Possessing more art, history and architecture than is possible to absorb in one visit, Arles is a melting pot of culture and heritage. Here, we suggest several highlights you’d be a fool to miss during a stop off in Arles.
Roman and Romanesque Monuments
Of all the civilisations to settle Arles, the Romans had the largest influence on the city, expanding it into the major settlement we see today. As a result, Arles is home to several Romanesque structures and monuments, all of which occupy a part of the city known as the Roman and Romanesque Monuments.
First listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981, Arles’ Roman and Romanesque Monuments collection features buildings from the 1st century BC, as well as newer structures from the 4th century. Highlights of the collection include the Arles Amphitheatre, the Roman theatre, the Baths of Constantine, and the Church of St. Trophime, all of which can be found within steps of one another in the heart of the city.
Fondation Vincent van Gogh
Established by Yolande Clergue in 1983, the Fondation Vincent van Gogh is a non-profit art foundation dedicated to showcasing the art and legacy of Vincent van Gogh, specifically the works created or influenced by the city of Arles.
Located steps from the banks of the Rhône, this contemporary art foundation serves as a space in which to exhibit the works of van Gogh, as well as celebrate his overarching artistic legacy. Alongside several original works by the artist himself, the centre also features a range of exhibits contributed by artists who have been directly influenced by van Gogh, including renowned Irish painter, Francis Bacon.
For fans of van Gogh, a visit to this fascinating centre is an absolute must.
Built in the 1st century BC, the Arles Amphitheatre is the most impressive Romanesque structure in the city. Outside of Rome, the amphitheatre is one of the best-preserved arenas of the ancient world, and would have originally been used to host chariot races and fierce gladiatorial battles. With two tiers, the amphitheatre is capable of seating 20,000 spectators, and is unique in its pronounced towers, which were likely added during the medieval period.
Today, the amphitheatre hosts bullfighting exhibits during the annual La Feria d’Arles festival, as well as plays, concerts and other productions during the summer months.
Camargue Nature Park
Venture beyond the limits of Arles during your visit, and you’ll find the Camargue Nature Park, one of the most distinctive natural reserves in France. Protected by UNESCO on account of its precious biosphere, this vast wetland is a major staging point for thousands of migratory birds, including egrets, herons and flamingos. The parkland stretches for hundreds of acres, and is best explored on horseback as part of a guided trail tour. Hiking is also very popular in Camargue, particularly around the spectacular ancient citadel of Aigues Mortes — one of the most imposing walled-cities in Europe.
Musée Departemental Arles Antique
Immerse yourself in the coloured antiquity of Arles at the fascinating Musée Departemental Arles Antique. This extensive history centre contains a vast collection of Roman artefacts, including a complete barge once used on the waters of the Rhône, and a bronze bust of Julius Caesar offered as a gift to the city at the beginning of the 1st century. The museum also houses several working examples of Roman water mills, described by historians as the greatest known concentration of mechanical power in the ancient world. If you’re interested in Roman history, this is an essential must-see.