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Arles France Arles

Arles France French Holidays

Arles is synonymous with Van Gogh and Roman monuments, but not necessarily in that order. In the centre of town stands the Roman arena Les Arènes, which is well preserved but not quite as astonishing as the one at Nimes, and there are other monuments from Roman times and the Middle Ages dotted about. Arles cleverly supported Julius Caesar in 49 BC and so it benefited from the sacking of Marseille, which had supported Pompey instead.


Arles

Arles thus became an important port and throughout its early history took advantage of any downturns in Marseille's fortune. Later, however, the railways took the business away from Arles and when Vincent Van Gogh spent a year there in 1888, the town was depressed enough to match the painter's own mood.

Map of Arles

For a brief time under Constantine's rule in the 5th century, Arles was the capital of Gaul and a major trading post for the Roman Empire. Not much has happened (relatively) in this area since the Romans because of the isolated location between the Carmargue and Rhone, which means that many of the Roman monuments are extremely well preserved. To learn more about the town's Roman links go to the Musée de l'Arles Antique (€5.35) where mosaics, sarcophagi and open plan displays combine in a rewarding museum. Les Arènes (€4) gives you some idea of how important a town this was back in the day: 20,000 spectators would have gathered to watch the chariot races and gladiatorial entertainments here. Today theatre companies take over the stage and from Easter until September 12,000 strong audiences are able to watch two kinds of bullfighting. The corrida, where the bull is actually killed, and the less shocking course Carmaguaise, where ribbons are removed from the bull's horns. Other Roman vestiges include the Théatre Antique (€3), the Thermes de Constantin baths (€3) and the place du Forum.

Also worth seeing is the Cathédrale St Tromphime, a 12th century Provencal Romanesque church, built on the spot where St Augustine was made bishop of the English in 597 AD. To bring yourself back up to date, visit the Musée Réattu (€4) art collection near the baths or retrace Van Gogh's steps to the place du Forum, where the café from Café de Nuit is still serving. None of his own paintings are in the town's galleries, however.

Finding a hotel is no problem in Arles, whatever your budget, and there are lots of good eateries as well.