Arles is a town of the department of Bouches-du-Rhône, in the region Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. It is the largest municipality in metropolitan France with some 75,893 hectares. The city is crossed by the Rhône and is located between Nîmes (30 km north-west) and Marseille (90 km south-east).
During the Iron Age, Arles is a major hill forts of Celtic Mediterranean. This town, whose inhabitants are called Arlésiens, is over 2,500 years old. Remarkable monuments were built during Antiquity in Roman times, such as the ancient theater, the arenas, the Alyscamps or the Roman circus. In 2008, the oldest known bust of Julius Caesar was discovered in the Rhône. Because of its important heritage, the city is classified Towns and Countries of Art and History and its Roman and Romanesque monuments have been on the World Heritage List since 1981.
Due to its geographical position, Arles is a cultural crossroads. It has always been open to Mediterranean cultures in all areas of creation: music, photography, literature. Arles is also the city of the Gipsy Kings, of Chico et les Gypsies, of Christian Lacroix, of Yvan Audouard, of the photographer Lucien Clergue, of the Rencontres d’Arles, the world’s leading meeting place for photo enthusiasts, of the Actes Sud editions and Harmonia Mundi: an inspired city where authors, creators and artists are at home.
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.
Open to tourism which is the first activity of the city, it hosts many festivities throughout the year: in December, Funny Christmas, in April, the Feria d’Arles, the international meetings of photography during the summer, as well as in September, the Rice Festival.
Arles is classified as a city of art and history. A dozen monuments are on the 1840 list drawn up by Prosper Mérimée. Much of the monuments is protected from the first half of the xx th century. In the territory of Arles, there are 44 listed historical monuments and 48 monuments listed in the additional inventory at1 st January 2006. The vast majority of these buildings are located in the historic center. The Roman and Romanesque monuments of Arles are on the list of World Heritage of UNESCO since 1981, and 65 ha of downtown.
Clearance campaigns of the main roman sites to xviii th and xix th centuries, and more recently, archaeological underwater excavations conducted in the Rhone in 2007 led to the discovery of remarkable Roman marble sculptures, including the ruins of theater, a bust of Augustus in Apollo and especially two Aphrodites, the head of Arles and the Venus of Arles, and a realistic bust of Julius Caesar and a Neptune in the Rhône, unpublished testimonies of the rich ancient past of the city.
The amphitheatre is the most important monument of the former Roman colony that we should admire, some two thousand years after its construction. Its architecture is entirely designed in relation to its vocation of place to great shows, hosting a large audience. In their initial rise, the bleachers could receive approximately 21 000 viewers, streams were cleverly organized by a network of doors, galleries and stairs, on several floors.Become at the beginning of the middle ages a city close and fortified, the building was cleared only in XIX century. Its original function, including bullfighting, which earned him his current common appellation of “arenas”.
It is today the monument of the most visited city, bringing the image of Arles in the world.With a major axis of 136 meters in length and a minor axis of 107 meters, the amphitheatre of Arles is slightly larger than that of Nîmes and the 20th ranked among those of the Roman world. It has a shape of an ellipse. The façade includes two levels of sixty semicircular arches, separated by the abutments, massive rectangular section. A wider opening points out the ends of the two axes of the monument.
The main entrance was not North as today, but the West where we can see the remains of a staircase overlooking the city.The cavea, space reserved for spectators, included 34 stands, divided into four series: the maeniana, where viewers were divided according to their social status. It is estimated the initial capacity of the monument to some 21,000 people. To allow visitors to access the different stands, had developed an ingenious device of circular galleries, horizontal passages, and prepared Alternatively stairs.On the ground floor, the outdoor Gallery is particularly noteworthy, especially for its coverage of large monolithic slabs. She gave access to an indoor gallery, vaulted arch, which opened on the first maenianum and on the lower part of the second. The outdoor Gallery, stairs also allowed to reach the first mezzanine, whence it had access to the second maenanium either the outdoor Gallery of the first floor.
This vertical and horizontal circulation system allowed to reach the highest level of the building. A penthouse, now defunct, surmounted the façade: there were fixed the masts used to stretch an awning to protect spectators from the Sun.The central part reserved for the games and fighting (the arena itself) was separated from the stands by a carefully matched wall: the wall of the podium dressed in large slabs of stone. The soil of the track was higher about 2 meters than the current level. Indeed, it consisted of a wooden floor, which the blades were based on a stone bead, at the top of the lower part of the podium. The machinery needed for the shows was staying between the walls and floors that ensured the stability of the arena.
The Roman Theatre of Arles, which preceded its famous neighbour the amphitheatre by a century, is less well preserved. Constructed at the end of the 1st century BC, it dates from the first phase of urbanisation of the Roman colony founded by Caesar in 46 BC. It was built on the L’Hauture hill and was part of the Roman grid system, on the decumanus (East-West road). It was fortified in the Middle Ages and lost to encroaching construction work; its material was often reused for neighbouring buildings. Even the original function of the monument is unknown. This function was rediscovered in the late 17th century and its origin was confirmed over the following centuries thanks to a number of archaeological finds excavated from the ground, including the famous ‘Venus of Arles’.
