French Arles – in the past an important city of the Roman Empire

French Arles – in the past an important city of the Roman Empire

Arles is located in Provence in the Bouches du Rhône . It is known mainly for its Roman past, from which numerous monuments have survived to this day. The painter Vincent Van Gogh spent a very fruitful period of his life in Arles, and this city is also the gateway to the Camargue Natural Park . Arles was once a Roman metropolis, one of the most important in the empire. Its ancient history goes back to the 6th century BC, when the Greeks came here from Massalia (now Marseille) . Julius Caesar founded a fortified camp of legionaries here, and the city continued to develop during the reign of Emperor Augustus. Its development peaked in the 4th century, after Emperor Constantine made it the capital of all of Gaul. From the 5th century onwards, Arles became a major commercial center.

The best way to explore the Roman era in Arles is at the local History of Arles Museum, just west of the city center. There is a collection of sarcophagi, busts of Roman emperors, Roman mosaics, jewelry and statues. The most important Roman monument in the city is the great amphitheater Les Arnes of the late first century, the largest Roman building in all of Gaul.

To the south of the arena can also be seen the remains of an ancient Roman theater, as well as the remains of the ancient baths of Constantine and the Roman underground cryptoportiques, a former part of the Roman Forum that stood in today’s square. The entrance to the cryptoportiques is in the 17th-century Arles town hall building on the Place de la République. A Roman obelisk stands above it, and the city’s main church, the Basilica of St. Trophimus, is also located there.

French Arles, once an important city in the Roman Empire

French Arles, formerly an important city of the Roman Empire

On the Place du Forum is the famous yellow café that Van Gogh immortalized in his painting The Night Terrace. The original cafe he painted was destroyed during World War II, but that doesn’t diminish the tourist interest in its copy. Vincent van Gogh lived in Arles from 1887 to 1889, during which time he painted more than 200 canvases and about 100 other drawings and watercolors.

Near the center of the town there is a replica of the Langlois bridge, which Van Gogh also immortalized in one of his famous paintings. The city also has a Van Gogh Foundation with modern art dedicated to the popular Dutch painter and the Espace Van Gogh Cultural Center, located in the former hospital where Van Gogh was hospitalized after injuring his ear.

Saint Trophimus Basilica

The Basilica of Saint Trophimus in Arles is situated on the east side of the Place de la Repubblica. The basilica stands out for its particularly beautifully decorated central portal, and its interior features a monastery and a reliquary with the remains of St. Trophimus, bishop of Arles since the 3rd century, after whom the entire building is named. The first church stood on this site in the 5th century. The current building was built in Romanesque style in the 11th and 12th centuries and was rebuilt in the 15th century. In 1178, the church was converted into a cathedral so that the Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa could be crowned king of Arelet. Less than two centuries later, the Czech ruler Charles IV also became King of Arelat. In 1389, King Louis II of Naples married Yolanda of Aragon here.

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French Arles, once an important city in the Roman Empire

Saint Trophimus Basilica

The interior of the basilica is very rich, where you can find a number of artistic treasures as well as the tombs of several Provençal saints, including St. Trophimus. Of particular note is the Gallo-Romanesque monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was originally part of a local monastery and is decorated with sculptures from urban history, regional history and biblical history. The church stands on Republic Square, in the center of which rises a 20-meter Roman obelisk of red Asian granite dating back to the 4th century. Opposite the Basilica of St. Trophimus stands the Church of St. Anne, and on the north side of the square is the town hall with a beautiful facade from 1676.

Van Gogh complex

A cultural center dedicated to the life and work of this Dutch master, located in Arles in the PACA region of France. Vincent van Gogh arrived in Arles on February 20, 1888. After spending two years in Paris, the perpetual bustle of the city no longer satisfied him and he headed south, where he wanted to find the coveted peace and sunshine. At first he stayed in the rooms of the Carrel restaurant, later he moved to the Caf de la Gare and in September 1888 rented rooms in the Yellow House, where his studio had been located since May.

French Arles, once an important city in the Roman Empire

Van Gogh’s complex

Van Gogh’s mental health declined sharply, and the situation worsened in late December when he cut off his ear. He was then admitted to the city hospital with a diagnosis of acute mania and delirium, while a young doctor, Felix Rey, suspected some form of epilepsy. After a brief release, the artist returned to the hospital in January 1889, and in March, at the request of a neighbor, the police closed his house, and after a brief stay in Dr. Ray’s chambers, he moved to a sanitarium in St. Louis.

