La Cafe de Nuit is a small non-descript cafe in a square filled with other cafes. The one distinguishing thing about it is the placard out front that shows that it was the inspiration for Van Gogh's Starry Night painting.
It wasn't too crowded, but there were lots of people around taking pictures. We didn't get back there in the evening, so I can't tell you about the stars.
The Roman Coliseum is in the center of Old Town in Arles. It is so large you can't possibly miss it. The little tourist train stops at the foot of the Coliseum. Tours are available and the coliseum is still used for events including bull fights. There is a Van Gogh Museum on one side of the coliseum and hotels, tea rooms, cafes and many souvenir shops. It is a very festive atmosphere, fun to just wander around.
Here's a fun interactive map of Arles. Have fun. Interactive Map of Arles
The Roman theatre dates back to the time of Augustus (reigned 31 BC – 14 AD) and was built as a large theatre for shows, plays, orations, or other public events. The theatre in Arles was designed to hold as many as 8,000 people on 33 tiered rows of seating. Many theatres were built into hills to allow for the terracing, but in Arles this part had to be built up due to the flat land it was built on.
During the medieval period the town of Arles used the theatre as a sort of home improvement store – a place to get ready made blocks for other building projects. So what we have in Arles today is a mere shadow of what the theatre used to be. Visitors can see some of the terraced seating and some of the columns and pillars. Most of the beautiful decorative pieces from the theatre are in the Arles Museum of Antiquity. The theatre is still well preserved and on the UNESCO World Heritage list and today is used for concerts and other events.
Admission to the theatre is €6/person (2013 prices), but it is easily viewable from around the outside of the fencing that goes around it, which has a handy pathway along the route. Because we have been in a number of Roman theatres before, we didn’t see the need to go inside this one, but still got a good view along with a sense of the size and grandeur of the Roman theatre. All my photos connected to this tip were taken from the outside of the fencing.
There is a trail that traces ten of Vincent Van Gogh’s more famous Arles paintings by a series of easels throughout the city. We were able to find a couple of the easels but we were fighting the darkness. This wasn’t a bad thing since one of the easels was for his Starry Night over the Rhone, which was poignant to see when it was dark and the reflections of the lights were on the Rhone.
You can pick up a map at the Van Gogh Gallery which will give you the description of the walk and the location of the easels. Some are a little difficult to find: one of the easels near the Roman arena is currently behind the fencing of the construction workers – we could see the easel but couldn’t read it. Also, the easel by the Rhone is not an easel, but a plaque set in the wall. So think outside the box when looking for the easels on the route.
Note: My photograph of the building is the one of the buildings in Van Gogh’s painting; unfortunately the little house in front of this building where Gauguin and Van Gogh lived was destroyed during World War II by a bomb.
Standing tall and proud in the center of the Place de la République is an old Roman obelisk dating back to the fourth century. It stands in front of the Hotel de Ville (town hall). The obelisk is 20 meters (65 feet) high and is rather plain looking without any designs or inscriptions. It is part of the UNESO World Heritage site for Arles.
The obelisk was erected by Emperor Constantine II in the center of the Roman circus in Arles. After the Romans left Arles and the circus no longer used, the obelisk eventually fell and broke into two parts. It was fixed and erected in its current location in the Place de la République in 1676. The fountain at the base of the obelisk is a later addition, built in the 1800s. The bronze sculptures on the fountain are the works of Antoine Laurent Dantan.
One can see the obelisk at any time night or day as it is in the middle of the open square. Of note, there is a rather wonderful bakery in this square where we picked up some delightful croissants and baguettes on our final morning in Arles.
Most people that come to Arles come to the Place du Forum because of the yellow café on the edge of the square made famous in Vincent Van Gogh’s oil painting Terrasse due café le soir. However, historically the square has a much older history dating back to when the Romans settled in Arles.
This was the location of the Roman forum for Arles. Like other Roman cities, the forum was a place for people to gather to listen to speakers, meet up with friends, or shop at the market. Today the Place du Forum is quite small compared to its former size which went across a large part of Arles towards the river.
On the side of the building near the yellow café (behind the bronzed statue of a man) are the only remains of the former Roman forum, what appears to be two columns and the cornice. There is a sign letting visitors know what they are looking at.
On the day I was there, I was able to quickly get a few photos but I seemed to be right in the middle of a local soccer match by some young boys and it was rather risky to get in their way.
In the middle of Arles stands the two-tiered Roman arena – you really can’t miss it! Dating back to 90 AD and the Roman period of Arles, this arena was used for all kinds of spectacles and shows. While no longer used for chariot racing, today the arena is still in use for bullfights and concerts.
It is very easy to walk completely around the arena and get rather close without going inside. Having been to the Colosseum in Rome, we didn’t feel compelled to buy a ticket to see the interior of this arena, especially since it looked like much of the interior was covered with metal bench seating for current shows. It is obvious from the exterior that the arena has been renovated and the stones are bright white where they have been either cleaned or replaced. Several information boards explain the history and the renovations project (in French and English).
