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Arles Short Guide

Arles is a wonderful town to visit, thanks to its charming small size. It makes for a great holiday base due to its central location, and its closeness to the Camargue National Park. But the most striking feature of Arles is without a doubt its impressive UNESCO collection of intact Roman heritage, one that would make its famous neighbour, Nimes, jealous.

On top of its rich heritage and impressive architecture, this is also the place where the famous Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh found his inspiration for several of his masterpieces. Having lived in Arles for over a year, the town has put in serious effort in a Vincent van Gogh foundation and museum displaying his life and pieces inspired on his work. Following in Van Gogh’s footsteps was none other than Pablo Picasso, who was also drawn to Arles. Inspired by the city and its predecessors, he’s painted some of his most famous works here, some of which can be found in the Réattu museum. It’s not only painters that have made Arles famous, but also the upbeat Spanish rhythms composed by the Gipsy Kings that found their inspiration in this artist’s town.

 

Top 5 things to do in Arles

Thanks to its small size, Arles is easily accessible by foot and makes a great place for a half a day’s visit. Parking is amply provided close to the town’s historical centre, and the friendly multilingual receptionists at the tourist office are happy to give you a free map, and offer reduction passes for access to the sights. There are many cosy bars and restaurants offering welcome refreshments after a long drive, and this gives you the opportunity to let the overload of information gathered at the tourist office sink in. Once you’ve finally mustered the courage to resist another glass of one of Languedoc’s finest wines, you’ll discover it’s a pleasure to get lost in this picturesque patchwork of alleyways and squares. Just make sure not to miss out on the following sights:

The Amphitheatre

Possibly better known as the Arena, this UNESCO listed site is undoubtedly one of Arles’ most popular tourist attractions. Built around 90 AD, this arena could seat up to 21 000 spectators who were drawn from far and beyond to watch the chariot races and gladiator games. Today, it’s still in use, but luckily as a less gruesome venue. People from the neighbourhood gather here for the famous bullfights and regular plays and concerts during the summer months –what a great experience!

The Roman Theatre

Situated just next to the Arena, the half-moon shaped Roman Theatre was built at the end of the 1st century BC, and could hold 10 000 people. Although the theatre is not as well preserved as the Arena, it is definitely worth a visit. The theatre had a more civil use as it was built for plays, theatres and concerts – for which it is again used today.

The Thermae of Constantine

The Romans are widely famous for their Thermae, and what would Arles be without one? The Thermae were more than just a place to bathe, but one of the main centres of every day social life, gossip and show-off. A place to see, and be seen. Although the users of the baths are now long gone, the remnants of the Thermae can still be seen – and they will still impress.

Place de la Republique

The Place de la Republique is Arles’ main square, and features some impressive landmarks. A 20m Roman Obelisks rises like a needle from the middle of the square. Depending on the placement of the sun, its shadow points to the Eglise Sainte-Anne, the beautiful architectural features of the Town Hall, and the majestic Romanesque façade of the Eglise and Cloitre de Saint-Trophime. All of which are well worth having a look at.

Espace Van Gogh

Originally built (and for a long time used) as the main hospital of Arles, it was here that Van Gogh was treated for the infamous “accident” that happened to his left ear. It is also the courtyard of this building that he painted in his famous painting “Le Jardin de l’Hôtel de Dieu”. Nowadays, it has been transformed from a place of disease and healing, to a pleasant place that houses the town’s library, exhibition spaces, and a few shops and bars.

 

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