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Arles - Old Town, Provence, France

Arles has a very attractive Old Town characterized by large number of interesting sights, many of which come from the Roman era. We will try to walk narrow streets of Old Town and see most interesting places. Several monuments of Old Town has already been described by us - in these cases we will include appropriate link to the source text.


Parking in Arles

To park the car close to the Old Town of Arles, you should use the Lamartine parking lot (GPS: 43.681282, 4.632270) located right at the northern gate to the Old Town ("de la Cavalerie" gate). In the market days the parking is unfortunately used as a place of commerce and completely occupied by stalls, so you need to park the car in other parking lot. In these cases we used the parking du Centre (GPS: 43.675022, 4.629623), located on Boulevard des Lices in the southern part of Old Town, opposite to the Jardin d'été. In this parking you will find several levels where you can park the car.


Roman amphitheatre in Arles

The Roman amphitheatre in Arles (Arènes d'Arles) is a beautiful reminder of great scope and scale of the Roman Empire and its contribution throughout the Europe. The amphitheatre is very well preserved and still used today. Additionally, no big crowds cause that it's a good place to learn and feel the history. If you parked the car in Lamartine parking lot, you go through the gate, and then move the streets Rue de la Cavalerie and Rue Voltaire. Otherwise, if you parked the car in the parking du Centre, go across the street and then move through garden "Jardin d'été", go upstairs (GPS: 43.675763, 4.630373), and finally walk Rue Porte de Laure for about 100 meters to get to the walls of the amphitheater (by the way, we pass the Roman theater on the left, about which we will write later). Entrance to the amphitheater is located on the northern side (A; GPS: 43.678401, 4.630680) - go up the staircase, and then in the entrance gate you can buy tickets (the prices: 8€ normal ticket, 6€ - reduced ticket). The amphitheatre is a simply big thing (136 x 109 m) and has two levels. In the past it could contain up to 20,000 people. The building has terraces and galleries, and of course very impressive stands. When you stroll the corridors you feel like you've stepped back thousands of years! There is a lot of interesting buildings around the amphitheater, houses and churches. We wrote about them in a separate article.

Ancient Roman theatre

The ancient theatre in Arles is located nearby the Roman amphitheatre and was built in the era of Octavian Augustus (30-15 years BC) - about one century before its neighbour. It is now classified as World Heritage by the UNESCO. Currently the theatre hosts a variety of events, including the annual festival in July, which is attended by actors, singers and musicians. We enter into the theater area from the Rue de la Calade street (B; GPS: 43.676918, 4.629211). In the room we buy a ticket (prices: normal 8€, reduced 6€), and then we go out into the open area, where we find numerous remains of ancient buildings. Destructions are quite large, because in the Middle Ages the area was the source of the stone used to build the city walls. Only a few columns survived from the back wall of the theater. The stands were rebuilt almost from scratch, but they are well integrated into the whole construction.

Arelate: the Roman days

"Arelate - Roman days in Arles" ("Arelate - journées romaines d'Arles") is very interesting summer event showing the entire ancient heritage of the city of Arles. It takes place every year in the second half of August. For the whole week you can see multitude of animations and reconstructions both fun and educational, which revive the ancient past of the town. The program of the festival is extremely rich and diverse. Everyone will find something interesting. We happened to hit a presentation of the Roman battle gear, as well as gladiatorial combat.

Towards the Place de la Republique

After visiting the Roman buildings we head towards the main square of the old town: the Place de la Republique (C; GPS: 43.676440, 4.627618). For this purpose, we move from the ancient theater the Rue de la Calade street and after about 100 meters we are at the crossroads, where we find the beautiful building of local authorities - Hôtel de ville d'Arles. It was built in seventeenth century and it still delights with great craftsmanship of vaulted ceiling in a large room on the ground floor, which you enter through the main door. Stairs of honor are decorated with a statue of Venus of Arles, and two lions by Jean Dedieu, a local sculptor from the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. When we entered the building from the Republic Square, then we can get out through the other door, to the Plan de la Cour street. There is located a characteristic staircase consisting of a few degrees, coming straight from the wall. At these stages the consuls of the Republic of Arles rendered justice in thirteenth century.

