I stayed a few days in Arles, in Provence, situated more or less where the Rhône River splits into two arms, embracing the delta land Camargue, before reaching the Mediterranean. Camargue is administratively actually part of Arles which makes it to the largest French commune, more than seven times the area of Paris, but with a population of some 50.000 only.
The history of Arles is too long to be told here; maybe just a few details. Arles was already a Greek city, became Celtic before being taken by the Romans 123 BC. During the Roman times it became very important and the Western Empire, including Gaul, Spain, Brittany… was governed from here. Later Arles was for a while the capital of a Frankish kingdom, which included Burgundy, parts of the present Switzerland and part of Provence. The Kingdom of Arles became part of France in the 14th century.
It is not easy to build something new in Arles; as soon as you start digging, you run into some Greek, Roman or medieval foundations and you may have to wait for years before possibly getting your permit. Among the Roman landmarks you can find the Amphitheatre, still used for concerts, the Arenas, still used for bullfights, the Constantine Thermae, a necropolis (Alyscamp)… The Church (previously Cathedral) of Saint Trophimus, with its cloister, was newly built when the Holy Roman Emperor Fredrick Barbarossa came to Arles in 1178 to be coronated.
Arles offers some important cultural and artistic activities. Editors like Harmonia Mundi and Actes Sud are based here. Arles is also a photographic centre with the French National School of Photography and exhibitions going on the whole summer. Outdoor concerts in the Amphitheatre or the Arenas are frequent.
Among some famous Arles personalities you may mention Frédéric Mistral (actually from close to Arles, Nobel Prize 1904), Christian Lacroix and Louis Féraud (fashion), Jeanne Calmant (the oldest human being whose age is documented, died in 1997 at the age of 122). It’s also the home of the Gipsy Kings.
However, the reputation of Arles is today perhaps mostly linked to Vincent van Gogh, who here produced some of his most famous paintings during his short stay 1888-89 (when Jeanne Calmant was thirteen). I compared some of his paintings with what you can find today. The Yellow House, where he lived as well as the Trinquetaille Bridge were bombed in 1944. The hospital where he stayed after cutting his ear was still in use until rather recently and the trees, flowers and the pond is still there. The “Langlois Bridge” has been rebuilt… and I replaced van Gogh’s stars by some 14th July fireworks…
During the Easter “feria” there are “corridas” in the Arenas and “encierro” (bull-running) in the streets; Picasso was a frequent visitor to the bull fighting and painted several portraits of “Arlésiennes”, as did already van Gogh.
The real pleasure with Arles is however perhaps just to walk around the streets, take a “pastis” at a bar, visit the Wednesday and Saturday markets…
The Tour de France passed by Arles yesterday.
You can see some of the originals of the above photos on my other blog "Peter - photos".