 200m/220yds east of the monastery of Montmajour stands the little Chapelle Ste-Croix (Chapel of the Holy Cross), dating from the 12th C. It was once the cemetery chapel of the monastery as is indicated by the tombs which were hewn into the rock.

Moulin de Daudet

To the northeast of Montmajour (5km/3mi), near Fontvieille, stands one of the most popular attractions of Provence for the French - the windmill made famous by the writer Alphonse Daudet in his book "Lettres de mon Moulin". Daudet did not live in the mill, however, and the "Lettres" were not written here but in Paris. Nevertheless it is a fact that Daudet derived the inspiration for a great part of his literary output in this region. In the base of the windmill there is a small museum with mementos to the poet. There is a good view down the valley as far as the Rhône, with two old watch towers in the middle distance.

Fontvieille Roman Aqueducts

On either side of the D33 road, about 3km/2mi south of Fontvielle, the visitor will find the remains of two Roman aqueducts, which once provided water for Arles. The ruins have not been restored, but have been left uncovered and are easily accessible.

Fontvieille, France

Fontvieille is a district within the principality of Monaco. A 222,000sq.m/265,500sq.yd area was laid down and protected from the sea by a dam 30m/98ft deep in order to create the district of Fontvieille. To the west, underneath the rock, on which the old town rises, is the newly laid-out Port de Fontvieille. Behind the harbor the Stade Louis II was opened in 1985, a modern sports stadium with 20,000 roofed seats and the home of the Monaco football club.
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