Arles, Roman and Romanesque Monuments (UNESCO/NHK)

Arles, Roman and Romanesque Monuments (UNESCO/NHK)

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Arles, France is a good example of the adaptation of an ancient city to medieval European civilization. It has some impressive Roman monuments, of which the earliest – the arena, the Roman theatre and the cryptoporticus (subterranean galleries) – date back to the 1st century B.C. During the 4th century Arles experienced a second golden age, as attested by the baths of Constantine and the necropolis of Alyscamps. In the 11th and 12th centuries A.D., Arles once again became one of the most attractive cities in the Mediterranean. Within the city walls, Saint-Trophime, with its cloister, is one of Provence's major Romanesque monuments.

Source: UNESCO TV / © NHK Nippon Hoso Kyokai

Arles, Roman and Romanesque Monuments

Arles, Roman and Romanesque Monuments (French: Arles, monuments romains et romans) [1] is an area containing a collection of monuments in the city centre of Arles, France, that has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981.

The official brief description for this as a World Heritage Site is:

Arles is a good example of the adaptation of an ancient city to medieval European civilization. It has some impressive Roman monuments, of which the earliest – the arena, the Roman theatre and the cryptoporticus (subterranean galleries) – date back to the 1st century B.C. During the 4th century Arles experienced a second golden age, as attested by the baths of Constantine and the necropolis of Alyscamps. In the 11th and 12th centuries, Arles once again became one of the most attractive cities in the Mediterranean. Within the city walls, Saint-Trophime, with its cloister, is one of Provence's major Romanesque monuments. [2]

The protected area covers 65 ha. The following buildings are located within this area: [3]

The Roman and Romanesque Monuments of Arles

The first UNESCO site in Provence we’re looking at is the Roman and Romanesque Monuments of Arles. As the name suggests, there’s two main aspects to this World Heritage Site which really highlight the story of Arles as a city.

Roman Monuments of Arles

The first aspect concerns Arles’ Roman history, when it was an important colony and trading post during the later stages of the Empire. As usual for important Roman towns, Arles boasted city walls, a theatre, circus, triumphal arch, baths, an aqueduct, and an amphitheatre. Although many of these are long gone, the ruins of several Roman buildings still remain.

The highlight here is definitely Arles Amphitheatre (Arènes d’Arles), built by the Romans in the late first century AD. Modelled after the Colosseum in Rome, it held a staggering 20,000 spectators who watched gladiator fights and chariot races. Interestingly, as the Roman influence in Arles declined, the Amphitheatre was repurposed into a fortress and housing district. Guard towers were built atop the walls, and thousands of houses were packed into the amphitheatre’s confines before their removal in the 19th century. Elsewhere in Arles, you’ll find the remains of a Roman theatre (théâtre antique d’Arles), the Cryptoporticos (les Cryptoportiques) (underground passages), and the Baths of Constantine (Thermes de Constantin).

Romanesque Monuments of Arles

The second aspect of the World Heritage Site in Arles are its Romanesque monuments, which date from its second golden age in the 11th and 12th centuries. Romanesque is a common style of medieval architecture, inspired largely by Roman archways (hence the name). The style has been used for royal palaces, humble houses, giant cathedrals, tiny chapels, and almost everything in between.

In Arles, the church of Saint Trophime (l’Église Saint-Trophime) is a spectacular example of Romanesque architecture. The main entrance portal is covered in Romanesque sculptures, depicting the Apocalypse, other Bible stories and various saints. It’s absolutely incredible, with fantastic detailing and exquisite workmanship. The inner cloister inside is also heavily decorated with yet more magnificent Romanesque art and architecture.

Know before you go
Arles is fairly easy to access from Marseilles, either via train or car. A combined ticket called Arles Patrimoine costs 16 euros and covers the major sites, including the amphitheatre, Roman theatre, cryptoporticus, cloister and more.

Museum of Ancient Arles: Model of Roman Arles and of Trinquetaille, a residential neighbourhood similar to Saint-Romain-en-Gal opposite Vienne, which was linked to Arles by a pontoon bridge

The appearance it now makes is widely different from what it was, when Constantine the Great, and after him his sons honoured it with their presence. Then theatres, palaces, and amphitheatres were raised on every side, to receive and entertain these mighty guests, and Arles became the center of government, the rival of Marseilles in the trade of Italy: thither the inhabitants of the northern districts came to purchase the gaudy superfluities of luxury, and from thence carried back into their forests, new wants and the vices of more refined nations. The urbanity which a splendid court is wont to diffuse around the place of its residence, polished the manners of the Arelatians to a superior degree above the citizens of other towns. Swinburne

Routes of Santiago de Compostela

UNESCO description: Santiago de Compostela was the supreme goal for countless thousands of pious pilgrims who converged there from all over Europe throughout the Middle Ages. To reach Spain pilgrims had to pass through France, and the group of important historical monuments included in this inscription marks out the four routes by which they did so.

Name & Location Coordinates
ancienne abbaye de Gellone
Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, Hérault, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
N43 44 01.7 E3 32 56.1
Pont du Diable
Aniane/Saint-Jean-de-Fos, Hérault, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
N43 42 28.3 E3 33 26.5
ancienne abbatiale
Saint-Gilles-du-Gard, Gard, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
N43 40 36.5 E4 25 55.1

Justification for Inscription: Criterion ii: The Pilgrimage Route of Santiago de Compostela played a key role in religious and cultural exchange and development during the later Middle Ages, and this is admirably illustrated by the carefully selected monuments on the routes followed by pilgrims in France.

Criterion iv: The spiritual and physical needs of pilgrims travelling to Santiago de Compostela were met by the development of a number of specialized types of edifice, many of which originated or were further developed on the French sections.

Criterion vi: The Pilgrimage Route of Santiago de Compostela bears exceptional witness to the power and influence of Christian faith among people of all classes and countries in Europe during the Middle Ages.

Date of Inscription: 1998
Criteria: (ii)(iv)(vi)

ii. to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design

iv. to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history

vii. to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria)

Location: Regions of Aquitaine, Auvergne, Basse-Normandie, Bourgogne, Centre, Champagne-Ardenne, Ile-de-France, Languedoc-Roussillon, Limousin, Midi-Pyrénées, Picardie, Poitou-Charentes, and Provence-Alpes-Côte d&rsquoAzur
N45 11 02.6 E0 43 22.6

More information on :


  • 250 According to legend, Trophimus of Arles becomes the first bishop of Arles.
  • 597 (November 17). Augustine of Canterbury returns to Arles after converting the King, Queen and principal members of the court of England to Christianity, and is consecrated as bishop of the Church of England by Virgilius of Arles, vicar of the Holy See in Gaul.
  • 1152 : (September 29). Raimon de Montredon organizes the transfer of the relics of St. Trophime from the basilica of St. Stephen in Alyscamps to the new cathedral of St. Trophime.
  • 1178 : (July 30). The Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Frederick Barbarossa, is crowned at St. Trophime Cathedral by the archbishop of Arles.
  • 1365 : (June 4). Following the precedent of Frederick Barbarossa, Emperor Charles IV is crowned king of Arles (Arelat) at St. Trophime Cathedral.
  • 1445 to 1465 The Romanesque abside of the church is replaced by a Gothic choir. [2]
  • 1801 : When the Bishopric moved to Aix-en-Provence, St. Trophime was reclassified as a simple parish church.
  • 1882 : Raised to the level of a minor basilica by Pope Leo XIII.
  • 1981 : Classified a UNESCOworld heritage site, as part of the Arles, Roman and Romanesque Monuments group.