The arena is 136 meters (446 feet) long and 109 meters (358 feet) wide. Initially it looks like a round structure, but it is oval shaped. As you walk around the arena, you can look in at the interior through some of the 120 arches that create the arena. It used to hold up to 25,000 people for events. After the Romans left Arles, the arena went through some bad times and, like so many old ruins, the blocks were removed for other projects. At one time, the interior of this arena was a town in itself with houses, churches and a town square within the oval shaped walls of the structure. There were even two towers, one of which can still be seen today near the entrance.
There is at least one of the Van Gogh easels by the arena. Our guide book said two, but we could only find one, located to the right of the ticket counter. Unfortunately, it was located within the fenced off area for the renovation project so we couldn’t read it very well.
I recommend a visit to the arena in both the daytime and the evening when it is lit up and glowing. Be careful on the road going around the arena as cars do go rather quick around the round structure.
The Camargue is a nice area of Provence for a driving trip.
You can make it a long loop trip from Arles, one that we took in a two day tour of the Camargue with a return to Arles each day.
The loop described here totals about 180 miles round trip.
Places of interest to us were Aigues Mortes, a huge walled town of the 12 century. At Aigues Mortes we saw the Camargue horses in large enclosures nearby, outside the walls on the southeast side of the town. From there we drove to Saints Maries de la Mer. We saw flamingoes in the shallow lakes and horses roaming in the grasslands. The horses that we saw were not wild but were in open range.
From Saintes Maries we drove to Port St Louis du Rhone.
If you have not seen wildlife by then you can book a tour out of Port Saint Louis. The Parc Naturel Regional de Camargue is between Saintes Maries and Port Saint Louis.
From Port Saint Louis we returned to Arles on the D36. Within that loop we saw flamingos in the lakes and white horses in the grasslands.
The Golden Age of Arles has fallen at times of Roman emperors - Konstantin and Adrian. The Arena reminds those times. Arena of Arles is one of the most well kept Roman amphitheaters in Europe.
You can watch my 3 min 16 sec Video Arles out of my Youtube channel.
Arles is not so huge and I would say that the best way to get around this medieval town is to use your feet and walk. But bring with you a very good pair of shoes that you have used before. You will get more out of the city if you walk and it is wonderful. Just have your camera in your hand, if you find something interesting to take a picture of, maybe for showing us here on virtualtourist. There are so many pretty and beautiful buidlings that you have to take a picture of and share with all other members.
The river goes through the little beautiful town of Arles and on the both sides of the river you have possibilities to walk or run. Many of the local people walk their dogs here and and I have also seen many just bring their newspaper and something to drink, and then just sit down on any of the sides of Rhone. For relaxing. It is like a meeting point for many people. It is always nice to be close to the water. On the the river come many cargo ships and you can also see that on one of my movies from Arles. You can always say that the water, even if it is a river, it is the pumping heart of the river.
This Amphithéâtre (Amphitheater) eas built around 90 A.D. With a length of 136 m. and a width 107 m., it could hold up to 25.000 spectators. As you can see from the pics, it's mostly used as a bullring.
UNESCO World Heritage since 1.981.
Imagine watching a bullfight in a 2000+ year old Roman Arena. An Arena which seems to have barely fallen prey to the hands of time. The sun-warmed seats are carved into the stone, and apart from the loudspeakers blaring, you could almost feel like you stepped into a time portal.
Usually in France they have the no-kill bullfights, the Course Camarguaise. A few times a year they have the Corrida. One in particular is the Feria du Riz, in September. As I had never seen a bullfight I decided to get a ticket to the event when I got to town. But not before "running with the bulls" . (see picture - these were actually small bulls, not the ones used for the actual fight)
It may seem odd to watch a bullfight in France, but this part of France seems to occasionally embrace some Spanish traditions. (I also found out the Gipsy Kings are from Arles!).
It starts out with a great deal of pageantry. Beautiful and talented horse and rider teams, doing their pirouettes for the crowd. I found out a good horse could run 100K dollars - this was 2001!
Then, the bull, who by now is in a frenzy in his little cage, is released, and a horse and rider (picador) entice and enrage the bull into chasing them around the arena. I was amazed at how calm the horses remained - at some times the horse was barely inches ahead it seemed but very controlled and graceful.
When he got close enough, the rider would take two long spears, festooned with ribbons, and plunge them into the bull's shoulders and side. This whole scenario is meant to tire him out.
The horse and rider exits and the matador comes out. There is some footplay for the crowd for a while, and, the final coup de grace comes after the bull "gives up" - usually by falling to its knees. At that point it is over VERY fast. The matador spikes him right between the ears and the bull drops like a tree. Legs up - no joking.
It's a sad denouement when the horse drawn winch comes into the arena to drag the bull away.
Les Arenes (The Arena) is a good example of public buildings reutilization, and an indispensable visit. What was once the scene of brutal battles between gladiators now is the scene of not so brutal fights between bullfighters and bulls. Well, at least the French version of Bullfighting is not as dangerous for the bull's health as the Spanish one (which inevitably and sadly always ended with the dead of the animal)
The old dead city above the new city.
Windy, windy .. with excellent hiking through the ruins.....
then dejeuner (some good restaurants & cafes with Provence cuisine)
down in the new city... An afternoon well spent in Les Baux.
Pinched this photo from http://www.lesbauxdeprovence.com/us/index.html (credit T.Fréchier)
I took a vista shot climbing down to the new city, but forgot to take any of my own in the old city. Sorry 'bout that.