It was not until the 19th century that the site was completely cleared. All that remains are a few seating rows, the orchestra section, the stage curtain area and two tall marble columns topped with a fragment of entablature. However, the theatre is once again being used as a performance venue, particularly in summer. The Roman Theatre in Arles has a diameter of 102 m. Its 33 rows of seats, many of which have now disappeared, backed onto an outer enclosure consisting of three levels of arches. The theatre could accommodate 10,000 spectators. The orchestra section is separated from the cavea by a wall, the balteus, in front of which a 1.2 m wide area was reserved for the portable seats of the colony’s nobility.
The pulpitum wall marked the separation between the orchestra and the stage area. It was adorned with decorated niches, including with the altar to Apollo which was found in 1828. Many other areas of the site have revealed remains of this sumptuous decoration. Two staircases connected the orchestra to the stage. Excavations and scientific studies have revealed the stage’s main features. It was approximately 6 metres deep and flanked by vast parascenia (wings) The stage wall was highly decorated. It had three levels of columns and a large statuary, including the colossal statue of Augustus which is currently in the Departmental Museum of Ancient Arles. The famous statue of the ‘Venus of Arles’ is kept at the Louvre. In the middle of the wall was the Royal gate, flanked on both sides by two columns; only those on one side are still in place today. The theatre’s outer enclosure comprised 27 arches resting on strong pillars. This façade had three levels, which can today only be seen in the southern section, included in the Tower of Roland, which was built in the early Middle Ages.
The Baths of Constantine
The baths were one of the most common public places. Their success begins only at the end of the Republic and early empire: the first public baths do appear in Rome in the 1st century BC and don’t develop really only at the beginning of our era, with the invention of the tepidaria.Inseparable buildings in the comforts of urban life in imperial times, the thermal baths associated physical exercises which took place on the palaestra (training Hall) to the bath ensuring personal hygiene. Every afternoon the entire population, the first women, then men observed the rite of sweating in dry, hot bath where the skin sprayed hot water was scraped to the strigil (a kind of small scraper), of the passage in the warm and the cold pool room. It ended with a vigorous massage.In addition to their hygienic function, the baths also had a strong social role and a popular meeting place. The entrance was free, or almost, could a sport, see performances, or attend the library.
At Arles, we know the existence of three thermal baths. The first were discovered the Republic square in 1675 when the erection of the obelisk and are therefore today beneath this monument. Another spa construction, including the hypothetical remains plan, was built near the beginning of the 3rd century outside the walls, to the South of the city. These two institutions are the baths of Constantine described here.The success of the baths is due significantly to the invention of the tepidaria. They allowed to circulate warm air under the floor of the elevated parts through the tendons of bricks, the suspensura. The air is then evacuated through the vertical channels of the tubuli, doubling the walls. These elements are still clearly visible in the thermal baths of Arles.Most of the large thermal establishment of origin is included today in the homes of the neighborhood.
Currently, only the northern part of the set has been released. It mainly concerns the hot parts and service parts. Despite the almost total disappearance of the suspensura, ground movement, one can understand quite well the Organization of that party, whose main element is the caldarium, the warm room with its vaulted pool. The construction punctuated by an alternation of courses of bricks and of small limestone rubble very regular revolves around a semi-circular demi-abside lit by three tall windows arches, covered by a great oven ass Vault. Two rectangular pools were part and another of the central room, which, to the East, has still its pavement of marble and a part of the tubuli. Several homes were used to heat the caldarium.
A real piece of heating was located in the northeast corner of the building, as well as a home in the southwest corner of the room to the South. The caldarium communicated by two doors with a terraced room South, room warm or tepidarium. Completely devoid of its soil, it however retains a Western apse, recently excavated and backfilled pending a restoration. To the East, remains another hot room, probably the laconicum or Proofer.The rest of the complex has not been released. The houses immediately adjacent to the site, to the South, massively remploient the walls of the frigidarium, cold bath. Relics sometimes remarkably preserved, to describe it as a large rectangular room bounded on the ends in an apse.
Cryptoportico of the Forum
Cryptoportics form the base, the invisible part of the forum, the central public square of the Roman city. From the Arlesian forum itself, little is known. Only a few elements remain of its layout and decoration that allow us to date the beginning of the work only a few years after the founding of the colony, in 46 BC. These foundations are intended to stabilize the vast esplanade on a naturally sloping terrain. They come in the form of three galleries forming a U open to the east. The south gallery is carved into the rock, while to the north, the land is filled by several meters, which has allowed the preservation of remnants of the pre-Roman city.
The current circulation level corresponds quite well to that of the ancient soil, which is much lower than the current level. Only the north gallery, because of the slope of the land, opened on a square, ancestor of our current forum square. A fourth gallery, characterized by the use of bricks, probably testifies to a restructuring of the forum to Late Antiquity. The north and south galleries of the cryptoportics measure 90 meters, the west gallery, which connects them, 60 meters. Their width reaches almost ten meters. The current traffic level is about the same as at the time of construction… but some six metres below the level of the present city. Each branch is in fact composed of a double gallery, composed of two vaults in parallel cradle, falling on a series of arches with a very low hanger resting themselves on rectangular pillars. This large-fitting structure is an admirable work. The galleries were ventilated and lit by sighs. They were accessible only through two service entrances, which show that they were not accessible to the public in Roman times.
