The Feria Pascale is 3 days of festivities centered on Spanish bullfights.
(for ticket reservations for Arènes events call: 04.90.96.03.70) These are the bloody bullfights, although Arles also holds bullfights where no animal blood is spilled.
Other Festivals you could see in Arles are:
St. John's Day (June 24th), where you will see typical Arlesian dances in costume around bonfires, and the distribution of blessed bread.
First weekend in July in the streets of the old town, the people of Arles pay tribute to their local costume. There is a religious ceremony and procession, in costume, to the Roman Theatre.
Rice Harvest Festival:
Every two years, a Rice Ambassadress is elected in Arles.
Blessing and offering of a sheaf of fresh rice by the Rice Ambassadress. An imposing procession of decorated floats (with a prize for the best), processions in costume, cowboys, folk dancing.
This is the one I went to and it was an amazing event! Don't miss it if you're going to be in Arles at this time of year.
For a list of more festivals year-round check out the website below.
We attended a demonstration on how hair is dressed in the ancient Arlesian manner with an adult and a young girl. It is an extremely elaborate production. The process is an old custom and is employed by males and females in preparing for several festivals during the year and is enjoyed in many of the communities of the area with many different types of costumes. In the females of Arles they build a coiffure upon a special comb which is deeply set into the thickest hair on the crown. Of course it requires dense long hair.
In the ArlatenMuseum are two floors of exhibits most of them arrays of cases of various materials of the life of the ordinary people of mostly the 19C. For example we see bread safes or hangers to prevent rodent loss or a double level bed for two children. There are cases of metal ends for hand tools and primitive musical instruments or obsolete ones like the serpent ( a lip vibrated horn) and even a bust of Mistral himself with a goatee.
There are of other wax figures showing scenes of Arlesian 19C life such as a woman at prayer, or of a visit to the dress maker's shop. There are also cabinets with many examples of simple head dress styles and of gardian hats. Finally there is a scene inside a gardian's shack when they are out herding.
In the Arlaten Museum is an amphibious dragon, the Tarasque, that was used in the annual Festival in Tarascon in the 19C. The festival is still held there on the last Sunday in June. The city is 10 miles north of Arles. The festivities were begun by "good king Rene" in the mid 15C. Ste. Martha vanquished the dragon in Tarascon shortly after she arrived from Jerusalem in about AD 50. (We will write more about this under Tarascon).
The major sights at the Arlaten Museum are the dioramas of scenes of every day life of the increasingly distant recent past. The customs and dress are now only seen in action if there is a festival or a special displays by groups who like to keep these memories alive. The scenes in the museum are carefully created. Alone they are worth the admission, but there are also large collections of various activities and crafts.
The cleverness of sturdy wooden shutters on most windows in France and Italy, right? To a first time visitor, me, I found this custom of architecture wise. Closed -- They keep the hot sun out when you want it out. I'm sure they help rooms stay warmer in the winter, too. The windows in this photo must have been on an climatized room ( air conditioned).
I was in Europe for over a week when I realized --- no window screens!! This is fairly unheard of in the USA. I asked my Paris hostel roomies, from Dublin, about it. Window screens? What are those? I had to describe them, as they had never seen any before. Don't birds fly in your windows? No, never, she answered. Pretty smart birds in Europe, I said. Later, in my Florence hotel I met a dumb pigeon!! The desk clerk tried to get it to abandon the perch outside my room door, at the request of another guest down the hall, but it was "no go." It was a pretty view afterall, so was the pigeon smart or dumb? I don't know ;>)) Maybe it just wanted a comfortable hallway to spend the night!
Go to the web address below to get some GREAT and up-to-date INFORMATION on events, traditions, history, monuments, restaurants, accommodations, etc. from an online version of the Arles' Tourist Office.
Arles does its best to keep it's visitors entertained.
The free broadsheet 'Farandole' gives details of everything from theatre, concerts, fairs and exhibitions to local basketball results.
You can find and pick up the free newspaper, with over 35000 entries, every month in the various business's, or tradesmen of Arles (and surrounding areas), town halls, offices of tourism...
Or go online to: http://www.arles.cci.fr/farandole/index.asp
Arles has quite a Spanish influence, and bull fights are very popular with the locals. Held sporadically at the roman arena, and coming out of the adjacent Camargue, the bulls and the "fighters" are very much rooted in the culture. Although the sponsorship from McDonalds was a bit of an irony!
The main difference with the Camarguaise style bull fights is that more emphasis is given to "humane" fights where the bullfighters aim to pull ribbons from between the bull's horns rather than kill the bull. Although be warned, there are also the full monty shows where the bull does get killed (so check the programme). In the show we went to, all the bulls happilly trotted off at the end of fifteen minutes - whereas some of the fighters came away with bruises and scrapes.
I'm not keen on the idea of animal cruelty, but I try to keep an open mind when it comes to local culture, and I fully admit to loving the whole spectacle and atmosphere of this. The crowd are really into it, the fighters are really into it, and I even suspect that at some level the bulls are too! I was surprised at how the bulls limbered up, and used some pretty crafty strategies to corner the fighters.
All in all, don't go if it offends your moral stances, but otherwise - Go!
As I was shooting some pictures from the top of the Roman Arena, I turned around to climb down and saw this, which I thought was funny.
What in the picture looks like what might be a flock of crows in the stands is actually a group of monks from St. Trophime cloisters who snuck into the arena for about 15 minutes to just sit and enjoy it.
They didn't make hardly a sound, just sat there for a while, then filed out back to the cloister.
An acquired taste for sure, but try a Versinthe
Hotel Calendal will serve you one with absinthe spoon, glass, sugar, etc. in the garden as an overture to your late night Arles promenade.
You can learn much about one of my favorite Arles beverages here:
Liquoristerie de Provence Versinthe
A Year in Provence
.... a funny book by Peter Mayle is for anyone who loves and appreciates not necessarily the city of Arles but the entire Provence.
After two trips to the Provence I finally got around to reading it, and it has its moments in depiction of the local customs of its people. The copy I read from my hometown library also had some very good illustrations.
You can rent it from the library, lots of used copies are available on the net for ~$2, or buy a new one. I hear there is a DVD / movie now.
I enjoyed it.
My grandfather used to play petanque in the park next to our home. He even tried once to teach me the mechanics of the game... the stupid game, as I thought then. I didn't pay much attention to his explanations, which sounded incredibly boring to my younger and tender ears.
So when I found these guys playing petanque in a park not so different to the one I grown up, I immediately remember grandpa, and the intense look in his eyes while playing, calculating the distance to the objective and the exact impulse needed to reach the goal.
I don't speak a single word in French, but when this people noticed my interest in the game, they tried to talk to me, with signals, writing things down in the sand. And so they explained to me how the game works and many other things about themselves. For example, one of the players was 93 years old and he was still the best of them. This kind of moments, this kind of people. These are the real reasons for my travels...
As many other Spaniard people, I dislike bullfighting. I can't find nothing heroic or romantic in the inevitable facts, and the fact about bullfighting is that the bull never, ever leave the bullring alive.
But that's the Spanish version of bullfighting. The French version is more an acrobatic (even choreographic) spectacle, in with the death of the animal is not a requirement. Whish we could learn something from our northern neighbors...apart from eating baguettes or croissants ;-)
As you could appreciate in the picture, Arles taurine fair takes place in the third week of April, in Les Arenes