It was at the hospital in Arles where Van Gogh was hospitalized that Van Gogh’s space was created. The building was built in the 16th century as the city’s main hospital, and in 1835 three new wings were added to it because of several cholera epidemics. The next major renovation of the hospital with the latest technology took place in the early 20th century.

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An extensive renovation program began in 1970, during which a number of archaeological discoveries were uncovered that answered many questions about the city’s history. The renovation lasted until 1986 when the Van Gogh Cultural and University Center was opened on the site of the former hospital, which housed the city library and the gallery on the first and second floors. The City Hospital can be seen in two of Van Gogh’s paintings.

Roman arena

The city of Arles attracts visitors mainly to its rich Roman history and its well-preserved ancient monuments. The most notable of these is undoubtedly the Roman arena, which is one of the best preserved monuments of its kind in the Provence region.

The arena at Arles was built on the highest point of the city at the end of the first century AD for gladiatorial fights, predatory games and other popular ancient entertainment. The large amphitheater is 136 meters long and 107 meters wide . Two floors have survived, each with 60 columns (Doric columns on the lower floor and Corinthian columns on the upper). The third floor was originally built over them.

French Arles, once an important city in the Roman Empire

Roman arena

The large amphitheater seated about 30,000 spectators, of which 180 exits were available, so that even when the arena was full, people were out in a few minutes. After the fall of the Roman Empire the arena was converted into a fortress, and unfortunately parts of it were dismantled and used as material for building city houses. During the Middle Ages, more than 200 houses and three churches stood inside the arena. These buildings were demolished in the 1930s, and the arena was again used for entertainment. Today it serves as a magnificent stage for various theatrical performances and cultural events.

The most important event that regularly takes place in the arena are the traditional Provençal bullfights. The first took place here in 1830 on the occasion of the celebration of the occupation of Algiers . The opening ceremony of the bullfighting season, the Fte des Gardians (Provence Festival of Cowboys), is held in Arles on 1 May each year. It is also linked to the election of the most beautiful girl of Provence, who every three years becomes Queen of Arles.

French Arles – in the past an important city of the Roman Empire

Arles (France) – the most detailed information about the city with photos. The main sights of Arles with descriptions, travel guides and maps.

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Arles (France)

Arles – a city in the south of France in the Provence – Alpes – Côte d’Azur region. It is located in the Rhône Valley in the department of Bouches-du-Rhône. Arles – one of the most beautiful cities in Provence with a magnificent historical and cultural heritage. There are some splendid sights from the times of the Roman Empire, and the Romans themselves called Arles a “small Gaulish Rome”. The city has a great Provencal atmosphere – pretty stone houses with pretty colored shutters and flowers in the windows, green cozy squares with cafes and measured rhythm of life.

The famous painter Vincent van Gogh created several of his paintings in Arles.

Things to do (Arles):

Arles - The City that Conquered Van Gogh.

€130 per tour

Arles – the city that van Gogh conquered

Follow, watch, draw” a guided walk through the artist’s paintings.

Geography and climate

Arles is located at the beginning of the mouth of the Rhône, on the border of its vast marshy delta and the Camargue Reserve. The city has a warm Mediterranean climate. Summers in Arles are hot and dry, and winters are relatively mild. During the cold season, the Rhone Delta is influenced by the mistral, which can bring cold and even frosts.

The Streets of Arles

The Streets of Arles

Tourist information

  1. Population – more than 50 thousand people.
  2. Area – 758.93 km 2 .
  3. Language: French.
  4. Currency – euros.
  5. Visa – Schengen.
  6. Time – Central European UTC +1, in summer +2.
  7. The nearest international airport is in Marseille, which is connected to Arles by train. There are also train connections from Avignon.
  8. Arles has a regular bus service to many towns in the Bouches du Rhône department.
  9. Most stores are concentrated around the Place de la Republique and the Arena.
  10. Arles is known for its gastronomy: Saucisson d’Arles (dry sausage), Broufade (beef stew), Fougasse (bread similar to Italian foccacia), Gardianne (lamb stew cooked with thyme and sage), Taureau de Camargue (beef of the Camargue bull).
  11. Popular traditional products: olives, bacon, cheese, anchovies, wine.
  12. Hotel prices in Arles are lower than in Avignon. And there are fewer tourists here. However, the city is relatively close to the most popular places in Provence and the Mediterranean coast.


A settlement on the site of modern Arles existed even before the conquest of these territories by the Romans. In the 8th century B.C. the Ligurians lived there. Later it became an important port for the Phoenicians. The Romans conquered the city in 123 BC. The city was named Arelat. For a time, ancient Arles was in the shadow of ancient Marseille. That all changed after the conflict between Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great, when Massalia supported the latter. After his victory, Caesar gave all the privileges to Arles.