It was the more complex north gallery that opened outwards. The two narrow entrances that allowed access to it framed a series of shops. Later it was partially condemned by the construction of the substructions of a small temple that was built on the forum. Although not part of the cryptoporticals themselves, a fourth gallery doubles the north gallery. Characterized by the use of bricks in walls and vaults, it was built during a complete restructuring of the city centre in Late Antiquity and is adjacent to the old shops of the Augustan state. Historical the construction of the cryptoportics ensured a vast terrace to support the forum, one of the first urban achievements of the new Roman colony founded in 46 BC. However remain in the northern gallery of the walls of the protohistoric era. Apart from the transformations of Late Antiquity, which is part of the forum’s history, the original galleries were not accessible to the public.
At the beginning of the 5th century, as the forum began to be looted, cryptoports were partitioned to serve as cellars for private individuals. In the middle of the south gallery, on the internal side, remains long considered traces of a wooden floor. However, a study showed that it was a dataable wood dump from the early 5th century. At the end of the same gallery, which is directly under the town hall, one can observe old prisons by the sighs. As a result of these transformations, the monument’s past remained an enigma for a long time. On the occasion of the construction of the town hall in the 17th century, one wonders about the Roman origin of the building. In 1737, a fire in the basement of The Church of St. Lucian, known since the 10th century, reveals a carved frieze confirming this hypothesis.
In 1951, the clearing of the galleries will allow the updating of a marble deposit containing various fragments of statuary and inscriptions, one of which was addressed to Emperor Augustus. These discoveries provided proof of the real identity of cryptoports and the importance of imperial worship linked to the Roman forum. Access to cryptoporticos, looted and fragmented, was completely closed in the 10th century, with the construction of The Church of St. Lucian. The extensive clearing from cellar to cellar and excavation of the galleries began in 1935, with particularly fruitful results in 1951 allowing the formal identification of the building. In 1966, the galleries could be opened to the public from the Jesuit Chapel on Balze Street, at the southwest corner of the structure. Today, a new path for visitors is being studied by moving the reception to the end of the south gallery, precisely under City Hall.
In Antiquity, cemeteries were always outside the walls of the town and were often located along major roads. At the start of the Empire, cremation graves, sarcophogi and mausolea were dotted along the side of the Via Aurelia, creating a vast necropolis. However, the cemetery became extremely significant during the Paleo-Christian era, with the inhumation of the martyr Saint Genest and the burial of the first Bishops of Arles, who were placed in a chapel later surrounded by a large number of tombs grouped together in several rows.
A priory known as Saint Honorat was constructed circa 1040; it depended on Saint-Victor Abbey in Marseille. The necropolis became an important stop-off point on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and the ‘chansons de gestes’ (songs of heroic deeds) located Charlemagne’s battles against the Saracens there, to explain the large numbers of tombs. Dante immortalised this site in his poem ‘Inferno’. The Allée des Alyscamps, which still exists today, was created by the Minimes monks in the 18th century. In 1888, Van Gogh and Gaugin came to paint in these romantic ‘Champs Elysées’ of Arles. In Antiquity, cemeteries were always outside the boundaries of the town and were often located along major roads. At the start of the Empire, cremation graves, sarcophogi and mausolea were dotted along the side of the Via Aurelia, creating a vast necropolis.
However, the cemetery became extremely significant during the Paleo-Christian era, with the inhumation of the martyr Saint Genest and the burial of the first Bishops of Arles, who were placed in a chapel later surrounded by a large number of tombs grouped together in several rows. A priory known as Saint Honorat was constructed circa 1040; it depended on Saint-Victor Abbey in Marseille. The necropolis became an important stop-off point on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and the ‘chansons de gestes’ (songs of heroic deeds) located Charlemagne’s battles against the Saracens there, to explain the large numbers of tombs. Dante immortalised this site in his poem ‘Inferno’.
The Allée des Alyscamps, which still exists today, was created by the Minimes monks in the 18th century. In 1888, Van Gogh and Gaugin came to paint in these romantic ‘Champs Elysées’ of Arles. The site consists of an alignment of tombs and an excavated section of the Paleo-Christian necropolis. The path runs along the sarcophogi, which are made of local limestone and generally fairly simple in style, with no decoration apart from a kind of adze or ascia (bent iron axe with a cutting edge perpendicular to the handle) and a corner block with lead piping. Some sarcophogi have a funereal inscription on a cartouche in the centre. Many of these texts are now illegible.
The Allée then continues to the remains of the Paleo-Christian necropolis, in front of the church of Saint Honorat Abbey (12th century). All the Abbey’s convent buildings were destroyed after the Revolution. Excavations carried out in the 1930s-1950s unearthed piles of sarcophogi with no décor or epigraphs, placed in funeral enclosures. Shards of ceramics and coins led to them being dated to the 4th and 5th centuries.
