Let me reign in your expectations upfront. There’s no way you can take Arles, Saintes-Maries and the Camargue in just one day.
I did, however, get a glimpse of these sites so that I can return for another visit. Hopefully you’ll enjoy the short preview as much as I enjoyed the day trip out of Uzes.
But first, a field of sunflowers to start the day.
Arles. More than Van Gogh.
Today most people go to Arles to trace the footsteps of Van Gogh. That idea intrigues me, but not for this trip. There were other places I wanted to see that are nearby.
So I spent the morning in Arles visiting a couple of its most important Roman artifacts: the Arena and the Amphitheatre.
Frankly, I am surprised at myself, but history is taking on a whole new meaning. It’s actually fun to put together names and events now that I can put them into context.
Arles has a history that traces back to a primitive tribe of people who lived between the river (Rhone) and the marshes, Ar-laith. From early on, Arles was overshadowed by Marseilles, the nearby settlement by the sea,
It’s interesting that the city’s fate and wealth took a positive turn when the people of Arles gave aid to Julius Caesar in defeating Pompey in Marseilles. Among other contributions to Caesar’s cause, the shipbuilders of Arles constructed twelve fighting vessels for Caesar’s troops, reading them to sail in less than 80 days.
Caesar bestowed the title “Colonia Julia Paterna Arelatensis Sextanorum” upon Arles. He then stationed his Vi legion in Arles which helped create a Roman city of great reknown.
The Arles Arena is a reminder of the rich Roman city Arles became. Built on a smaller scale than the arena in Nimes, it appears to be a “mini” arena in comparison. Even so, it accommodates up to 25,000 spectators.
Like in Nimes, the Arena has an active life still today, hosting popular bull fights and local festivals.
Romulus Augustus, the last Roman emperor, died in 476 and, soon, Arles fell into the hands of barbarians. The city collapsed in 480 with the arrival of the Visgoths.
The Theatre in Arles, by some accounts was built somewhere between 15BC and 30BC. Because of the religious significance of the original statues and monuments, it has been plundered repeatedly.
Arles reasserted itself through the years, at one time becoming the capital of the kingdom including Provence and Bourgogne.
Although the Roman architecture and magnificent structures in Arles have been ransacked and materials removed for other purposes, those that remain rank among the finest and most important in Provence.