Arles a provence city of art and history with many UNESCO sites.

Arles detailed map and regional map, Google Map.

Arles (52,000 residents) is located in the Provence region, and sits on a low hill where the Rhône river divides itself in two arms forming the Camargue delta. The commune is the largest in France, consisting of about 170,000 acres.  It is perhaps most famous outside of France for inspiring Van Gogh, the legendary Dutch impressionist, who painted over 200 works of art in Arles including the much loved "Sunflowers' and 'Starry Night Cafe'.

Iris in an Arles Garden
Arles, Past and Present

Like many cities in Provence, Arles is an ancient metropolis.  It was first established as 'Theline' in the 6th century BC by the Greeks.  In 535 BC, it was captured by the Celtic Saluvii who renamed it Arelate.  The Romans then took control of it in 123 BC and constructed a canal from it all the way to the Mediterranean Sea, which made it an important port town. Arles played a crucial role in later political power-plays, including an attack by Julius Caesar against Pompey in 40 BC.  The city reached its peak during the 4th and 5th centuries, when it was frequently used as headquarters for Roman Emperors during military campaigns. Its history from that point forward is far more extensive and diverse in details, but it is its wealth in antiquities and ruins (including the Medieval wall which still surrounds the city, and the ancient arena where bull fights are still fought today) which make Arles a particularly exciting modern city.

Today, Arles is the gateway to Camargue, land of the Gypsies and meeting place of the Camargue cowboys.  The ferias or bull runs and bull fights are held in this very same arena (12,000 seats) that was the scene of the Roman games in the first century.

A Nod to Van Gogh

Van Gogh settled at Arles in February of 1888, after which he painted more than 200 canvases in 15 months. During this time he sold no pictures, was in poverty, and suffered recurrent nervous crisis with hallucinations and depression. He became enthusiastic for the idea of founding an artists' co-operative at Arles, and towards the end of the year he was joined by Gauguin. But as a result of a quarrel between them, Van Gogh suffered the crisis in which occurred the famous incident when he cut off his left ear (or part of it), an event commemorated in his Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear. In May 1889 he went at his own request into an asylum at St Rémy, near Arles, but continued during the year he spent there a frenzied production of tumultuous pictures such as Starry Night. He did 150 paintings besides drawings in the course of this year. The beauty of Arles inspired Van Gogh, and in return Van Gogh has certainly an 'impression' on Arles. Walking through the city streets, you cannot help but smile as you stumble upon familiar scenes - all of them straight from Van Gogh's canvas.

Camargue wild horses near Arles

Roman theater in Arles

What to See in Arles

The narrow streets of Arles are truly medieval in character, winding between ancient buildings and homes. Unlike other Provencal cities, Arles' main attractions (the Roman Arena and Theater) are nestled directly in the hubbub of daily life rather than scattered on the outskirts of town. Automobile traffic is allowed on many streets, but walking (or renting a bike) is a joy in this charming city - and just about everything is within walking distance.  There is a serene park with benches and curved walkways along Blvd des Lices, near the end of the Roman "Theatre Antique".  Gigantic cedars offer shade.

The World Heritage Organization (UNESCO) recognizes Arles as an excellent example of an ancient city adapted to medieval European civilization.  Its main "ratified" monuments are:

  • Amphitheatre (Roman Arena) built around the year 90 AD, it could hold 20,000 spectators. Until the end of the 5th century, it still hosted Gladiator fights and animal hunts.
  • Theatre Antique (Roman Theater)  which date back to the 1st century B.C and was regularly used for plays, mime, pantomime
  • The Cryptoporticus - subterranean galleries – These underground passages were used as foundations for the Roman Forum.
  • The Forum is were the roman administrative and religious buildings were located. This is the square where the Hotel Nord-Pinus and the famous "yellow cafe" are located.
  • Remains of The Roman circus
  • Baths of Constantine (Roman Baths) built during the 4th century
  • The Alyscamp cemetery (graveyards dating back to roman time, very rich in history)
  • The Arles Archeological Museum (from the Prehistory to end of the Roman Empire)
  • Cloitre Saint-Trophime: church with its cloister, which is one of Provence's major Romanesque monuments.

Arles Ancient Roman Arena


  Cafe Van Gogh in Arles

Other Attractions
  • Musee Reattu (Includes over 70 Picasso drawings)
  • Museon Arlaten (Local Culture & Folklore Museum)

They are many additional attractions in Arles for complete details visit the Arles tourism office.

Arles place de la Republique
  • Every Wed, Sat - Market day, Bvd des Lices
  • Every March - Carnaval - Bvd des Lices
  • Every Apr - La Feria Pascale: Corridas and events (Easter weekend)
  • Every May - Jazz in Arles, week of Jazz au Méjean
  • Every May - La Fête des Gardians; Election de la Reine d'Arles
  • Every June - Les Fetes d'Arles (June-July) - June 23, feux de la Saint Jean (fireworks)
  • 1st half July - Les Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie - Evenings at the Theatre Antique (photos, dances, etc)
  • Every Sep - Bulls - Feria des Prémices du Riz (corridas, animations tauromachiques, Rice festival); Corso (parade)
  • Every Winter - International Salon des Santonniers (Dec-Jan)
Arles Bullfights

Arles Market     Arles in blue