In the Middle Ages, this site contained a number of vaults, chapels and funeral monuments. Few vestiges of these constructions remain. Saint Accurse Chapel was built in 1520 at the entrance to the site, next to Saint-Césaire-le-Vieux Church, of which only the Romanesque porch remains. It was built in expiation of the death of Accurse de la Tour, who was killed in a duel by another Arles nobleman. An imposing monument is located further to the right. This is a monument to the consuls, erected in the 18th century in honour of the municipal councillors who died during the 1721 plague. Slightly further on, to the left, is the funeral chapel of the Porcelet family, constructed in the 16th century. Now isolated between the SNCF workshops and the Route de la Crau is the 16th century La Genouillade Chapel, also once known as the Chapel of the Smallholders, who had their base there.
The Ancient Obelisk
The large stone needle, a kind of pivot on the Place de la République, actually comes from the Roman circus and dates from late Antiquity. The obelisk was discovered in the 14th century, but it was not until the 17th century that it became a symbol of the sun once again. It was transported and installed, with great difficulty, in front of the newly built hôtel de ville. It is adorned with a fountain and a basin and it sets the standard for the harmony of the different styles of façades around the square. It is also the best viewpoint for taking in vast panorama of the Place de la République.
A symbol of the sun and the Empire in Antiquity and a decorative feature, the obelisk also served as a landmark for charioteers in the heart of the Roman circus. We now know that the structure was created from granite taken from a Roman quarry in Asia Minor. It is monolithic in design (it was split in two at the end of Antiquity) and, together with the pedestal designed by the Arles architect Jacques Peytret, it measures around 20 metres.
Fassin and Lieutaud (1909) provided the following information: 15.26 m high, 1.7 wide at the base; the pedestal is 4.55 m high. The point was surmounted by a bronze globe scattered with fleur de lys, which was topped with a golden sun. The obelisk comes from the spina (central wall around which the track ran) of the Roman circus. It was erected there during major work carried out on the building in the 4th century.
After the building was abandoned in the 6th century, the obelisk collapsed and broke in two. It was rediscovered in 1389 and regularly shown to important visitors, such as Henri IV, who wanted it to be placed in the centre of the amphitheatre. However, the consuls decided to erect it on the Place Royale, in front of the new hôtel de ville, ‘for the greater glory of King Louis XIV’. It took 40 days to transport and required colossal manpower to move it a distance of a few hundred metres.
The majority of the shaft was close to the original site and the four-metre long point was on Place Antonelle, in the La Roquette district… where it was being used as a bench. But it was even more difficult to raise it on its pedestal (its foundations revealed the existence of Roman thermal baths on this site). Mariners specialised in handling boat masts were called in. On 26 March 1676, the operation ended with the installation of the point. It was then possible to install the Royal symbol, a bronze globe topped with a sun. This globe was later replaced by other symbols, including a Phrygian cap, a Napoleonic eagle and the cockerel of the July Monarchy, before the Royal sun was put back (removed permanently in 1866). The stone lions, originally placed there in the 17th century, were replaced in 1829 by bronze lions sculpted by Dantan. Henri Révoil restored the building in 1866-1867 and added fountains and a basin, decorated with masks of Hercules.
During the High Middle Ages, the city was devastated by wars and epidemics of the plague. Faced with the Sarracen invasions, the people of Arles took refuge behind the ancient city walls and the amphitheatre was used as a stronghold.
The Route of Santiago de Compostela
Issued by pilgrimage associations, this can be stamped at the entrance of St Trophime Monastery, the Alyscamps and the Tourist Office.
The Episcopal City
From the 4th century the Christian community in Arles began to build a first cathedral close to the city walls. Moved closer to the Forum in the 5th century, it was given the name of St Etienne becoming the French Episcopal cathedral for some time. In the 12th century the church of St Trophime and its buildings were built next to the cloisters. Nearby, various other churches and convents grew up, of which the most famous is that of St Césaire.
Abbey of Montmajour
Located at the gates of Arles on the road to Fontvieille, the Abbey is made up of two convents built between the 11th and 18th centuries, and are evidence of eight centuries of monastic life in Rhodanian Provence.
Founded in 949 on an island surrounded by marshland, it initially housed a Benedictine community. The monastery gradually grew and became wealthier, quickly becoming one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in Europe, in particular at the time of the Great Absolution of the Holy-Cross, instituted in 1030. Many of the buildings on the site, convent buildings, cloisters, chapels, towers, etc. are of great architectural interest.
In 1791, the building was sold and transformed into a stone quarry. The buildings, partly destroyed, were saved by the city of Arles, that repurchased them in 1838. Listed as a historic building in 1840, the buildings were restored by Henri Révoil under the Second Empire. In 1945, the abbey became property of the state.
Renaissance and Classical Periods
Hotel of Lauzière
Numerous Arlesian families became prosperous during the Renaissance period. Their town houses along with the new public buildings of the time created the model of the old city centre that we continue to admire today.
After a period of recession at the end of the Middle Ages, the city underwent, from the end of the 15th to the middle of the 16th century, a period of prosperity and important transformations. One example is the 1558 construction of the belfry in the city centre, situated on the present-day Place de la République. At that time the Arlesian aristocracy was living in the centre of the city where they built sumptuous town houses. Numerous mansions were constructed around central courtyards, with rich theatrical decors. The Old Borough (Vieux-Bourg), now known as the Roquette quarter, was at the time inhabited by sailors, dockers and farmers. In the New Borough (Bourg-Neuf) lived the shopkeepers. The Marché-Neuf (New Market), now Rue du Président Wilson, was the section where the innkeepers and craftsmen resided and worked.
