Traditional festivals of Arles, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France

The Rhône, a powerful and majestic river, a link between Northern Europe and the Mediterranean world, will guide us on our journey in this sunny South to discover the small villages and the people who live there. They are all passionate, holders of unique know-how, masters in their field, independent, proud, free and welcoming.

The town of Arles is animated by traditional festivals (the election of the Queen of Arles, the Easter fair, the rice fair and all the other bullfighting events, the santon-makers’ fair), photographic encounters and numerous festivals (festival world music festival “Les Suds, à Arles” 156, Actes Sud music festival, Peplum 157 film festival, photo festival, etc.).

Discover the history and traditional ways of life still alive in today’s Provence. From the tradition of the félibriges to the election of the Queen of Arles, from the famous Christmas meal to the discovery of Provençal traditions, we will discover the savoir-vivre of the Provençaux people and the beauty of breathtaking landscapes. Arles also has a large market which is held twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, along the old ramparts of the city.

Every Easter weekend, locals and visitors take to the streets of Arles for the Feria. Feria d’Arles is a popular festival centered on bull activities (including bullfighting) which is held each year in Arles, France. Two different ferias take place, one in mid-September and one in April. The Easter feria in April opens the French bullfighting season and attracts more than 500,000 people, including 50,000 who assist with the bullfights in the Arles Amphitheatre. Numerous abrivados and bull games are organized in the city and people gather in the streets with bodegas, moving orchestras (called peñas) and concerts.

Born in 1903 at the instigation of Frédéric Mistral, the Costume Festival has become a real tradition in Arles. Three days of celebration, traditions, costumes. Eternal Provence, refined fabrics and white horses, has not aged a bit and the shadow of Frédéric Mistral, the writer awarded the Nobel Prize in 1904, still hovers near the banks of the Grand Rhône.

Discover the different clothes proudly worn by Arlésiennes, their husbands and children. Spectators go to the Roman Theater to see the various costumed Provençal groups and listen to the Queen giving her speech in the Provençal language. This Saturday in Arles is devoted to the revival of Provençal traditions, with the election of the Queen of Arles and the feast of the herdsmen.

Jewels from Arles such as bracelets, chains, necklaces, brooches, simply called “gilding” are part of the traditional costume of the Arles woman. The costume festival is an exceptional festival that has its origins in the Festo Vierginenco, created in 1903 on the initiative of Frédéric Mistral. On this day, as in the past, all the young girls are invited to take a ribbon and dress, symbol of their transition to adulthood.

The Museon Arlaten, which reopens on May 2021, after more than 10 years of refurbishment. This ethnographic museum, founded by Frédéric Mistral himself, is a benchmark in Provençal culture and a heritage gem with its Roman remains classified by UNESCO.

Arles fair
The Feria d’Arles is a popular festival centered on bullfighting held each year in Arles (Bouches-du-Rhône). It has been organized since 1965 by the Committee of the Feria to accompany bullfighting shows with various street events, festive, popular, free and open to all.

Easter Feria of Arles
The Feria d’Arles is a popular festival centered on bullfighting held each year in Arles (Bouches-du-Rhône). It has been organized since 1965 by the Committee of the Feria to accompany bullfighting shows with various street events, festive, popular, free and open to all.

The Easter Feria is held every year in April. It opens the French bullfighting season and attracts 500,000 visitors for 50,000 aficionados who attend bullfights in the Roman arenas of the city. Abrivados and bullfighting games are organized during the Feria. The peñas, bodegas (bars in the open air or in cellars with festive music) and bandas bring the city center to life and concerts are planned to liven up the city in celebration.

Over the ferias, Arles has invested heavily in bullfights on horseback which are now packed arenas. These rejóns combine bullfighting and horse shows. One of the best rejoneadors is Andy Cartagena. Many women practice this art in particular. The Arles arenas also welcomed young bullfighters who received the prize for best novillero.

Rice Festival of Arles
A holiday to celebrate the soil of Arles, the Feria du Riz (Rice Festival) is a feria 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.

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Celebrating the Arles region and bullfighting culture, the Feria du Riz takes place in mid-September each year. It is the scene of a traditional Goyesque corrida but other bullfights take place in the arenas of Arles, arenas classified 1st category. The Horse Festival and Camargue Gourmande are also organized at the same time by the Tourist Office.