Church of St. Trophime

The former cathedral of St. Trophime (Cathédrale Saint-Trophime) was built between the 12th and 15th century, at a time when Arles was one of the largest cities in Provence and thus has attracted a lot of orders. This is an interesting example of Romanesque architecture, as both sculpture above the portal, as well as ornaments columns in a nearby monastery are regarded as first-class works of Romanesque art. Especially the tympanum depicting the Apocalypse of St. John is very impressive. Inside there are three naves: the main one with the vaulted ceiling and two side naves with the barrel vault. You will also find here interesting tapestries and altar sculptures.

The Cloister of St. Trophime

The cloister was built nearby to the cathedral in the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The most beautiful is the internal gallery, richly decorated. It is interesting that the entrance to the cloister is located not in the church, but from external doors in the Place de la Republique (GPS: 43.676408, 4.627827). We enter the courtyard, and from it through the door on the right side we are in the hallway with stairs. We go to the first floor, where we buy tickets (prices: normal ticket 4.5€, reduced ticket 3.5€) and then we are already in the cloister.

The Obelisk

There is an interesting obelisk ("Obélisque d'Arles") at the center of the Place de la Republique. It was installed in the fourth century in the center of the Roman amphitheater, at the time of Emperor Constantin. Its height is about 20 meters. The obelisk is on the square just since 1676. It's decorated at the bottom with a fountain and bronze sculptures by Antoine Laurent Dantan. The obelisk is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Other buildings

Opposite of the cathedral of St. Trophime you can find a church of Sainte Anne from the seventeenth century. After the French Revolution it has ceased the sacred function and until now it is used as a place for exhibitions. On the square there is also a former post office building from the late nineteenth century with beautiful decorated details on the front facade.

Rue de la République

After visiting the monuments located on the Place de la Republique we go down the street Rue de la République in the direction of the river Rhone. On the way we pass some interesting buildings, such as Hôtel de la Lauziere from seventeenth century (GPS: 43.676415, 4.626210) with a beautifully decorated gate with twisted columns which are just unique examples of architecture. Such ornaments testified in the past of rising affluence of the inhabitants of Arles. Soon, on the right side we see the building of the Arles museum - the "Museon Arlaten" in Provencal language (GPS: 43.676499, 4.625971). Going farther, you can turn left into the Rue Dulau street, at the end of which you'll find the walls of interesting municipal library - "Médiathèque d'Arles" (D; GPS: 43.676077, 4.625259) housed in a former hospital building from sixteenth century. Inside there are available some exhibition spaces, as well as gift shops and a cafe.

Place Antonelle and the Rhone

We reach the Place Antonella (E; GPS: 43.677125, 4.624386), which is located not far away from the coast of the river Rhone. We go to the bridge (GPS: 43.678435, 4.623549), from which we can admire the town's skyline. Then we go along the coast in the eastern direction, toward the Thermes de Constantin (F; GPS: 43.679002, 4.626975). This thermal complex was described with more details in a separate article.

Place du Forum

Now we go towards a very interesting Place du Forum (G; GPS: 43.677632, 4.626975). It was once the historical center of Arles. Some fragments of an ancient temple from the first century survived here. On the square there are now plenty of cafes, hotels, as well as a monument of Frédéric Mistral, a French philologist and poet, who popularized and supported the development of the Provencal dialect.

Rue du 4 Septembre

We return to the Rue du 4 Septembre, where you will find an interesting building from eighteenth century called "Grande Boucherie", that is to say in English, the Great Slaughterhouse :) (H; GPS: 43.678741, 4.628203). It was in fact a place of trade which allowed small retailers to buy meat in wholesale quantities and prices. Going farther towards the east, to the parking Lamartine, we pass the church of Saint-Julien from the twelfth century (I; GPS: 43.679241, 4.629705). However, if you park on the parking du Centre, you can go back through the Jardin d'été (J; GPS: 43.675637, 4.629860) with an area of 10,000 square meters, with a large number of trees, shrubs and two fountains. An ideal place to relax after a busy day! :)


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