Classical architecture triumphed in Arles with the construction of the City Hall, finished in 1676. The plans were designed by Jacques Peytret, with advice from Jules Hardouin-Mansard, who was designated that same year official architect of King Louis XIV. It was then that the Place de la République, called at the time Place Royale, was profoundly modified. The period of reconstruction during the 17th century and the changes that took place during the 18th century gave the city of Arles the appearance that it still has today.
The 19th Century and Van Gogh
One of the main events of the 19th century in Arles was the arrival of the railway and the construction of the SNCF workshops between 1845 and 1856. This marked a total rupture with the traditional activities of inland water shipping.
During his stay in Arles between February 1888 and May 1889, Vincent Van Gogh produced approximately 300 drawings and paintings. The places where the artist set up his easel in the city are marked out by panels showing his paintings. About ten places are thus marked out: the Place du Forum for his Cafe at night, the Trinquetaille Bridge for the staircase of the Trinquetaille Bridge, the docks for his Starry night over the Rhone, the Place Lamartine for hisYellow house, the rue Mireille for The Old Mill, the garden on the Boulevard des Lices for The Public Garden, The Espace Van-Gogh for the Garden of the Hospital at Arles, the road along the Arles canal at Bouc for his Langlois Bridge at Arles with women washing, more commonly called the «Van Gogh Bridge ». The Arena and Alycamps were also immortalised in several paintings.
The Van Gogh Walk
Association for the creation of the Van Gogh Foundation. Van Gogh wanted to create the ” Atelier du Midi”, to draw painters around him. The Foundation’s aim in creating this workshop was to gather together contemporary artists in memory of Van Gogh.
Arles and the Rhone, the people of Arles and their river, a history of love and mistrust depending on the water’s mood. In the 19th century, commercial activity on the docks and riverbanks was still flourishing. Van-Gogh, who mainly stayed clear of the local population, explored the city and its surroundings, unceasingly painting the transformations of nature in spring, the landscapes, workers in the fields or on the river. All that he saw inspired him and became art. He would rest his easel on the riverbank whenever the wind allowed him to.
Arles is not only home to a prestigious architectural heritage. Important contemporary names also contribute to its current and future architectural development: Ciriani, Ghery, Chemetov,…
The 20th century gave rise to some important architectural creations such as the Joseph Imbert hospital complex, designed by architect Paul Nelson and part of which is listed as a Historic building, and the Departmental Museum of Ancient Arles, housed in a modern and innovative building designed by Henri Ciriani.
The restoration of the old hospital in 1986 opened up the Espace Van Gogh, currently housing the media library, the communal records, the international college of the literary translators, the university radio, an exhibition room and some shops.
The Supinfocom, building, a school of international repute, is one of the city’s first 19th century creations. It houses a large part of the university pole located in part of the SNCF Workshop Park.
Project: Luma Foundation and Image City
“The Workshop Park is a Utopia. It is an attempt to design and create a new type of cultural institution.” Maja Hoffmann, president of the LUMA Foundation.
The Parc des Ateliers (Workshop Park) is a vast international cultural project carried out by the LUMA Foundation with the support of the mayor of Arles, Herve Schiavetti, the president of the Regional Council, Michel Vauzelle, the Minister for culture and communication, and designed by the American architect Franck Gehry, creator of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.
In the middle of an immense garden-park designed by the Belgian architect and landscapist Bas Smets, the new and pre-existing buildings will form a vast cultural campus bringing together the LUMA Foundation building, the LUMA exhibition gallery, a theatre equipped for projections and shows, artist residences and a restaurant. The maquettes, presented to the general public in July 2010, revealed a futuristic but already familiar tower which will rise above the Workshops.
The LUMA Arles Construction Info Centre
Join our knowledgable staff and register for a public tour of our Construction Info Centre at the Parc des Ateliers. Visitors can discover the history of the Parc des Ateliers and learn about the architectural and cultural projects of LUMA Arles.
At the Construction Info Centre you will have the opportunity to ‘virtually’ walk through two buildings: the new building designed by Frank Gehry and the Atelier de la Mécanique, one of the original, industrial buildings renovated by Selldorf Architects. Samples of the materials used for the buildings are also presented and visitors will be able to see the entire construction site from a panorama-terrace. Please note that for security reasons, the virtual visit is only available for children aged 13 years and over.
The Grande Halle
The Grande Halle is an old waste land presiding over the area of Arles’ 19th century industrial heritage, previously used for the SNCF (French National Railways) railway workshops, and covering 5000m2.
This site is in the midst of renovation and will become a cultural centre focused on new technologies in the fields of multi-media creation, digital and virtual image.
The Grande Halle has become an emblem of the economic and cultural revival in the Workshop area. Like some sort of double faced Janus, the façades and roofs play on the contrast between old and new.
The Route of Santiago de Compostela
Since the Middle Ages, the Arles route is one of the four routes crossing France and Europe towards Santiago.
In its economic boom, Arles welcomed pilgrims travelling towards Santiago de Compostela on the Via Tolosana, which is also know as the Arles route, or the way of Arles. The Alyscamps necropolis became one of the largest Christian cemeteries in the Western World.
