Posted by: Debra Kolkka | July 2, 2015

The Romans and Van Gogh were here

Arles  sits just downstream from where the Rhone River forks into 2 branches, forming the Camargue delta. The city has a long and interesting history. The Ligurians were in the area from about 800BC. Later the Celts were there, followed by the Phoenicians who set up a trading post. Later it was taken over by the Romans.

It became an important town and an aqueduct, amphitheatre, triumphal arch, Roman circus and city walls were built. It was closer to the sea at that time and it served as a port.

The Roman amphitheatre is still standing…with some help, and is still used.

Arles amphitheatre


Arles amphitheatre

Arles amphitheatre

For a fee you can enter this very impressive building.

Arles amphitheatre

Arles amphitheatre

Arles amphitheatre

…all the way to the top for some great views over the town to the river.

Arles amphitheatre

Arles amphitheatre

Arles amphitheatre

Just around the corner from the amphitheatre is another Roman ruin, also still in use for  performances…those Romans built things to last.

Roman ruins Arles
The centre of town is Place de la Republique, a lovely, open square lined with interesting buildings and little streets heading off in all directions.


Place de la Republique Arles

To one side is the church of St Trophime, a major work of Romanesque architecture. The Last Judgement on its portal is considered one of the finest examples of Romanesque sculpture.

Arles church

The 12th century portal was restored in 1988 – 1995. On the right side chained souls are being dragged off to hell and on the left the righteous are being delivered into the hands of the saints. Full length statues of apostles and saints stand guard on either side.

St. Trophime Arles

The nearby cloister from the late 12th century has pillars with capitals decorated with sculptures of biblical scenes.

St Trophime Arles cloister


The city reached its peak during the 4th and 5th centuries. It remained important until the 19th century when the railway diminished river trade. By the time Vincent Van Gogh arrived in 1888 it had become a bit of a backwater…exactly what he was looking for. He produced over 300 paintings and drawings during his time there.

The surrounding countryside offered lots of inspiration, but the city centre did too. The laneways and cafes were captured by the artist. A cafe he painted is still there.

Arles cafe


Van Gogh in Arles. Google image

Today it is a busy, vibrant town that manages to mix old and new very well. The streets are extremely narrow, making driving a bit difficult in the city centre. Luckily, there is ample parking at the edge of town and the centre is not large, so it is easy to cover on foot.

We stayed in the Hotel de la Muette, a hotel in a 12th century house. It was in a great location, the room and bathroom were lovely and the young woman at reception was delightful. She spoke excellent English and was extremely helpful. We enjoyed perfect croissants for breakfast…we will be back.

There is an amazing market held every Saturday. It is the biggest and best stocked street market I have ever seen and I will show it to you in another post, as well as some street scenes in lovely Arles.

Arles, France




  1. Great idea for our next holidays

    • We drove there from Bagni di Lucca in about 7 hours. It is a really interesting town.

  2. As you know, we always stop around this area on our way back from Bagni di Lucca to Spain. It gives us a perfect break and there are plenty of interesting historical places to visit

    • It is a great area. We have not stopped there before and did a bit of exploring in the Camargue area. There will be more posts to come. Thank you for your recommendations.

  3. Reblogged this on Nyla Vox.

  4. Just lovely. I adore your posts – even though they make me feel like I am in a lonely backwater they remind me of the beauty out there in the world and the craftmanship. Just stunning Everything took years sometimes decades to build. I love that. Such a different sense of time. People built dynasties not just houses.. c

    • It is great that these buildings are still standing for us to admire. I think you are building something wonderful at your farm. I know how much work is involved.

  5. Great days walk around Arles. As good as I remembered it to be but your photos are superior, I must say.

    • Arles is a great town to visit. There are lots of tiny laneways to explore. I will show you some of the lovely doors and windows soon.

  6. Europe simply offers seemingly infinite number of gems outside of the major tourist areas.

    • The big famous cities are great too, but I love the smaller, quieter places.

  7. Interesting connection

    • I can see why Van Gogh was drawn to the town.

  8. That would have been a wonderful drive through gorgeous country side. Once again great photos

    • The Camargue area is very interesting. There will be more on that soon.

  9. How very lovely – I have ‘stuff’ I should be doing but I had to sit and enlarge and explore all the photos – I’m looking forward to the post on the market.

    • Arles is a lovely town in the south of France. I’m pleased we stopped there.

  10. It looks like a vision! It always floors me when we encounter places from the 12th century and those times. It’s quite incredible really!

    • I love the floors too. They are always uneven and worn down by thousands of feet.

  11. This place looks like it has it all! Van Gogh got it right! 🙂

    • It was a really interesting place to visit, and a very lively town. I would go back.

  12. […] town of Arles is quite lovely, no wonder Van Gogh was drawn to […]

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