At the time the Cathedral was built, in the late 11th century or early 12th century, Arles was the second-largest city in Provence, with a population of between 15,000 and 20,000 people. It had a busy port on the Rhône, and two new cities, on either side of the old Roman town, surrounded by a wall. It was at least formally independent as the Kingdom of Burgundy-Arles, and it had attracted many religious orders, including the Knights Hospitalier, the Knights Templar and mendicant orders, which had built a number of churches within the town. [3]

The apse and the transept were probably built first, in the late 11th century, and the nave and bell tower were completed in the second quarter of the 12th century. [4] The Romaneque church had a long central nave 20 meters high lower collateral aisles on either side a transept supporting the square central bell tower and a chevet behind the altar at the east end with a hemispherical vault. The windows are small and high up on the nave, above the level of the collateral aisles.

Though mainly notable for its outstanding Romanesque architecture and sculpture, the church contains rich groups of art from other periods. These include several important carved Late Roman sarcophagi, reliquaries from various periods, and Baroque paintings, with three by Louis Finson. Trophime Bigot is also represented, and there are several Baroque tapestries, including a set of ten on the Life of the Virgin. The church has been used to hold items originally from other churches or religious houses in the region that were dispersed in the French Revolution or at other times.

The west portal is one of the treasures of Romanesque sculpture, presenting the story of the Apocalypse according to St. John, and the Gospel of St. Matthew. Christ is seated in majesty in the timpanum, with the symbols of the Evangelists around him according to the most common interpretation, they are the man of St. Matthew, the lion of St. Mark, the ox of St. Luke, and the eagle of St. John. The Apostles are seated below him. To the left of the portal, a procession of chosen Christians is going to heaven, while to the right sinners are being cast into hell.

The decoration of the portal also includes a multitude of Biblical scenes the Annunciation the Baptism of Christ the Adoration of the Magi, the Magi before Herod the Massacre of the Innocents shepherds with their flocks.

On the lower level, separated by pilasters and columns of dark stone, are statues of saints connected with the history of Arles on the left, St. Bartholomew, St. James the Great, St. Trophimus, St. John the Evangelist, and St. Peter and on the right, St. Philip, St. James the Just, St. Stephen, St. Andrew, and St. Paul.

The bases of the columns beside the portal are decorated with statues of lions, Samson and Delilah, and Samson and the Lion. [5]

The cloister was constructed in the second half of the 12th century and the first half of the 13th century. [4] 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.

Soon after the construction of the east and west galleries, the city began to decline. The Counts of Provence moved from Arles to Aix, the center of church authority moved to the papal palace in Avignon, and in 1251 Charles of Anjou suppressed the movement of the leaders of Arles for more independence. In 1348, The Black Death drastically reduced the population of all of Provence.

The southern and western galleries of the cloister were not built until the 1380s and 1390s, and they were built in a different style, the Gothic style favored by the Popes in Avignon, with cross-ribbed vaults.

In 1355, the canons gave up living in the dormitory, and moved to houses within the cathedral close. The dormitory, refectory and chapter house were turned into granaries and storehouses.

The northern gallery, built in the second quarter of the 12th century, is purely Romanesque, with a barrel vault ceiling. The carvings of the columns capitals are devoted to the Easter Mystery and to the glorification of the patron saints of Arles. The relationships between the figures on the pillars and the capitals of the columns show the relationships between the Old and New Testaments, a theme introduced in Paris by Suger, the abbot of Saint Denis.

The first corner pillar in the northern gallery is devoted to St. Trophime, the patron saint Arles, between the figures of Saint Peter and Saint John. The bas-relief on the walls show the Christ's empty tomb on Easter morning. The capitals of the columns depict Lazarus coming out of his tomb between Martha and Mary Abraham about to sacrifice his son and Balaam on his ass being stopped by a sword-wielding angel.

The next three columns show St. Stephen being stoned, combined with a portrait of St. Paul Christ encountering the disciples, shown as pilgrims on their way to Compostela, at Emaus and Christ showing his wounds to the unbelieving Thomas.

The capitals between the columns show three Angels appearing to Abraham and St. Paul addressing Areopagus of Athens.

The only illustrated capital in the last bay shows Moses meeting God before the burning bush. The Resurrection story concludes on the northeast corner pillar with the Ascension of Jesus, next to the figures of Saint Paul and St. Andrew on either side of St. Stephen.

The Eastern Gallery, built the late 12th or early 13th century, has some Gothic features, including figures in the quoins of wise virgins and foolish virgins and the symbols of the Four Evangelists. The Passion story is told on the pillars, while the life of Christ is depicted on the carved capitals.

The scenes of Christ's childhood can be are read on the capitals from north to south the Annunciation, the Visitation and the Nativity on the first capital the next capital shows the coat of arms of Arles and an eagle with spread wings, the symbol of the Holy Roman Emperor, who at the time ruled Arles the third capital shows the Annunciation to the shepherds, with two startled goats climbing the Tree of Life.

The pillar in the first bay begins the story of the Passion with the flagellation of Christ. On the opposite side is Judas clutching a purse with thirty pieces of silver.

The capitals in the central bay illustrate the story of the Magi, out of historical order the successive columns show the Massacre of the Innocents the Flight into Egypt the angel appearing to the Magi at the inn the three wise men before Herod the Adoration of the Magi, and the angel appearing to Joseph in a dream.

The pillar in the second bay has two statues, probably representing St. John and the Mother Church.

The capitals in the third bay illustrate the entry of Christ into Jerusalem, Palm Sunday and Pentecost, and a knight striking down an adversary, and then walking over to a lady possibly representing Constantine defeating paganism and then being thanked by the mother church.

The southern pillar illustrates the Baptism of Christ and the devil tempting Christ, Christ washing the apostles' feet, the Last Supper and the kiss of Judas.

The Southern Gallery probably dates to the 1380s or 1390s, and is built in the Gothic style, with pointed arches intersecting vaults resting on colonnettes with foliated capitals.

The capitals in the southern gallery are entirely devoted to the story of St. Trophimus the first shows St. Trophime blessing the Alyscamps burial ground, and dedicating an oratory to the still-living Virgin Mary the next four show a miracle performed by the intervention of St. Trophime he brings back to life a knight and nine of his relatives unjustly sentenced to death by the Emperor Charlemagne for slapping the archbishop Turpin.

The Western Gallery probably dates to about 1375, and is devoted to religious figures and scenes popular in Provence from south to north: the stoning of St. Stephen Samson slaying the lion and yielding to Delilah Saint Martha and the Tarasque Mary Magdalene kissing Christ's feet the Annunciation in a Gothic setting the Coronation of the Virgin and the Pentecost.