The historical public heritage of Arles is made up mainly of Roman and medieval monuments. It is completed by some major achievements of the Renaissance and the classical period; it also includes more contemporary buildings. Most are classified or registered as historical monuments and are on the list of world heritage of humanity.
The city still has, at the corners of the oldest streets, many medieval niches where once stood statues of saints, considered patron saints. Unfortunately most of the statues are missing today.
Arles religious heritage includes many buildings and relics from Roman times to the xviii th century, much of which is classified as historical monuments (CMH) or listed in the inventory of historical monuments (IIMH); some are also listed as Unesco World Heritage (PMU).
The Arles cultural heritage includes several museums: the departmental museum of ancient Arles which contains many sarcophagi (in particular rare early Christian sarcophagi), the copy of the famous Venus of Arles and an exceptionally well preserved barge, the Museon Arlaten founded by Frédéric Mistral where there are representative collections of the arts, ethnology and history of the Arles region, the Réattu museum which mainly houses part of the work of the Arles painter Jacques Réattu, drawings by Pablo Picassoand works by photographers from all over the world and the Vincent-van-Gogh Foundation, where contemporary artists paying homage to Vincent van Gogh are exhibited. To these urban museums, we should add the Camargue Museum, located a dozen kilometers from the city, whose collections retrace the evolution of human activities in the Rhône delta.
Departemental Museum of Acient Arles
Due to its permanent collection and its large exhibitions, the Departmental Museum of Ancient Arles has become a must-see for all those interested in archaeology, art and history. Don’t miss out on the mosaics, sarcophagi, magnificent statues and objects depicting daily roman life..
It is in a contemporary building, built by Henri Ciriani on the remains of the Roman circus, that the Departmental Museum of Ancient Arles displays Arles’ archaeological collections (objects for everyday life, architectural pieces, mosaics, sarcophagi, maquettes…). This is a must-see to better understand the development of the Roman city.
The Fondation Vincent Van Gogh Arles
The Fondation is currently closed to prepare next exhibitions. See you on 2 March to discover “Niko Pirosmani – Wanderer between Worlds” and “Vincent van Gogh: Speed & Aplomb”.
Devoted to Van Gogh, his explosively productive stay in Arles and his inspiring influence on contemporary work, the Vincent van Gogh Foundation Arles will pursue three main objectives: to stimulate creation, to facilitate access to knowledge and to share its passion for Vincent van Gogh and contemporary art with the residents of Arles as well as visitors from all round the world. Original works of Van Gogh are presented as well as those of contemporary artists paying tribute to the Dutch master, through temporary exhibitions renewed once or twice a year.
The Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles aims to showcase and promote van Gogh’s artistic heritage while also asking questions about the resonance of his oeuvre in art today. By presenting the painting of van Gogh in the context of works by contemporary artists, it seeks to stimulate a fruitful dialogue centred on interrogation and reflection.
The Reattu Museum
Today, the Arles Art Museum has a major collection of contemporary art. As a pioneer in photography, its collection includes the most important names. It is also the only museum to have a sound art section.
Built at the end of 15th century in a magic tête –à-tête with the Rhone, the Grand-Prieuré de l’Ordre de Malte owes its life to Jacques Réattu (1760-1833), painter from Arles and winner of the Grand Prix de Rome, who made this his home, studio and the laboratory of his dreams. Converted into a museum in 1868, the building has kept all his work and his personal collection, including an extraordinary portrait by Simon Vouet.
Expanding into photography in the sixties (4000 pieces today), enriched with valuable gifts (57 drawings and two paintings by Picasso, Alechinsky…), and very sensitive to sculpture (German Richier, Toni Grand…), in 2008 the museum opened an audio room for sound art. As a meeting point, commissioning artists and mixing disciplines, the museum organises thematic exhibitions and rolling showings that allow the visitor to explore art in a different way.
At the heart of the Camargue Regional Park and Nature Reserve the museum illustrates the diversity and wealth of this territory. It explains its origins, the challenges the Camargue faces and its future. Housed in an old sheep barn, the museum is also the departure point of a footpath that will enable you to see the fauna and flora of the Camargue close up.
Opened to the public in 1979, set in the middle of the Camargue and converted from an old sheep barn, the museum retraces the development of human activity in the Rhone Delta from the 19th century until today.
A large part of the permanent exhibition depicts 19th century life in a typical farmhouse (agriculture, breeding, hunting, fishing, celebrations and traditions…) and the economic activities that developed over the 20th century (hydraulic works, viticulture, rice growing, sea salt production…).
The museum’s aim is to provide visitors with a good introduction to their visit to the Camargue Regional Park and Nature Reserve, which is a particularly fragile territory. ” To know and make known in order to protect better” is one of its objectives. In addition to visiting the museum there is a 3.5km walk through the grounds of the Mas du Pont de Rousty (contemporary agricultural activities, farming, pasture lands, marshland, reed-beds, traditional huts…) with explanatory panels, observatories and information areas.
