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Arles, The Little Rome in Gaul

Arles, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a good example of the adaptation of an ancient city to medieval European civilization. It has some impressive Roman monuments, of which the earliest – the arena, the Roman theatre and the cryptoporticus (subterranean galleries) – date back to the 1st century B.C. During the 4th century Arles experienced a second golden age, as attested by the baths of Constantine and the necropolis of Alyscamps. In the 11th and 12th centuries, Arles once again became one of the most attractive cities in the Mediterranean. Within the city walls, Saint-Trophime, with its cloister, is one of Provence's major Romanesque monuments.

In the Place de la Republique, near St. Trophime church, the obelisk is the only remaining trace of the Roman circus, and is the only one to have been scupted outside Egypt. St. Trophime was the first Bishop of Arles, and they say he was a contemporary of the apostles sent to evangelise Gaul, brining along the skull of St. Stephen. Nothing converts like a skull of a saint. The portal of the church shows statues of many sanints (Paul, John, Peter, Andrew, PHilip, Stephen, and Trophime himeself). We could not enter thru this portal because a wedding was in progress. The adjoining Cloister was not used for monastic life, but as a place to meet and pray.

The Amphitheater

The arena is one of the best conserved monuments of the Roman world. It could once accomodate 30,000 spectators in its 43 rows of seats. It dates from Hadrian, about 70AD. The nearby theater, in a more advanced stage of ruin, could seat 12,000 citizens who elected officials who were best at providing bread AND circuses. Later on, when Christianity dominated cultural life, these bawdy spectacles were outlawed and most theaters closed down.

In 2008 was discovered the oldest known bust of Julius Caesar on the banks of the Rhone in Arles. This discovery and more than 600 others objects of the past brought celebrity to this bright blue Arles Museum of Antiquity (in French: Musée départemental de l'Arles Antique) where these objects are from now on exposed. The exhibits trace habitation in Arles from 2500 BC. This museum has no English explanations, but very interesting exhibits. Outside, the museum has recreated a typical Roman Garden with sections devoted to color, scent, medicinal purposes, games for children, and a sort of chess game with life-size wicker pieces.

Van Gogh in Arles

Many of his most famous paintings were completed there, including The Night Cafe, the Yellow Room, Starry Night Over the Rhone, and L'Arlésienne. He also lopped off his ear in Arles, suffering from bipolar episodes and epilepsy. The citizens of Arles demanded he be confined, and he went for a year to Saint Paul assylum in nearby St. Remy. See our photos under St. Remy for this hospital, and the view from his room there.

For Sandra, a very special meal was the one we shared at Bistro A Cote, with chef Jean Luc Rabanel. For a fun flash into to this bistro, see his website. I chose the recommended chef's special of the day: chilled butternut squash soup, risotto with girolle mushrooms and filet mignon du porc, and a fruit tart. London had grilled fish.