UNESCO World Heritage sites in Provence

In 2018, France has 43 UNESCO World Heritage sites. Provence has 8 listed sites, making it one of the richest regions in France.

Listed in 1981: the Roman Theatre and surrounding areas, and the Arc de Triomphe in Orange

The Roman Theatre in Orange, with exceptional vestiges dating from the age of Imperial Rome, has a 103m-long façade, and is one of the best-preserved major Roman theatres. The Arc de Triomphe in Orange was built between 10 and 25 AD, and is one of the finest triumphal arches of the Augustinian period with its bas-relief sculptures recounting the development of the Pax Romana.

With a double ticket you can visit the Roman Theatre and the nearby Art and History Museum, where the history of Orange is recounted from Antiquity to the 20th century. A wide range of multimedia tools (free audio-guide in 10 languages, a free application to download, a show called “The Ghosts of the Theatre”), enhance the visit, making the architecture in the sites and the history of public entertainment in Ancient Rome accessible to all. The show/visit “The Ghosts of the Theatre” blends optical theatre, video projections and music to bring to life the highlights and the people who have performed on the stage in this wonderful monument from Antiquity to today.

The new virtual tour of the theatre as part of a 50-minute guided visit includes a 6-minute “total-immersion” film. In a specially designed room, visitors can enjoy a total immersion experience with individual 360° video projections and a virtual reality headset (Oculus Rift model with built-in sound). Spectators are transported back to 36 B.C. to see the foundation of the city of Orange and the theatre being built. Stone after stone, the theatre takes shape and unveils its majestic decorations.

Listed in 1981. Roman and Romanesque Monuments (Amphitheatre and Theatre) in Arles

Vues aériennes Arles Camargue

Arles has the most Roman monuments after Rome itself: arenas, a Roman theatre and cryptoporticoes dating from the 1 st century BC. The Constantine thermal baths and the Alyscamps necropolis bear witness to a second golden age in the 4 th century. In the 11 th and 12 th centuries, Arles once again became one of the most beautiful cities in the Mediterranean world and a major stage on the Way of Saint James. Inside the town’s walls, Saint-Trophime with its cloister and Montmajour Abbey, nearby, are major monuments of Provençal Romanesque art.

A range of 1 to 6-month “Monuments Passes” are available to access the 6 monuments (Amphitheatre, Roman Theatre, Constantine Thermal Baths, Cryptoporticoes, Alyscamps, Saint Trophime Cloister) and 3 museums (Réattu Museum, Camargue Museum, Musée de l’Arles Antique). “Arlestour”, a mobile app, makes it easy to visit the city, where alongside the UNESCO heritage sites, you can experience an exceptional cultural and historical heritage.

The city has a large number of classical and Renaissance mansions. The Van Gogh Foundation pays homage to the master and to major contemporary artists (Van Gogh painted almost 300 works in and around Arles and a walking tour has been dedicated to him). The Luma Foundation, located in an internationally unique new and refurbished site, including the famous 56-metre high resource building designed by the architect Franck Gehry, provides a vast area for contemporary creation in all its forms. A major international photography event takes place each year in the city, “Les Rencontres Photographiques”.

Listed in 1985: the Pont du Gard

The Pont du Gard, a bridge dating from the 1 st century AD, was a section of the 50km-long Nîmes aqueduct across the River Gardon. It stands 49 metres high, 275 metres long and has 3 rows of superimposed arches. It is the highest Roman aqueduct bridge in the world. The Roman hydraulics engineers and architects created a technical masterpiece, but also a work of art.

The Pont du Gard site is a vast 165-hectare “playground” with swimming areas on the River Gardon, and many cultural centres of interest to all members of the public.

Admission to the site includes a visit to the cultural areas. The museum, the biggest educational centre in France on the architectural achievement of Rome, tells the story of the Roman aqueduct with models, virtual reconstructions, multimedia screens and sound atmospheres bringing the visit to life. “Ludo” is an educational museum area for children and families. “Ciné”features documentaries and fictional films. Garrigue Memories is an open-air visit exploring the history of Mediterranean agriculture, with a look at the specific regional conditions and the vestiges of the Roman aqueduct.

At the site a large number of events are also organised, including the Pont du Gard light show, from 15 May to 31 August in June Les Fééries du Pont, a show blending sound, light, fireworks and video morphing temporary art or science exhibitions concerts, etc.

This convivial site on the banks of the River Gardon has a wide range of restaurants and shops. A multimedia guide is available in 8 languages.

Listed in 1955: the Historic Centre of Avignon with the Palais des Papes, the episcopal buildings (Notre Dame and the Doms gardens Petit Palais Museum), the ramparts and the Pont d’Avignon.

The Palais des Papes

Nine popes had their court in Avignon. The Palais des Papes, the main mark of their residence here, was a symbol of the prestige of Christendom and the papacy’s temporal and spiritual power at the period. It is both a colossal fortress and a magnificent palace, and was seen by contemporaries as “the most beautiful and strongest building in the world” (Froissart). Today, it is the most important Gothic edifice ever built.

The Monument includes twenty-five rooms and areas open to the public: large state rooms, the scene of ceremonies and banquets, treasure rooms, chapels and private apartments containing priceless wall paintings. The painted decoration in the Saint John and Saint Martial chapels are attributed to the great Italian artist Matteo Giovannetti.

Visitors can enjoy a new multimedia visit with a touch-screen tablet: Histopad. It provides a fun and interactive immersion experience, featuring a reconstitution of the rooms in virtual reality as they were at the time of the popes with wall paintings and furniture. Audio, video commentaries, maps to see where you are during the visit, together with sound and music content, and a treasure hunt enhance the interactive view of the images of the recreated rooms. The tablet is available in 7 languages (fr, en, ger, ital, spa, chin, jap).

Petit Palais Museum

The Petit Palais Museum is housed in the remarkable Archbishops’ Palace. The public can enjoy a visit to Italy and Provence from the 12th to the 16th centuries with an exceptional collection of Italian paintings on loan from the Louvre Museum (including work by the greatest artists, such as Botticelli or Carpaccio) and very rich collections of sculptures and paintings from the School of Avignon. The School of Avignon was one of the main centres for painting in 15th century France.

Pont d’Avignon / Saint Bénezet

The bridge was 920 metres long and had 22 arches. Construction was begun in the late 12th century and work continued for centuries afterwards. It was damaged several times and rebuilt as a result of climate change, which led to transformations in the River Rhone in the late Middle Ages. The reconstruction work finally came to a halt in the 17th century.

Today there only remain four arches, the Saint Bénezet chapel, which was crowned by the Saint Nicolas chapel in the 15th century, the Chatelet tower, controlling the drawbridge, and the Philippe Le Bel tower, controlling the entrance to the bridge from Villeneuve-les-Avignon.

Films, audio-guides in 11 languages, a museum area and a digital tablet are part of an exciting multimedia visit recounting the history of the town, the River Rhone, the legend of Saint Bénezet, the famous French song about the bridge sung the world over, and the reconstituted bridge shown in 3D in the landscape at different periods.