Founded by the poet Frédéric Mistral in 1896. It exhibits costumes, furniture, work tools, objects of worship, illustrating Provençal life in the 19th century. Arles has always been a city of traditions. In 1854 Frédéric Mistral and six other young poets founded Félibrige, a literary movement to defend and promote Provençal language.
The quality of his poetry and the revival of interest in Provence earnt Frédéric Mistral the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1904. The money from this prize enabled him to rehouse the Museon Arlaten. This ethnographic museum displays everything that constitute Provençal identity through its daily details. It reveals the secrets of the Arlesian costume and the music of Provence, still alive and well in the 21st century: galoubets (flutes) and tambourines still set the rhythm of the farandole which often brings popular festivals to a close and during which people sing the Coupo Santo, the anthem of the people of Provence.
The Museon Arlaten, the Departmental Museum of Ethnography, housed in the 15th century Hôtel Laval-Castellane, founded in 1896 by the regional writer Frédéric Mistral, exhibits costumes, furniture, work tools, objects of worship and superstition, illustrates Provençal life in the 19th century.
Founded by the poet Frédéric Mistral in 1896. It exhibits costumes, furniture, work tools, objects of worship, illustrating Provençal life in the 19th century.
Arles Gallery est une galerie d’art contemporain dans le coeur de la ville à côté de la place du Forum. Les artistes en résidence, Anne Eliayan et Christian Pic vous proposent toute l’année de découvrir leurs livres, peintures, oeuvres photographiques ou installations plasticiennes. Ils invitent également d’autres artistes à exposer avec eux pour offrir aux visiteurs un lieu étonnant de diversité et d’expression.
Fréderic Mistral and Félibrige
Frederic Mistral was born in 1830 at Maillane, a small village north of Arles, at the foot of the Alpilles, between the Rhône and the Durance. Born into a family of rich landowners, he grew up in his father’s ‘mas’ (Provençal farmhouse). At the end of its law studies in Aix-en-Provence, he returned to the mas and decided never again to leave his native soil, which from then on became the main topic of his poems. Moreover, it was during his studies that he learnt about the history of Provence, going on to become the banner-bearer for Provençal independence. He undertook to modernise Provençal language, a revival which he organised with the poet Joseph Roumanille.
Arlesian Traditional Costume
Literature and poetry sings of the beauty of the women of Arles going back to Antiquity. Myth and reality, encouraged by some famous advocates, have contributed to strengthen this claim. The women of Arles in return enjoy perpetuating the legend by carrying off their traditional dress better than elsewhere. Daudet, Mistral, Léo Lelée, and other admirers gave life to the figure of this proud, gracious and elegant woman, of whom the Queen of Arles is a renewed incarnation.
The Queen of Arles
Elected for three years, the Queen of Arles and the Maidens of Honour are selected after having shown their knowledge of Proveçal history, literature, architecture, arts, traditions and language. The Queen then becomes the ambassadress of the traditions of the region of Arles, accompanying local officials at cultural and traditional events. At these events, she always wears the traditional costume of Arles. The election of the Queen of Arles is one of the high moments for the people of Arles and all those who are in town on that day! After a morning of final interviews, the Queen of Arles and her Maidens of Honour are officially presented to the “people of Arles” by the Mayor, from the Town Hall balcony: ” Pople d’ Arle, veici ta Reino”.
In the Camargue, bulls and horses live in semi-freedom, generally in herds, called ” manades” which the herdsmen follow on horse. He the word for herdsman ‘gardian’ comes from the Occitan term ‘gardo-besti’, which means cattle guardian. The herdsmen gather each year the on the 1st May for the Festival of the Herdsmen. Founded in 1512, the Brotherhood of the Herdsmen is the oldest brotherhood of this kind still present in France today..
The first festival takes place every year the on the 1st May at the Festival of the Herdsmen. On this day, the herdsmen parade on horse through the town centre, to the Eglise de la Major, the seat of their brotherhood dedicated to St George. The herdsmen and their horses are blessed during a mass in Provençal. A new Captain of the Brotherhood of the Herdsmen is elected, and every three years a new Queen of Arles is also elected. The day ends with a big show at the Arles arena, where the herdsmen and their horses compete with bravery and skill in the Herdsmen’s Games. The whole city beats to the sound of the galoubets (flutes), the traditional parades and the spectacles in the arena. These celebrations, bring together the Provence dreamed of by Mistral and the Camargue imagined by the Marquis de Baroncelli.
The herdsmen, symbols of the Camargue, challenge each other in a bare-back horse race: the Satin race. This race opens the festivals of Arles organised by the Festival Committee. In the evening of the 23rd June, “les feux de la Saint Jean” from Canigou, and the folk dances to celebrate the return of the summer, unite the Languedoc and Provence.
La Pegoulado: all the traditions of Provence meet at this Arlesian evening to parade under the light of the ” pegos” (paper lanterns) and to the sound of fifes and galoubets. The groups and the schools of traditional dance carry out the dances passed down by their elders, all along this nocturnal procession. This popular festival allows all those who wear the traditional costume to gather and share their common passion. The procession ends at the arena with a large Farandole. La Pégoulado is held on the Friday before the Costume Festival and brings together more than a thousand participants. The Costume Festival: his festival celebrates the ‘Arlesiennes’ (traditionally-dressed Arlesian women), on the first Sunday of July. All those who wear the traditional costume, dress up in their most beautiful attire. Having paraded under the summer sun, the participants and spectators come together in the ancient theatreto celebrate the Queen of Arles and her Maidens of Honour. At the end of the afternoon a large Provençal spectacle in ‘” Homage to the Queen” offers an insight into Provençal bullfighting tradition: herdsmen’s games, dances, Camargue races.
