Sunday, February 26, 2012


The last time I went to Arles, it was on the spur of the moment early in the morning after dropping friends off at Marseille Provence Airport. As I got to Arles, the sun was coming up and the streets were empty except for a couple of the town's street cleaners I encountered while walking around.

This fall wife Shirley and I went back to Arles with friends but the experience was totally different. Saturday morning, weekly market day in Arles, was hot and the town was crowded with Arlesians shopping at the market and tourists come to visit the Roman ruins. It took me forever to find a place to park.

Arles sits along the Rhone River about 75 miles southwest of Sablet. It is located just down stream of where the Rhone River splits in two (big and little) forming the Camargue delta. A large part of the Camargue is located in the Arles commune making it the largest commune in France in terms of territory.

The town has a long history and the Roman and Romanesque monuments of Arles are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Arles is just as famous for its connection to Vincent van Gogh - he completed over 300 of his paintings and drawings during his time in Arles, including many of his most famous. It is also where he chopped off his ear.

On December 23, 1888, feeling frustrated and ill, van Gogh went to a local brothel. While there, he cut off his left ear and wrapped it in newspaper and handed it to a prostitute named Rachel, asking her to "keep this object carefully." He was checked into the Hotel Dieu, the local hospital for treatment of blood loss as well as severe depression.

The Hotel Dieu today is the Espace Van Gogh cultural center that surrounds a central garden recreated based on Van Gogh's painting of this space (Garden of Arles Hospital) and a letter to his sister containing details of the plants grown in the garden.

As I mentioned, it was market day and the big Saturday market for which Arles is well known was crowded with local shoppers and tourists, including ourselves. While walking around, we came across this duo playing music for passersby in hope they might drop coins into their open guitar case.

The Hôtel de la Lauzière was built at the beginning of the 17th century. The façade is proof of the social status of the family that lived within the walls of this home. The door is framed by stone torsos sculpted in the Mannerist style, a movement in art and architecture between the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

The Obélisque d'Arles is a 4th century Roman obelisk in the center of the Place de la République in front of the Hotel de Ville - town hall of Arles. The obelisk is made of red granite and originally located in the Arles circus; it was moved to its present location in the 17th century. The obelisk stands about 65 feet tall.

To the left of the obelisk on the Place de la République is Eglise Sainte-Anne a church built at the beginning of the 17th century.

The Hotel de Ville - town hall on Place de la République in the center of Arles was built in 1676.

The Church of St. Trophime at Place de la République, formerly a cathedral, is a major work of Romanesque architecture and the representation of the Last Judgment on its portal is considered one of the finest examples of Romanesque sculpture as are the columns in the adjacent cloister. The Church was built in the 12th and 15th century.

The streets of Arles are narrow and wind between old medieval buildings.

A pretty café that caught my eye.

Still in business today, but now named Café Van Gogh, this is the bright yellow café that Vincent van Gogh painted in The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum in Arles in September 1888.

A statue in Place du Forum of Frédéric Mistral, a popular poet who wrote in the local dialect rather than French and a champion of Provencal culture.

Wife Shirley with friends Deb and Rick relaxing at a café on Place du Forum. We had a fun time, the food was not very good.

Café tables are set for hungry shoppers. The menu is listed on the blackboard on the left.

Morning glory climbs up the wall of this bright yellow house.

Friends Deb and Rick walk up one of Arle's many narrow streets through a live archway.

As I said, when I was last in Arles, it was early morning and nothing was open yet so I was not able to go inside the Arènes - Roman amphitheater. This time we wandered all around.

The amphitheatre is said to measure 136 m (446 ft) in length and 109 m (358 ft) wide, the 120 arches date back to the 1st century BC. 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. Today, it draws large crowds for bullfighting as well as plays and concerts in summer.

Most of these photographs of the interior of the amphitheater were shot by Shirley. One of the walkways that circle the amphitheater.

Part of the amphitheater.

The entrance to the amphitheater used for the bulls.

A passageway into the amphitheater.

Stairway up to an upper level of the amphitheater.

Some of the 120 arches that circle the amphitheater.

One more passageway through the amphitheater.

There are panoramic views from the top of the amphitheater. The shots which follow are some of the views that caught my eye.