Listed in 1998: the Abbatial Church of Saint Gilles, as part of the Way of Saint James route in France.

There are 78 listed parts along the Way of Saint James in ten different French regions (64 buildings, 7 groups of properties and 7 path sections).
In the remarkable landscapes of Camargue bordering the Gard and Costière regions, the abbatial church owes its fame to the pilgrimages that developed from the 11th century around Saint Gilles and that became the fourth most important pilgrimage site in Christendom (after Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela). The façade of this marvel of Romanesque architecture represents the Old and New Testament. A remarkable bestiary and a frieze recount Christ’s Passion. The monumental crypt houses the tomb of Saint Gilles. Its famous spiral staircase is an architectural model.

Listed in 2008: the Mont-Dauphin stronghold and the fortifications in Briançon, part of a network of 12 major military sites designed by Vauban

Mont-Dauphin stronghold

This structure was created by Vauban on the orders of Louis XIV following an invasion by the Duchy of Savoy’s troops in 1692. Built in a star shape on the steep slopes of a desert plateau known as “mille vents” (“a thousand winds”), it defended Provence and Dauphiné by controlling access to the Durance Valley from Italy.

The fortress ceased to be of use when the border was moved eastwards in 1713. The town that Vauban had planned remained unfinished but an unusual village now thrives in the middle of the stronghold. As it was never besieged, the pink stone ramparts and bastions and the military buildings are perfectly preserved and offer a unique immersion in 18th-century military life.

The Centre for National Monuments offers tours of the fortifications and old military buildings all year round.

The Vauban fortifications in Briançon

This exceptional site is a chance to appreciate the genius shown by Louis XIV’s famous military engineer. Plans for the defensive fortifications were drawn up by Vauban during his visits to Briançon in 1692 and 1700.

On a rocky peak at an altitude of 1326 metres, the upper town of Briançon stands out as a unique example of mountain fortifications. It is encircled by ramparts and crowned by high-altitude strongholds, making it impregnable.

Seven works were awarded recognition for their authentic aspect, their preserved state, their representative nature and the renovations undertaken on them: the Salettes Fort, the Asfeld Bridge, the Trois Têtes Fort, the Dauphin Fort, the Randouillet Fort, the Y communication as well as the city walls and the work conducted inside the walls: the collegiate church, Place d’Armes and the two powder stores.

The Tourist Office organises several different kinds of visits.
The Essentials, the Original visits, the Spectacular visits (with musicians and actors bringing to life the fortress atmosphere).

Listed in 2014: the Caverne du Pont-d’Arc, known as the Chauvet Cave

In a limestone plateau criss-crossed by the meanders of the River Ardèche, the cave contains the world’s oldest paintings known to date (from the Aurignacian period, between 30,000 and 32,000 BC). Over 1,000 paintings, with anthropomorphic or animal patterns have been found on the walls. The exceptional artistic quality can be seen in a wide range of techniques, in particular the mastery of stump drawing, the combination of painting and engraving, the anatomical accuracy, and the three-dimensional representation of movement. Among others, there are depictions of dangerous animals that would have been hard to observe close up at the time (mammoths, bears, spelaea lions, rhinoceroses, bisons, aurochs), over 4,000 remains of animals from the palaeolithic period and a range of human footprints.

For reasons of conservation, the cave is not open to the public, which is why the Caverne du Pont d’Arc was created. it is the biggest cave replica in the world in a 20-hectare park. Through a 3D copy of the original, in an artificial cave with a floor area of 3,500m² and 8,200m² of walls and vaults, the underground atmosphere (floors, walls and ceilings, acoustics) as well as the palaeontological and artistic decoration and remains (colours, dimensions, textures, rock formations, etc.) have been faithfully recreated. The Aurignacian gallery rounds off the visit to the replica of the cave. Here the public can explore the prehistoric world through a large number of fun and interactive multimedia tools. Visitors can explore the environment, the fauna and flora that men and women experienced in the area near the cave some 36,000 years ago with an immersive film, touch-screen terminals, woolly rhinoceros, mammoths, Irish elk and stuffed steppe bisons.

A range of visits are on offer to the cave (non-guided visits with “finders”, large-format visits, discount visits), as well as a large number of activities (conferences, prehistoric workshops, themed hikes, etc.).

Listed in 2016: the Cité Radieuse by Le Corbusier in Marseille along with 16 other sites awarded for the exceptional architectural contribution of Le Corbusier to the modernist movement.

The Cité Radieuse is the work of the Swiss architect Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, better known as Le Corbusier. The First Habitation Unit (of a series of 5) was built from 1947 to 1952. A laboratory for a new “housing system”, the Cité Radieuse included 337 flats of 23 different kinds, representing a form of accommodation that was very comfortable and modern for the time. To these individual areas were added a large number of “dwelling extensions”, designed for a new way of living together, with an indoor shopping street, a bookshop and publisher, a bar, a hotel, a Design Concept Store, a bakery and, on the roof-terrace, an infants school and a gym that since June 2013 has been Le MaMo (Centre of contemporary art). There is also a 2.8-hectare park with play areas.

The Tourist Office organises visits of the Habitation Unit with a guide. The visit includes the various hall areas, the shopping street and the roof-terrace, as well as exclusive access to an apartment listed as a Historic Monument. Reservation required (no visits on public holidays). A maximum of 10 people per group.

Arles, France: City of the Romans

Widely known as artistic inspiration for Vincent Van Gogh, Arles captured my imagination as I strolled its winding streets admiring well-preserved medieval buildings and other historic sites at every turn. But among the most intriguing scenes in this city in Provence were those of ancient Roman ruins and Romanesque monuments dating back to the 1st century B.C. that form the basis of the city’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Romans loved the city of Arles, growing it to be the second largest city after Rome. Even today, evidence of their prolific building continue to be found in archaeological discoveries, often delaying new construction as experts examine the findings.

The Roman Amphitheater (Arena of Arles)

In ancient times, gladiators fought to the death and chariots raced before crowds of 20,000 spectators in the imposing two-tiered Roman Amphitheater of Arles, inspired by the Colosseum in Rome.

Roman amphitheater in Arles

The impressive architecture of the arched passageways where people entered (shown below) gave me an eerie feeling knowing the violence that they cheered inside.

Arched spectator entrances to the Roman amphitheater

Looking up inside the Roman amphitheater

For the students in the photo below, “gladiator training” is bringing history alive — especially with their authentically-attired instructor in the center.

Students learn gladiator techniques at the Roman Ampitheater

The juxtaposition of the amphitheater to the old, yet still much newer, architecture across a narrow street creates a dramatic effect at night.

Roman arena and quiet street in Arles at night

With the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century, the arena was transformed into a fortress with four towers to protect the population. 200 houses with a public square and two chapels were enclosed in the center. In the late 18th century the arena’s role changed to that of a national historic monument.

There are strong Spanish ties in the region of Provence and bullfights are held here from late spring to early fall. The arena is also used for concerts.

