Arles

Arles is a beautiful old town. It’s the capital of the Camargue region and set against the Rhone River. It’s an old Roman town with many well preserved monuments. 

This is also the town where Van Gogh lived and painted for over a year. He was also hospitalized here. He painted ‘Starry Night’ as well as many other famous pieces.

The streets in central Arles are very small and narrow. My cousins and I stayed at Hotel Le Calendal which is located right between the Roman theater and Roman arena. The Hotel recommended using one of the  parking structures outside the old town area. They recommend not bringing a car into the old streets. The hotel has a special rate for the parking structure.

We arrived in Arles after driving through the Luberon Valley lavender fields. We were exhausted and ready for dinner. After checking into our hotel we took a quick stroll around the arena and down into the provincial streets to look for a place to eat. 

We found a nice looking restaurant which specializes in chicken. “Cuit Cuit!” As the stores around the restaurant closed the amount of tables in the small square grew until the whole square was filled with tables from our restaurant.

On our walk back from dinner we heard music and walked past the now lit up arena to the Roman theater where there was a concert happening – part of a summer concert series around the area. We stood in the walking street with a lot of other towns people listening to the music. 

The next morning we headed inside the arena. There are a few ticket options. We could have bought each monument by itself for $9 a person or we could have bought a ticket for all the monuments that was good for a month for $12 a person. We planned to see two or three monuments so we bought the $12 ticket. This worked in our favor as we wound up seeing a lot more than two or three. 

The arena now houses bull fights and other shows. Unlike bullfights in other countries the bull always lives in these bull fights. 

When we first entered the arena, there were posters with information about the place. I took pictures of them so I could go back and read about the history later.  

We walked straight to the top and around the whole perimeter. Here we learned that at the end of Antiquity the arena was quarried to make new buildings. This took away most of the seating and some of the top areas. The towers were added as defense reinforcements in the Middle Ages, three of which still stand. 

We were able to climb one of the towers which provided spectacular views of the town and surrounding area.

From here we headed to the Roman theater, where we had heard the concert the night before. It was on its way to being 100 degrees out. Since most of the theater is out in the open with no shade, we walked around the main area on the quicker side and wound up in a shady section which seemed to house a graveyard of old ornate columns and roof bits. 

It was amazing to see the new sound equipment against the backdrop of the old Roman theater.

There was a photo festival happening in Arles while we were there, apparently a famous one that was in its 50th year. One of my cousins lives in London so we decided to see a photo exhibit by an English photographer. He captured the inside view of homes in Great Britain from 1970-2018. Some were paired with words and others were showing how similar families were.

Lunch was next followed by a walk over to what used to be the hospital Van Gogh was institutionalized in. It now has stores and still has the beautiful garden. They had an area to sit and relax with pillows and a bust of Van Gogh. 

From here we went to the square that used to be the Roman forum. There is only a very small piece left of the building.

Now it’s filled with cafes. ‘Le Cafe La Nuit’ is a yellowed awning cafe which Van Gogh painted. The painting is called “La Cafe Le Soir”.

After taking many photos, we sat down to have some coffee and water since it was so hot. After a short rest we headed to the river to see the area where Van Gogh had painted ‘Starry Night”. We didn’t get to stand where he would have stood as it is now a road, but we got a good look at the surrounding area. 

On our walk to the river, we passed the Baths of Emperor Constantine. These were built in the 4th century. This bath house along with all the other Roman baths were open to people of all classes and sexes. These bath houses were not only places of exercise and health but also had a social aspect, as a place to meet friends or new people.

There were baths of all different temperatures. In ancient times they believed alternating between hot and cold was good for your health.

They created a system where heat would circulate under the floors created by fires, or furnesses, set into the thick walls. 

Many of these levels of floor are still preserved. We were able to walk around and see where the fires would have been and how they created a chamber under the floor.

From here we headed back towards our hotel. We stopped in a church for a bit of cool air and shade. 

It had been a long day but it wasn’t over yet. Our evening would be spent at a theater festival in Avignon. 

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I am a Special FX Make Up Artist who loves to travel through history.

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