Eglise Notre-Dame-de-la-Major built in 1152 as seen from the amphitheater. The allied bombings in 1944 caused significant damage and major restoration work was required.

A lady enjoying her coffee and newspaper on the rooftop terrace of her Arles home.

The Eglise Notre-Dame-de-la-Major as seen through one of the 120 arches that circle the amphitheater.

A pretty courtyard of a home near the amphitheater.

The Rhone River seen through an amphitheater window.

Not much remains of the Roman theatre which was built at the end of the 1st century BC. The theatre is said to have been able to accommodate 10,000 spectators in 33 rows of seats.

If you are a fan of Roman history or van Gogh art make sure you save time in your schedule to visit Arles. Weekly markets are held in Arles on Wednesday and Saturday so plan accordingly as parking is most difficult on those days.

Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt.


  1. I've visited Arles a few times - it is the only town in France where we've had bad meals every time. However, it is a wonderful city for tourist sites, and the amphitheater is very impressive. We also enjoyed the Museum of Provence culture, which is dedicated to M. Mistral. I visited the amphitheater several ago with my parents, and we got separated and rotated in our own orbits for ages before my dad took off on his own. My mother and I spent an hour waiting for him in the cafe shown above on the Place du Forum. The views of the river are also quite wonderful. Park outside the main gates - the lot is huge and an easy walk from the Roman sites.

  2. I loved this post, Michel, especially as we know Arles a bit. Your photos are excellent - those more intimate ones are terrific. Thanks for posting this!

  3. Stunning, I think you have just incited me to go to Arles! We have friends that live their but we've never made it to see them yet but my passion for architecture and your photos have inspired me to visit tout de suite!

  4. Anonymous - Thanks for stopping in to check out my blog and for your comments and advice about parking in Arles. I will definitely remember that for our next visit as I spent at least 1/2 hour circling looking for parking while my wife and our friends were shopping at the weekly market.

    Claudia - Thanks for your nice comments about the pictures. Arles is definitely a special place and we will return in the future.

    Pigletinfrance - Thanks for stopping in to check out my blog and for your comments. You need to try and go to Arles especially if you have friends there and architecture is a passion of yours. You will find enough different architecture to keep you occupied for hours.

  5. I visited Arles MANY years ago (teenager), but remember it always as one of favorite cities. I was wonderful seeing pictures of it again. I must get the Sheepfarmer there too!

  6. Labergerebasque - I am very happy you enjoyed the pictures and the trip down memory lane. Arles is still a wonderful town and well worth the time to visit.

    Deb - You will just have to return. We would love to see you guys again in Sablet.

  7. I'm very fond of Arles. I've gotten to go twice now, once on a market day, and I'd love to go back and explore more.
    And on an unrelated note... I just saw your reply to me about Banon, I'm going to ask around to see if I can find out about seeing the cheese made for you. I'll let you know :)

  8. Sara - Thank you in advance for any information you can give me about seeing cheese made in Banon; we would love to go.

  9. Bonjour Michel and Shirley. Thank you for visiting my blog today. I replied to your comments about Puerto Vallarta there if you want to swing by again... I visited your site and loved your tour of Arles. As a French native (originally from Southern France,) I always enjoy opportunities to travel in my country, however vicariously ;-) I am your newest "Follower." Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

  10. Hi Michel, yes, it is definitely on my list of places to go now :) I often lurk here but commenting isn't practical from my phone, for once I was visiting from a real computer!

  11. Alain and I spent a magical weekend in November 2005 there- it was quiet, cool, perfect. Then when some family came, I suggested they visit Arles. They went end of May/June and didn't like it- too crowded.

    Re your comment - perhaps you pay your cleaning lady higher in gross, but I bet she doesn't "take home" more than 8/10 euros, especially if she works for an agency. But perhaps I'll give myself a raise to 15€/hour. :)

  12. Megan - I am sure your experience in Arles could be dramatically affected by the time of year you visit. We were there mid October and complained about parking but was told it was nothing compared to summer.

    I always thought the lady who cleans our house worked alone but yesterday in an email she said "mon equipe" so I guess she is an agency of sorts.

  13. Bonjour Veronique - Thanks for checking out my blog and for joining. I appreciate this very much. I will look forward to your next installment on Puerto Vallarta. Where abouts in Southern France were you from? Have a great weekend.