The Roman Theater

The Roman theater also dates back to the 1 st century B.C. May of the relics excavated from the theater are in the Arles Archaeological Museum, but the most famous piece, the Venus d’Arles, is in the Louvre. Much of the theater’s original stone was removed and used for other construction over the centuries, but two columns,benches for spectators, and marble flooring remain.

The Cryptoporticos

The U-shaped Cryptoporticos are underground galleries built in 30-20 B.C. forming the foundation of the ancient forum.

The Cryptoporticos of Arles

Parts of the forum’s columns can still be seen on the facade of a building (below left) on the Place du Forum. Other sections (some pictured above at the end of the corridor) are in the Cryptoporticos . Today, City Hall (which provides the entry to the Cryptoporticos) and the Chapel of the Jesuit College are located above the foundation.

Partial facade of the ancient Roman forum and steps leading to the Cryptoporticos

The Church of St. Trophime

Arles continued to thrive for centuries after the Romans, as can be seen at other historic sites acknowledged by UNESCO designation. The Church of St. Trophime and its cloister, built in the 12 th century, are considered to be masterpieces of Romanesque architecture. Today, the cloister is used for special events including the international santon-makers fair showcasing the art and craft of santons, (“little saints”), important figures of Christmas traditions in Provence.

Other sites recognized in the UNESCO designation of Arles are Roman baths, ramparts, and the graveyard of Les Alyscamps.

Arles, Roman and Romanesque Monuments (UNESCO/NHK) - History

The Roman and Romanesque monuments of Arles, in France, are subject to inclusion on the list of World Heritage of UNESCO since 1981.

The site is on the list of World Heritage at the 5 th session of the World Heritage Committee in 1981 under the name of “Arles, Roman and Romanesque Monuments”. A “cultural” type of property, it meets criteria (ii) (evidence of a considerable exchange of influences during a given period or in a specific cultural area) and (iv) (eminent example ‘architectural ensemble illustrating significant periods of human history) of the organization. The name of the site was changed to “Arles, monuments romains et romans” in 2006.

Unesco justifies the inscription as follows: “Arles offers an interesting example of the adaptation of an ancient city to the civilization of medieval Europe. It has some impressive Roman monuments, the oldest – arenas, ancient theater, cryptoporticos – date back to the 1st century BC. AD. She knew the iv th century a second golden age, Constantine’s thermal baths testify and the necropolis of Alyscamps. In the xi th and xii th centuries, Arles once again became one of most beautiful cities in the Mediterranean. Inside the walls, Saint-Trophime with its cloister is one of the major monuments of Provençal Romanesque art”.

The inscription protects an area of 65 ha of downtown Arles, located between the Rhône to the northwest, the Georges-Clemenceau and des Lices boulevards to the west and south, and the Émile-Combes boulevard to the to the east and to the north, to which must be added the area of the Alyscamps necropolis which forms a protrusion in the southeast, from the summer garden to rue Georges-Pomerat, along the Craponne canal.

Arles Amphitheatre
The Arles Amphitheatre is a Roman amphitheatre in the southern French town of Arles. This two-tiered Roman amphitheatre is probably the most prominent tourist attraction in the city of Arles, which thrived in Roman times. The pronounced towers jutting out from the top are medieval add-ons.

The Arenas of Arles are a Roman amphitheater built in 90 AD, by the orders of Tiberius Caesar Augustus, 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. The amphitheater of Arles is the most important monument of the ancient Roman colony, some two millennia after its construction. Its architecture is entirely designed in relation to its vocation as a place for great shows, welcoming a large audience. Today, it draws large crowds for bullfighting during the Feria d’Arles as well as plays and concerts in summer.

Roman engineers built the amphitheater of Arles on the hill of Hauture. To do this, they must demolish the Augustan enclosure erected a century earlier.

The arenas take up the classic characteristics of this type of construction and are inspired by the just completed Colosseum in Rome: an evacuation system by numerous access corridors, a central elliptical stage surrounded by steps, arcades, here on two levels, all for a total length of 136 meters, a dimension larger than that of the arenas of Nîmes built soon after but nevertheless better preserved (the attic of crowning of the arenas of Arles has unfortunately disappeared). This building could accommodate 25,000 spectators.

In Arles, as throughout the West, the amphitheater is from the late 1st century to the middle of the 3th century, the most obvious sign of Romanization.

Ancient Theater
Arles’s Roman Theatre is a 1st-century Roman theatre, built during the reign of Emperor Augustus.. Started around 40/30 BC, it was completed around 12 BC. Thus becoming one of the first stone theaters in the Roman world. The theater is inscribed on the decumanus of the Roman grid. The ancient theater of Arles is the subject of a classification as historic monuments by the list of 1840.

The initial theater consisted of three parts: the cavea, a semi-circular space receiving spectators, the stage where the actors played, and the wall serving both as a decoration and as a closure to the monument.

The cavea, with a diameter of 102 meters, could accommodate 10,000 spectators seated on 33 rows of stands. In Arles, the theater therefore contained half as many spectators as the arenas and the circus. The spectators were distributed there according to their social affiliation: the people above, the knights and the notables on the lower stands and the orchestra.

The stage itself consisted of a wooden platform 50 meters long by 6 meters wide and housed the machinery of the theater in its substructures.

The back wall was decorated on three levels with a hundred columns of the Corinthian order, only two of which have stood the test of time. The wall probably supported an awning to protect the scene from the weather. Niches in the wall housed a Greek-inspired statuary, like the Venus of Arles, the subject of a controversial restoration, which is now part of the Louvre collections.

The theater, unlike the amphitheater or the circus, offered performances in which actors performed these were Roman or Greek tragedies, comedies, mimes and pantomimes intended for a probably more refined audience. These plays, mainly performed at parties given in honor of the gods, were free so that everyone could attend. However, sometimes there were performances only for men. In addition, women and children were obliged to be accompanied by an adult man. For Jean-Louis Vaudoyer, “the only Greek theater in France is that of Arles, a Greek city”. It was obviously theancient Greek theater and plays such as the tragedies of Euripides or Seneca.

Arles Forum
The forum of Arles, located in the city of Arles, France, is the first large urban achievement to 30-20 BC. AD of the Roman colony founded in 46 BC. AD to thank Arelate for his support to Caesar. In accordance with the practices of Roman town planning, this forum takes place at the intersection of the two major ways of the city: the cardo (north-south) and the decumanus (east-west).

The Arles forum consists of a large paved square of 3,000 square meters, of which only two fragments have been preserved. Initially the forum is framed by four monumental porticos joined by as many arcaded galleries. It is mentioned by ancient authors such as Sidoine Apollinaire in 461 who gives us a description, “cluttered with columns and statues”.

The originality of the Arles forum lies in its foundations. It is indeed built on the amazing cryptoporticos. These subtraction galleries responded to a structural need: they were intended to compensate for the slope of the hill of Hauture, so that the forum esplanade rests on a horizontal surface. The cryptoportiques form a horseshoe of 89 m long and 59 m wide, consisting of three galleries, themselves divided into two parallel galleries attached 3.90 m wide, which communicate with each other by arches with a very low hanger. because of the slope of the ground, the south gallery, dug in the rock, was underground, while the north gallery ended in the open sky. On this side a series of shops faced a square. Cryptoportals are distinguished by their careful execution.

