Starry Nights, a Historic Guide to Arles
Updated: Apr 25
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We initially passed through Arles on the way to Nimes and made a point to return to spend more time in this romantic and quaint French Village that is a must see for any South of France vacation. Arles has a rich and unique history, dating back to ancient Roman times and is one of the most well preserved cities in France, even after intense fighting during WW2. Before we go into the sites and guide, here are few highlights that drew us to revisiting this beautiful village tucked along the Rhone river:
Roman History: Arles was an important city in the Roman Empire, known as Arelate. It was a major port and center of trade, and its prosperity is reflected in the many well-preserved Roman monuments that still stand today. These include the Arles Amphitheater, the Roman Theatre, the Cryptoporticus (an underground gallery), and the Alyscamps, an ancient necropolis. Check out the UNESCO sites.
Medieval History: After the fall of the Roman Empire, Arles became part of the Kingdom of the Franks. In the 12th century, it became an important center of the Provencal troubadour culture, which celebrated love, chivalry, and poetry.
Religious History: Arles was also an important center of Christianity in the early Middle Ages. In the 4th century, it became the seat of a bishopric, and several important Christian figures lived and worked there, including St. Trophimus, who built the Arles Cathedral.
During WW2, The German occupation of Arles was marked by repression and resistance. Many locals joined the French Resistance movement and carried out acts of sabotage against the occupiers. In retaliation, the Germans executed several resistance fighters and civilians. In August 1944, the Allies launched a major offensive against German forces in southern France, including Arles. The city was tragically bombed heavily by Allied planes, causing extensive damage to buildings, infrastructure and unfortunately loss of civilian life.
Artistic History: Arles was the home of the famous Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh, who lived and worked there in the late 19th century. He was inspired by the city's beauty and painted many of his most famous works there.
Arles has a fascinating history that spans thousands of years and encompasses many different cultures and influences. It is a city that has played an important role in the development of art, religion, and society in France and Europe. Try a walking tour, we find these are the best way to learn and get a good overview of a city! You can see everything in Arles in one day, although we’d recommend more time of course if you’re staying on an extended trip in the South of France. Here are some things that make Arles a special place to visit:
Ancient Roman monuments: Arles was once an important city in the Roman Empire, and it still has many well-preserved Roman monuments, including the Arles Amphitheater, which is one of the best-preserved Roman arenas in the world. Don't forget to visit the famous Bath of Constantine that dates back to the early 4th century!
Vincent Van Gogh: The famous Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh lived and worked in Arles in 1888 and 1889, and he created many of his most famous paintings there, including "The Night Cafe" and "Starry Night Over the Rhone." You can visit several places in Arles that are associated with Van Gogh, such as the Yellow House and the hospital where he was treated after cutting off his ear.
Beautiful architecture: Arles has a mix of architectural styles from different periods, including Roman, Gothic, and Renaissance. The historic center of Arles has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it's filled with narrow streets, picturesque squares, and charming buildings.
Cultural events: Arles is known for hosting many cultural events throughout the year, including the famous Rencontres d'Arles photography festival, which attracts thousands of visitors each summer.
Eat, drink, walk and repeat; check out the top 10 restaurant in Arles, France!
Arles is a beautiful and culturally rich city that offers visitors a glimpse into France's fascinating history and artistic heritage. Take an easy quick train from Avignon and spend the day soaking in the historic beauty!