Roman monuments and Romans of Arles, France

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.