They were given several functions, which do not stand up to scrutiny, whether it be a promenade or a storage space, if we consider that the building only had two doors access to the north, very narrow in addition (1.47 m). Arrangements made in Late Antiquity made its use as an attic at that time more plausible.

In 1951, a dump of architectural marble elements was discovered at the eastern end of the northern branch of cryptoporticos, probably intended to be burned in a lime kiln. Among these elements was a marble copy of the golden shield (clipeus virtutis), a tribute awarded by the Roman Senate to Octave in 27 BC. The copy, which dates from 26 BC. AD, was erected on the forum of Arles.

Baths of Constantine
The Baths of Constantine or North baths are Roman baths of the iv th century, located in Arles along the Rhone.

These thermal baths were built at the beginning of the iv century, when the emperor Constantine resided in Arelate. Known in the Middle Ages as the “Palace of the Troubled”, they have traditionally been wrongly considered as the ruins of a palace that the Emperor Constantine would have erected.

The remains of the thermal baths are classified as historic monuments by the list of 1840, the Roman wall and the adjoining cellars are classified in 1922.

They were renovated from 1980 to 1995 after the purchase of the monument by the city of Arles.

The thermal baths of Nord (Thermes de Constantin) are among the best preserved in France, with the Thermes de Chassenon in Charente and the Thermes de Cluny in Paris. The baths were partially emerged from the xix th century.

The remains currently visible correspond to the caldarium, with suspended heating floors (hypocaust) comprising three swimming pools (solia). Two of them are rectangular. The third, in a semicircular apse and pierced with three windows, is covered with a bottom oven vault. The caldarium communicates with the laconicum or dry oven and the tepidarium or warm bath, terminated in the west by a semicircular apse.

The Alyscamps (Champs Élysées in Provençal, city of virtuous deaths in Greek mythology) are a necropolis, located in Arles, in the department of Bouches-du-Rhône, dating back to Roman times.

From Roman times to the Middle Ages, the Alyscamps were a pagan and then Christian necropolis located at the southeast entrance to the city of Arles on Via Aurelia, that is to say outside the city as most Roman necropolises. They included very many sarcophagi.

By the end of the iv th century, and the Alyscamps cemetery Trinquetaille owe their fame to the martyrdom of Genest, Saint Arles, beheaded in 303. Over the centuries this place became so famous that many people wanted to be buried there, like the bishops of Arles. Corpses descended by the Rhône on small boats to be buried there a sum of money being attached to compensate the Arlésiens who put in burial the deceased.

In the xi th, xii th and xiii th centuries, the cemetery known in Christendom, is enriched by many churches. In the xi th college is well established in the Alyscamps, but around the year 1035, this had fallen Canonica between secular hands, Archbishop Raimbaud gives to the monks of St. Victor of Marseille ancient Saint-Genès church and all its outbuildings, for the price of a pound of incense to be supplied on Saint-Trophime day. The Alyscamps then become the starting point of the pilgrimage of Compostela for pilgrims from Provence.
However, in 1152, the transfer of the relics of Saint Trophime to the Saint-Etienne cathedral (later Saint-Trophime), in the city center, took away part of its prestige.

From the Renaissance, prelates, lords and kings steal the best sculpted sarcophagi to enrich their collections. A boat loaded and flows into the Rhone towards the end of the xvi th century up to Pont-Saint-Esprit.

During the xvi th century this area is the subject of a first transformation with the digging of Craponne canal that supplies water to the Crau, between Durance and Rhône.

The Saint-Honorat des Alyscamps church is classified as a historic monument by the list of 1840.

In 1848, the Alyscamps were profoundly modified during the construction of the Paris-Lyon-Mediterranean railway line and related workshops.

The chapel of the piglets and the cemetery are classified by the list of 1862.

Saint-Trophime Cathedral
The St. Trophime Arles Cathedral is a church Romanesque of the city of Arles in the Place of the Republic. It has a nave and aisles vaulted from the middle of the xii th century. A carved portal is made around 1180-1190. The old tower was replaced at the beginning of xiii th century by the current square tower whose top floor was rebuilt in the xvii th century. The choir and the ambulatory date from the xv th century.

Adjoining this church is the Saint-Trophime cloister. Access is via the courtyard of the building next to the church. It dates from the second half of the xii th century for two galleries and the xiv th century for the other two.

It was the seat of the former archdiocese of Arles until 1801, after its merger with the archdiocese of Aix-en-Provence. The titles of minor basilica, primate and cathedral remain however maintained even if the cathedral is no longer the actual seat of the bishop.

At the time the Cathedral was built, in the late 11th century or early 12th century, Arles was the second-largest city in Provence, with a population of between 15,000 and 20,000 people. It had a busy port on the Rhône, and two new cities, on either side of the old Roman town, surrounded by a wall. It was at least formally independent as the Kingdom of Arles, and it had attracted many religious orders, including the Knights Hospitalier, the Knights Templar and mendicant orders, which had built a number of churches within the town.

The apse and the transept were probably built first, in the late 11th century, and the nave and bell tower were completed in the second quarter of the 12th century. The Romaneque church had a long central nave 20 meters high lower collateral aisles on either side a transept supporting the square central bell tower and a chevet behind the altar at the east end with a hemispherical vault. The windows are small and high up on the nave, above the level of the collateral aisles.

Though mainly notable for its outstanding Romanesque architecture and sculpture, the church contains rich groups of art from other periods. These include several important carved Late Roman sarcophagi, reliquaries from various periods, and Baroque paintings, with three by Louis Finson. Trophime Bigot is also represented, and there are several Baroque tapestries, including a set of ten on the Life of the Virgin. The church has been used to hold items originally from other churches or religious houses in the region that were dispersed in the French Revolution or at other times.

Arles is a city and commune in the south of France, a subprefecture in the Bouches-du-Rhône department of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, in the former province of Provence.

A large part of the Camargue, the largest wetlands in France, is located on the territory of the commune, making it the largest commune in Metropolitan France in terms of geographic territory. (Maripasoula, French Guiana, is much larger.) The city has a long history, and was of considerable importance in the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis. The Roman and Romanesque Monuments of Arles were listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1981.

Many artists lived and worked in this area because of the southern light. The Dutch post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh lived in Arles from 1888 to 1889, and produced over 300 paintings and drawings during his time there. These are in internationally known museums and private collections around the world. An international photography festival has been held annually in the city since 1970.

Ancient era
The Ligurians were in this area from about 800 BC. Later Celtic influences have also been discovered. The city became an important Phoenician trading port, before it was taken over by the Romans.

The Romans took the town in 123 BC and expanded it into an important city. They built a canal link to the Mediterranean Sea in 104 BC. Arles had to compete with Massalia (Marseille) further along the coast.

