City Guide: Arles
Arles is a small city in the south of France situated between Montpellier and Marseille. It has a rich history due to its importance as a Roman province. Several of its Romanesque monuments are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Moreover, Arles has been the home of van Gogh for about 15 months in the late 19th century. During this time he created more than 300 pieces of work!
Due to its past as a Roman province, Arles has a lot to offer touristically. In this city guide, I will try to give you a brief overview of the things you can visit in Arles during a short trip to the city.
Place de la Republique in Arles
The place de la Republique represents the centre of Arles and is a good point to start doing sightseeing from. There are several important buildings surrounding this square including the Church of St. Trophime, the Cloister of St. Throphime, the town hall as well as Sainte-Anne church. In the middle of the square you also find a Roman obelisk.
The Church of St. Trophime is a former cathedral and now Catholic church built in a Romanesque style. It stems from the period of the 12th to 15th century and is located on the former site of the basilica St. Stephen, that used to be located in Arles during the 5th century.
Adjacent to the church, you will find the Cloister of St. Trophime. Similarly to the Roman Catholic Church, it is built in a fine Romanesque style with beautiful columns. It is possible to enter the cloister to explore the inner courtyard as well as walk up the stairs to enjoy a better view.
On the other site of the Church you can find the historic town hall of Arles. The building was completed in 1676.
Moving further to the left from the town hall you can see yet another church. This is the Sainte-Anne Church from the 17th century.
Roman Amphitheatre in Arles
One of the most important landmarks of Arles is clearly the Roman Amphitheatre built in 90 AD. Back in the days it served as a stage for races and battles – nowadays bullfights as well as concerts take place here.
When you vitit the amphitheatre you can buy a combined ticket that allows you to visit a further three or four Roman monuments in Arles. A plus of visiting the amphitheatre is also enjoying the view from the top seating ranks over the city of Arles towards the Rhône.
Arles Jardin d’été
Near the amphitheatre you will also find the Summer Garden, which is a small public park in the centre of the city. The garden which was created during the 19th century is similarly to the rest of the city also a historic place displaying antique artefacts.
Nearby the park you will also come across some of the remains of the old city wall. The tower ‘Tour des Mourgues’ is the most well-preserved part of the ancient fortification wall.
Baths of Constantine in Arles
The Baths of Constantine, also known as the Thermae of Constantine, are located close to the river Rhône. You can thus easily combine a walk by the river with a visit of the Roman Baths.
The baths date back a long time ago and thus you can only see small remains of including the Cladarium, the Tepidarium as well as parts of the underfloor heating.
Roman Theatre of Arles
This ancient Roman Theatre was built during the reign of Emperor Augustus and is thus among the first stone theaters in the Roman Empire.
Today you can visit the remains of this historic theatre which is also used today for plays.
Our overall impression of Arles
Arles is mostly known for two things: its amphitheatre and its relation to van Gogh. But the city as a whole has a lot more to offer. Apart from Nimes it is the only city in the Provence with so many antique monuments – a real Roman spirit so to say! Arles is definitely a special city not resembling many of the other French towns we have visited before.
Do you have any questions about Arles? Feel free to ask or share your impressions in the comments!