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The Streets of Arles

The streets of Arles

The city reached its peak of prosperity in the late Roman period. And even for a while was considered the main city of Gaul. At the end of the 4th century A.D. its population was about 100 thousand people (twice as many as today). Arelat was also much loved by the Emperor Constantine, who visited it several times. The city’s prosperity ended in the 5th century, when it was sacked by the Visigoths. Arles was pillaged again in the 8th century, but now by the Arabs.

Panorama of the City

The panorama of the city

In the 8th century Provence was incorporated into the Carolingian Empire. In the mid 9th century Arles became the capital of an independent kingdom, which was one of the most powerful states of the South of France. In 1032 the kingdom became part of the Holy Roman Empire, but the city retained much independence. In the 12th century, Arles was granted the status of a free city, which it retained until the French Revolution. In the first half of the 13th century the city became part of Provence and yielded the title of the main center of the region to Marseilles.



Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh lived and worked in Arles in the late 19th century. For the latter, this period is considered the heyday of his art.


Arles is known for its splendid Roman heritage. Among the ancient ruins stands out an amphitheater, a theater, an ancient forum and thermae.

Amphitheatre (Arena)

Amphitheater (Arena)

The Arena is Arles’ main attraction and one of the largest ancient buildings built on the territory of France. The amphitheater dates back to the 1st century AD and could accommodate more than 20,000 spectators. It is 136 metres long and 107 metres wide. The facade has a double row of arcades with 60 arches and 4 entrances. The amphitheater had 34 rows of seats covered with wooden boards. In the Middle Ages towers were added to the structure of the amphitheater. You can climb the tower above the main entrance and enjoy a beautiful view of old Arles and the nearby ancient theater. The arena is still used for bullfighting (bullfighting).

Roman theater

Roman theater

The Roman theater is an amazing ancient monument built in the 1st century AD during the reign of Octavian Augustus. The theater seated an audience of 8,000 and had 33 rows of seats. The back of the stage was decorated with columns and statues. In the early Middle Ages the theater was dismantled for the construction of city fortifications. Its most valuable find (the Venus of Arles) is in the Louvre.

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Champs Elysees


The Champs Elysées (Alyscamps) is an extensive Roman burial ground, which bears witness to the ancient history of Arles. This Gallo-Roman necropolis is located on the southeastern edge of the old city. During the Middle Ages, this cemetery was highly revered, so there are burials from all around. Most of the stone tombs date from the Middle Ages. The most beautiful sarcophagi have been placed in museums. At the end of the necropolis there is a small 12th-century medieval church with a 4th-century tomb in the side chapel.

Saint Trophimus

Saint Trophimus

Saint Trophimus is a monastery with a church that is considered the main attraction of the Medieval period in Arles. The monastery was founded in the 12th century and combines various medieval architectural styles, including Romanesque and Gothic elements. Saint Trophimus is known for its sculptures and rich architecture, as well as its beautiful tapestries. The nearby church is also dedicated to St. Trophimus. It is built in the Romanesque style and has a beautiful façade with scenes from The Last Judgment. In the interior of the church, you can admire ancient tapestries and a Gothic choir.

Constantine Thermae

The Baths of Constantine

The Thermae of Constantine is a vast ancient bathing complex, built in the 4th century A.D. The Thermae were commissioned by the Emperor Constantine, who loved to visit Arles. Once it was a majestic palace-like complex of buildings. Today it is a ruin.

Place de la Repubblica

Place de la République

The Place de la République is the central square of Arles, in the heart of the old town. There are interesting sights on the square: the monastery and the church of St. Trophim, the Gothic church of St. Anne (on the photo on the left), which was built in the 17th century and abandoned after the French Revolution, the town hall of the 17th century and a 15-meter ancient Egyptian obelisk in front of it.



The Forum is the central square of ancient Arles, of which only an underground arcade now survives.



Notre-Dame-la-Mayor is the oldest church in Arles, founded in the 5th century. In the 12th century, the old building was replaced by a Romanesque church, and in the 16th century it was rebuilt in the Gothic style. The bell tower was built in 1579. The church has a strict Gothic interior and several interesting religious artifacts and art objects.

Interesting tours

Grand Tour of Montmartre

From €105 for a guided tour

Grand Tour of Montmartre

The Moulin Rouge, Dalida’s house, Villa Léandre, Chateau des Mists and other iconic spots of the bohemian quarter

The fabulous Louvre for children from 6 years old

from €130 for a guided tour

The Louvre for children ages 6 and up

An educational but not boring adventure which will be remembered by young travelers

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