Arles’ leaders sided with Julius Caesar against Pompey, providing military support. Massalia backed Pompey when Caesar emerged victorious, Massalia was stripped of its possessions, which were transferred to Arelate as a reward. The town was formally established as a colony for veterans of the Roman legion Legio VI Ferrata, which had its base there. Its full title as a colony was Colonia Iulia Paterna Arelatensium Sextanorum, “the ancestral Julian colony of Arles of the soldiers of the Sixth.”

Arelate was a city of considerable importance in the province of Gallia Narbonensis. It covered an area of some 40 hectares (99 acres) and possessed a number of monuments, including an amphitheatre, triumphal arch, Roman circus, theatre, and a full circuit of walls. Ancient Arles was closer to the sea than it is now and served as a major port. The river has carried centuries of silt that has filled in the former harbor. The city had (and still has) the southernmost bridge on the Rhône.

The Roman bridge was unique in that it was not fixed but consisted of a pontoon-style bridge of boats, with towers and drawbridges at each end. The boats were secured in place by anchors and were tethered to twin towers built just upstream of the bridge. This unusual design was a way of coping with the river’s frequent violent floods, which would have made short work of a conventional bridge. Nothing remains of the Roman bridge, which has been replaced by a more modern bridge near the same spot.

The city reached a peak of influence during the 4th and 5th centuries, when Roman Emperors frequently used it as their headquarters during military campaigns in Europe. In 395, it became the seat of the Praetorian Prefecture of the Gauls, governing the western part of the Western Empire: Gaul proper plus Hispania (Spain) and Armorica (Brittany). At that time, the city was home to an estimated 75,000–100,000 people.

It became a favorite city of Emperor Constantine I, who built baths there, substantial remains of which are still standing. His son, Constantine II, was born in Arles. Usurper Constantine III declared himself emperor in the West (407–411) and made Arles his capital in 408.

Arles became renowned as a cultural and religious centre during the late Roman Empire. It was the birthplace of Favorinus, known as the sceptical philosopher. It was also a key location for Roman Christianity and an important base for the Christianization of Gaul. The city’s bishopric was held by a series of outstanding clerics, beginning with Saint Trophimus around 225 and continuing with Saint Honoratus, then Saint Hilarius in the first half of the 5th century. The political tension between the Catholic bishops of Arles and the Visigothic kings is epitomized in the career of the Frankish St. Caesarius, bishop of Arles 503–542. Suspected by the Arian Visigoth Alaric II of conspiring with the Burgundians to turn over the Arelate to Burgundy, he was exiled for a year to Bordeaux in Aquitaine. Political tensions were evident again in 512, when Arles held out against Theodoric the Great. Caesarius was imprisoned and sent to Ravenna to explain his actions before the Ostrogothic king.

The friction between the Arian Christianity of the Visigoths and the Catholicism of the bishops sent out from Rome established deep roots for religious heterodoxy, even heresy, in Occitan culture. At Treves in 385, Priscillian achieved the distinction of becoming the first Christian executed for heresy (Manichaean in his case, see also Cathars, Camisards). Despite this tension and the city’s decline in the face of barbarian invasions, Arles remained a great religious centre. It hosted church councils (see Council of Arles), the rival of Vienne, for hundreds of years.

Roman aqueduct and mill
The Barbegal aqueduct and mill is a Roman watermill complex located on the territory of the commune of Fontvieille, a few kilometres from Arles. The complex has been referred to as “the greatest known concentration of mechanical power in the ancient world”. The remains of the mill streams and buildings which housed the overshot water wheels are still visible at the site, and it is by far the best-preserved of ancient mills. There are two aqueducts which join just north of the mill complex, and a sluice which enabled the operators to control the water supply to the complex. The mill consisted of 16 waterwheels in two separate rows built into a steep hillside. There are substantial masonry remains of the water channels and foundations of the individual mills, together with a staircase rising up the hill upon which the mills are built.

The mills apparently operated from the end of the 1st century until about the end of the 3rd century. The capacity of the mills has been estimated at 4.5 tons of flour per day, sufficient to supply enough bread for 6,000 of the 30–40,000 inhabitants of Arelate at that time. A similar mill complex existed also on the Janiculum in Rome. Examination of the mill leat still just visible on one side of the hill shows a substantial accretion of lime in the channel, tending to confirm its long working life.

It is thought that the wheels were overshot water wheels with the outflow from the top driving the next one down and so on, to the base of the hill. Vertical water mills were well known to the Romans, being described by Vitruvius in his De Architectura of 25 BC, and mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia of 77 AD. There are also later references to floating water mills from Byzantium and to sawmills on the river Moselle by the poet Ausonius. The use of multiple stacked sequences of reverse overshot water-wheels was widespread in Roman mines.

Middle Ages
In 735, after raiding the Lower Rhône, Andalusian Saracens led by Yusuf ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Fihri moved into the stronghold summoned by Count Maurontus, who feared Charles Martel’s expansionist ambitions, though this may have been an excuse to further Moorish expansion beyond Iberia. The next year, Charles campaigned south to Septimania and Provence, attacking and capturing Arles after destroying Avignon. In 739. Charles definitely drove Maurontus to exile, and brought Provence to heel. In 855, it was made the capital of a Frankish Kingdom of Arles, which included Burgundy and part of Provence, but was frequently terrorised by Saracen and Viking raiders. In 888, Rudolph, Count of Auxerre (now in north-western Burgundy), founded the kingdom of Transjuran Burgundy (literally, beyond the Jura mountains), which included western Switzerland as far as the river Reuss, Valais, Geneva, Chablais and Bugey.

In 933, Hugh of Arles (“Hugues de Provence”) gave his kingdom up to Rudolph II, who merged the two kingdoms into a new Kingdom of Arles. In 1032, King Rudolph III died, and the kingdom was inherited by Emperor Conrad II the Salic. Though his successors counted themselves kings of Arles, few went to be crowned in the cathedral. Most of the kingdom’s territory was progressively incorporated into France. During these troubled times, the amphitheatre was converted into a fortress, with watchtowers built at each of the four quadrants and a minuscule walled town being constructed within. The population was by now only a fraction of what it had been in Roman times, with much of old Arles lying in ruins.

The town regained political and economic prominence in the 12th century, with the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa traveling there in 1178 for his coronation. In the 12th century, it became a free city governed by an elected podestat (chief magistrate literally “power”), who appointed the consuls and other magistrates. It retained this status until the French Revolution of 1789.

Arles joined the countship of Provence in 1239, but, once more, its prominence was eclipsed by Marseilles. In 1378, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV ceded the remnants of the Kingdom of Arles to the Dauphin of France (later King Charles VI of France) and the kingdom ceased to exist even on paper.

Modern era
Arles remained economically important for many years as a major port on the Rhône. In the 19th century, the arrival of the railway diminished river trade, leading to the town becoming something of a backwater.

