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Things to Do in Arles

Lovingly nicknamed the ‘soul of Provence’, the historic city of Arles is a key stop on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrim route and the gateway to the Camargue Natural Park, set on the banks of the Rhone River. One of the oldest cities in south France, founded by Greeks in 6th-century BC and later established as the Roman capital of Gaul, Britain and Spain, Arles boasts a number of archeological points of interest. A 20,000-seat Roman amphitheatre, Les Arenes, sits at the heart of the medieval center and a cluster of fascinating Roman ruins, including a 12,000-seat theater, are dotted around the UNESCO-World Heritage listed city.

The city’s popularity with artists was cemented by the work of one-time resident Van Gogh, whose enchantment with the region led to many of his most famous works being painted within the year he spent there. Now-legendary pieces like Starry Night over the Rhône, Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, The Red Vines and Sunflowers were all inspired by the luminous vistas of Arles. A walking tour of Van Gogh’s Arles, including the sites of his former homes and the hospital where he was treated after famously cutting off his ear, is a popular undertaking for art lovers.

There are plenty of other things to do in Arles, too – visit the exquisite Cathédrale St-Trophime; join local shoppers in Provence’s largest Saturday food market in the city centre; stroll the idyllic riverside promenade; or time your visit for one of the many annual festivals and seasonal bullfights held in the atmospheric amphitheater.
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Arles Museum of Antiquity (Musée Départemental Arles Antique)

UNESCO World Heritage-listed Arles is often called the ‘soul of Provence’, a photogenic city with a history stretching back 2,500 years and crammed with Roman remains; their extent indicate the importance of the city in Roman times – thanks to its position on the navigable River Rhône – and include an arena, theater and bath complexes. Arles fell from importance around 480 AD but by medieval times was once more a power to be reckoned with, as is proven by the city’s Romanesque masterpiece church of St-Trophime. The priceless collection of Roman artifacts discovered in the region are housed in the sleek, cobalt-blue triangular Arles Museum of Antiquity (Musée Départemental Arles Antique), designed by Henri Ciriani and opened in 1995.

Among its treasures, the museum displays a large collection of antiquities, including monumental Roman sculptures, pagan and Christian art and several stunning mosaics. Center stage goes to the model of the water mills that operated in Roman times at Barbegal, thought to be the most complex in ancient times; and the 2,000-year-old barge Arles-Rhône 3, found in the River Rhône and accompanied by a video about its painstaking restoration.

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