The Easter Feria, marks the start of the French bullfighting season and attracts 500,000 visitors of which 50,000 aficionados go to the bullfights held in the arena.but is above all an excuse to party and the city is brought alive with Spanish rhythm! Encierros, bodegas, music in the streets, come and experience a Feria like no other. Every year, before the Feria, the “Espace Toro” is set up in the Gimeaux corrals. Here you can see the bulls that will be in the bullfights and learn about the various bull-fighting traditions in the South of France. There are usually two bullfights a day in the Arles arena, lassified a 1st category arena, French arenas being classified into three categories.
A holiday to celebrate the soil of Arles, the Feria du Riz (Rice Festival) is a feria (From 12 to 13 september 2020) to suit all tastes. It is the second bullfighting meet in Arles just before the autumn, in mid-September. One week before the Feria the Espace Toro is set up in the Gimeaux corral, where you can see the bulls that will be used during the Feria du Riz, learn about the different types of bullfight and to go to an presentation on bullfighting, given by the Taurine School.
Events and festivals
Arles is the headquarters of several publishing houses (Harmonia Mundi, Actes Sud, Picquier, Phonurgia Nova, Les Arêtes), 3DFM radio, and hosts the Radio Summer University. It has two theaters, the Arles municipal theater and the Calade theater, as well as two cinemas, the Fémina and the Actes Sud cinema. Rencontres de la photographie d’Arles: Since 1970, this photography festival, created by the Arles photographer Lucien Clergue, the historian Jean-Maurice Rouquette and the writer Michel Tournier, has been held every year in Arles in July. The National School of Photography, founded in 1982, is the only art school in France exclusively devoted to photography. Established since its creation in the Quiqueran de Beaujeu hotel, rue des arènes, in the heart of the city, the school moved in 2019 to a new building, designed by architect Marc Barani, on the site of the former SNCF workshops, in the immediate vicinity of a tower built by Frank Gehry to house the Luma Foundation.
L’Arlésienne is the title of a tale by Nîmes neighbor Alphonse Daudet, which later became a three-act drama set to music by Georges Bizet. The city is animated by traditional festivals (the election of the Queen of Arles, the Easter feria, the rice feria and all the other bullfighting events, the santonniers’ fair), photographic meetings and numerous festivals (festival world music from the “Suds, in Arles”, Actes Sud music festival, Peplum film festival, nude photo festival, etc.). Arles also has an important market which is held twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, along the old ramparts of the city.
Agenda of the main events
Easter: Easter Fair
1st of May: Feast of herdsmen and every three years election of the Queen of Arles
Beginning of May: European Festival of Nude Photography
Mid-May: Jazz in Arles
Beginning of July: Les Fêtes d’Arles (pegoulado, costume festival and golden cockade)
Beginning of July: Les Rencontres d’Arles (International Meetings of Photography)
Mid-July: Les Suds in Arles, (world music) and the Cargo stopovers (concerts)
End of July: Summer radio university
End of August: Arelate (Roman days) and Peplum film festival
Mid-September: Rice fair, horse festival and gourmet Camargue
End of September: Festival of the first fruits of rice
End of September: Antiques and flea market
End of October: Harp Festival
Mid-November: Literary translation conference
End of November: Provence Prestige
End of November-beginning of January: International exhibition of santonniers
End of December: Funny Christmas
The Camargue, a magic word, is a place where man lives alongside horses, bulls, birds, the sky and water. The magic of this region lies in the preservation of it natural spaces. It is a fragile sanctuary for fauna and flora, uncommon in Europe, protected by the Camargue regional park and natural reserve, it forms a unique landscape. Moreover, it is as a natural space of world interest that Arles is classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.
Situated between the two arms of the Rhône (it is a delta with the Grand Rhône towards the south-east, and the Petit Rhône towards the south-west), the Camargue is a vast wetland of approximately 100,000 hectares, the largest in France and also one of the most secret. It is divided in three distinct zones: cultivation north of the delta, salt banks in the west and east and lagoons in the south. The Camargue, it is also a territory formed by man, who has shaped the space, in particular by damming the two arms of Rhône and the sea, and developing sustainable agriculture for rice growing and salt harvesting. This was made possible by controlling the flux between the fresh water from the Rhône, the Mediterranean salt banks and the delta wetlands. Around a hundred herds are used for breeding Camargue horses and bulls.
Here horses are, above all, the herdsman’s companions but they are also his work tools. The intervention of the man has also enabled the protection of the environment through the creation of the regional park and nature reserve and sites open to the public. The Camargue is also an ornithological sanctuary as nearly 400 species of birds are seen here. This includes the pink flamingo, that stands as a symbol for Camargue birds. One should take time to explore the Camargue by following the foot paths or cycle paths or by climbing onto a Camargue horse, an ideal mount for equestrian tourism.