Since 2005, the goyesque bullfight has become the big event of the Feria du Riz. It mixes multiple arts, both in decor and in music. Internationally renowned designers, decorators, painters and architects have taken part there, such as Christian Lacroix, Jean-Paul Chambas, Lucien Clergue, Jean-Pierre Formica, Ena Swansea, Claude Viallat, Loren and Rudy Ricciotti. The course of this bullfight is identical to that of “a traditional bullfight with the same rules and the same ritual, only the costumes are different. ”

Gardians Day of Arles
Every three years, on May 1st for the Festival of Gardians, thousands of people gather at Place de la République to discover the one that will embody local traditions, far from a classic beauty contest. Organized by the Confrérie des Gardians in honor of Saint George their patron saint, the Fête des Gardians traditionally takes place on May 1 with the parade of the Gardians in the city going to the Church of the Major to attend mass. In the afternoon, herdsmen, Arlesians and Mireilles meet at the Arles arenas for the herdsmen’s games where each will try to prove their courage and skill in various horse-riding events.

The festivals are not part of folklore but of a deep attachment to the Provençal identity. May 1st is the anniversary date of the founding of the ancient brotherhood of the guardians of Saint-Georges in 1512, the oldest brotherhood still in activity. After the parade of herdsmen and Arlésiennes, the herdsmen will greet the statue of Frédéric Mistral on the Place du Forum. This is followed by a blessing from the guardians and a mass in honor of Saint-Georges. After which, the day is devoted to a great Provençal spectacle, to equestrian and bullfighting games.

The Guardians’ Festival has regained all its splendor, more than 200 horses and riders roamed the streets of Arles, carrying high the banner of Arlesian traditions, that of the work of the herdsmen and the Arlesian costume. But also bullfighting with a Camargue race in the arenas, where the maneuverability of the Camargue horse was once again highlighted by the herdsmen’s games. Rendezvous at 9 am on the Boulevard des Lices for the gathering of the gardians and Arlésiennes in traditional costume. Head to the Place du Forum in front of the statue of the Provençal poet, Frédéric Mistral, to pay tribute to him. Continue to Notre Dame de la Major, where a mass in Provençal is celebrated, followed by the blessing of the horses on the church square.

At noon the crowd invades the Place de la République to attend the presentation of the blessed bread to the city authorities. The day is far from over. At 3.30 pm the gardians and the public meet at the arena for a great Provençal show, the gardians’ games. The riders and their mounts compete with daring and dexterity throughout the afternoon.

Since 1930, the municipality of Arles has organized the election of a queen of Arles. The Queen of Arles is the official representative of the culture, language and traditions of the country of Arles. She personifies the Arlesian par excellence, celebrated moreover in particular in music (Georges Bizet), poetry and literature (Frédéric Mistral). Generally dressed in traditional costume, she plays a role in most cultural events in the region. It also ensures the reception of prestigious guests in the city of Arles.

The Arles costume is, along with the Comtadin Provençal costume, one of the two main variants of the Provençal costume. Also called Arlese, its port was revived by Frédéric Mistral at the end of the 19th century as one of the signs of the cultural identity of Provence. Still used on Sundays until the beginning of the 20th century, its common use gradually disappeared during the first half of the 20th century. Currently, it is worn only occasionally, by folk groups or during proactive demonstrations of local identity.

Among the pieces that currently make up clothing and signify its elegance, there is the chapel or cache-coeur, a trapeze-shaped lace breastplate, which appeared in 1860, and which covers the chest, the large shawl or neckerchief, square shape, which molds the bust, the long satin dress of different colors, often pinched at the waist, the gilding (jewels, staples, buckles or hooks) which are transmitted from generation to generation. These adornments range from the silver choker, to the various filigree gold crosses, called Provençal crosses, solid gold bracelets enriched with diamonds, to earrings (pendants or brandanto) reserved for married women only, including rings embellished with precious stones, silver shoe buckles, gold or silver coat clasps, silver hooks for belts that allowed keys to be hung, both sign of wealth and possession on the family home.

Since 2011, it has been requested by the Regional Council of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur that the costume of Arles be included in the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO.

Agenda of the main events of traditional festivals of Arles:

Easter: Easter Feria
May 1: Gardians Day and election of the Queen of Arles every three years
Early May: European Nude Photography Festival
Mid-May: Jazz in Arles
Beginning of July: Les Fêtes d’Arles (pegoulado, costume festival and golden cockade)
Beginning of July: The Rencontres d’Arles (International Photography Meetings)
Mid-July: Les Suds in Arles, (world music) and Cargo stopovers (concerts)
End of July: Radio Summer University
Late August: Arelate (Roman Days) and Peplum Film Festival
Mid-September: Feria du Riz, Horse Festival and Gourmet Camargue
End of September: Feast of the first fruits of rice
End of September: Antiques and flea market fair
Late October: Harp Festival
Mid-November: Conference on literary translation
Late November: Provence Prestige
Late November-early January: International Santon Makers Fair
Late December: Funny Christmases

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