This made it an attractive destination for the painter Vincent van Gogh, who arrived there on 21 February 1888. He was fascinated by the Provençal landscapes, producing over 300 paintings and drawings during his time in Arles. Many of his most famous paintings were completed there, including The Night Cafe, the Yellow Room, Starry Night Over the Rhone, and L’Arlésienne. Paul Gauguin visited van Gogh in Arles. However, van Gogh’s mental health deteriorated and he became alarmingly eccentric, culminating in the well-known ear-severing incident in December 1888 which resulted in two stays in the Old Hospital of Arles. The concerned Arlesians circulated a petition the following February demanding that van Gogh be confined. In May 1889, he took the hint and left Arles for the Saint-Paul asylum at nearby Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

Arles: a city full of Roman and Romanesque monuments

Arles (about 55,000 inhabitants), a city in Provence, the capital of the region and the largest municipality in metropolitan France. The city located along the banks of the Rhone, is located 37 km from Avignon and 31 km from Nimes, on the river delta. The city is the capital of the Camargue region.


Arles, the Roman Arelate, became a Roman colony in 46 BC, and had considerable importance in the province of Gaul Narbonensis. The history of Arles begins in the Bronze Age as a Celtic-Ligurian settlement.

In Roman times it was called Arelate (city of swamps). In 49 BC the city sided with Julius Caesar during the siege of Marseille. Then, in 46 BC it was rewarded for her help by becoming a Roman colony. During this period many veterans of Caesar’s troops settled in Arles which became one of the most important Roman centers in the area.


Located along Via Domitia – the main road between Italy and Spain – the city prospered, was fortified by a wall and embellished with remarkable buildings and became the capital of Roman Provence. During this period important monuments were built including an amphitheater, a triumphal arch, a theater. Also in Roman times the city was completely surrounded by walls. Later, in the 4th century A.D. it became the capital of the prefecture of the Gauls. Starting from 254 it was a bishopric and an important religious center.

In the 9th century it was sacked by barbarians who halted its development and compromised the role of the region’s main political center for the benefit of Marseille. Despite this, until the 12th-13th centuries Arles was still an important center of power. In the Middle Ages the city of Arles was an important stop for pilgrims going to Santiago de Compostela. At the end of the 19th century the famous painter Vincent Van Gogh lived in Arles.

Rich in Roman monuments, evidence of the role of ancient capital of Roman Provence. Arles has not only outstanding Roman monuments such as the Amphitheater and the Theater, but also examples of the first grandeur of Romanesque-Provençal art such as the church of Saint-Trophime.


In 1981 the Roman and Romanesque monuments of the city were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Arles preserves important Roman remains, the most important of which are: the Roman Theater (12 BC), the Arena or Amphitheater (80 AD), the Alyscamps (Roman necropolis), the Baths of Constantine (4th century AD ), the cryptoporticus (i.e. the area of the Roman Forum). Even part of the ancient Roman walls are still visible today. The best preserved part is that which goes from the Gate of Augustus to the tower des Mourgues.

The Church of Saint-Trophime represents one of the most important monuments of Romanesque architecture in Provence and is part of the monuments included in the list of World Heritage Sites. In particular, the central portal, richly carved with a representation of the Last Judgment, and the Cloister are worth mentioning.

Arles is a good example of the adaptation of an ancient city to a medieval city. The city has some impressive Roman monuments, of which the oldest – the arena, the Roman theater and the cryptoporticus – date back to the first century BC.

During the fourth century Arles had a second golden age, as evidenced by the remains of the baths of Constantine and the necropolis of Alyscamps. In the 11th and 12th centuries, Arles became one of the most attractive medieval cities of Provence. Within the city walls, the Saint-Trophime church, with its beautiful portal and cloister, is one of the most important monuments of Romanesque art in Provence.


In 1981, Arles was included by UNESCO in the list of world heritage sites, 7 are the monuments of Arles registered by UNESCO: the Roman amphitheater (Les Arènes), the Ancient Theater, the Cryptoporticus and the Roman Forum, the Baths of Constantine, the walls of the Roman Castrum, Les Alyscamps, the Church of Saint-Trophime and the Roman Exedra (Muséon Arlaten).

The Roman amphitheater of Arles (Les Arènas) is certainly the most important tourist attraction in Arles. The structure measures 136 meters in length and 107 meters in width, has two arches formed by 120 arches. It was built in the first century AD and could accommodate over 20,000 spectators. During the Middle Ages, the building was transformed into a fortress, which housed two chapels and 212 houses inside. For a beautiful view of the city, it is better to climb the tower above the entrance of the Amphitheater.

Not far from the amphitheater is another interesting building of the Roman Arelate: the Roman Theater. Built under Augustus, between 27 and 25 BC, although heavily looted during the past centuries, it still testifies the importance of the city in the imperial era. The theater has a diameter of 102 meters and could accommodate 12,000 spectators.

From the theater we can move to Place de la République in whose area are the church of Saint-Trophime, the Lapidary Museum of Pagan Art (Musée Lapidaire d’Art Paien), the Lapidary Museum of Christian Art (Musée Lapidaire d’Art Chrétien ) and the Cryptoporticus.


The church of Saint-Trophime is a jewel of Romanesque-Provencal art. It was built between the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Undoubtedly the splendid portal is the attraction of the church. It was performed before 1178, the carved scenes represent the Last Judgment, the Twelve Apostles, the Annunciation and finally the Nativity. The interior of the church is majestic and contains many works of art.

But the church’s cloister is the second most admired work in the complex. It was built between the XII and XV centuries in the Romanesque-Provencal style. The figures carved on the capitals of the columns and on the pillars are wonderful, representing the Resurrection of Christ, the Annunciation, the Adoration of the Magi, the Entrance to Jerusalem, the Glorification of the Patron Saints of Arles.


Also in the Place de la République is the Lapidary Museum of Pagan Art (Musée Lapidaire d’Art Paien). Located inside the deconsecrated church of Sainte-Anne, it preserves statues, sculptures, sarcophagi and mosaics found in the remains of the Roman city of Arelate. A short distance from Place de la République are the Lapidary Museum of Christian Art (Musée Lapidaire d’Art Chrétien) and the Cryptoporticus. The museum is located in an old Jesuit chapel and houses paleochristian marble sarcophagi. The Cryptoporticos which can be accessed from the museum were built at the end of the 1st century BC. Next door is another museum, the Muséon Arlaten, a museum dedicated to Provencal life and culture. The Museon Arlaten indeed contains a collection of art, ethnology and history of Arles.

Among the other museums worth mentioning: the Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence Antiques where the archaeological collections of the city and its territory are displayed. The Musée Réattu with works by the local painter Jacques Réattu, and a collection of drawings by Picasso. The Fondation Vincent van Gogh with a permanent exhibition of painters paying homage to van Gogh. Finally the Musée de la Camargue located in Mas du Pont de Rousty, about 10 km from Arles on the road to Saintes-Maries- de-la-Mer, displays the human and geological history of the Camargue.


A few kilometers from Arles, in the direction of Avignon, do not miss a visit to the Romanesque Abbey of Montmajour (11th-15th century). In the surroundings of Arles worth a visit: the necropolis of Les Alyscamps, the Roman circus, the Romanesque church of Saint-Honorat, the Langlois bridge (the bridge painted in some of his paintings by Vincent Van Gogh). 15 km from Arles is the village of Saint-Gilles with its Romanesque church with a characteristic facade and crypt.

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