The first sight of the city of Arles, we usually have it from the road when we arrive from the west side.
The first thing we see is the river. The majestic Rodano River. We cannot ignore the presence of this river in the history of Arles. The river that runs through the city is divided into two branches. Arriving from Spain by road, we first find the “Pequeno Rodano”. Next to the city centre is the "Grande Rodano", much wider than the previous one. The river is born in Switzerland, in the Alps. It first travels 210 km through Switzerland and then crosses the border and travels the rest of its 850 km in France. From Arles begins the great delta that the river forms at its mouth. The extension of the same is 930 km2, where the cultivation areas extend, where rice fields predominate and where birds are also abundant, as well as horse and cattle ranches. There are several farms in the delta where fighting bulls are raised. In the south of France there is also a taste for bullfighting. When crossing the Rodano River, we also changed the administrative region. Although the entire delta region, including Arles, is known as “The Camargue”, the Rodano is the border of the Provence-Côte d´Azur region.
The name “Provence” gives us a clue as to why the buildings that we see on our left appear when we are in Rodano. They are typical Provençal constructions: buildings usually built in stone and with windows and shutters painted in pastel shades such as blue, green and a whole range of orange and ochre. We have before us the ancient port city founded by the Greeks and which had a great development at the time of the Emperor Augustus.
Pay attention, these views will be the first you will have in Arles and the most beautiful. He will appear before you handsomely on the left bank of the Rodano. They will be lightning-fast sights, as they will be the ones we will be able to see when arriving on the A-54 road. Don´t get distracted so you don´t miss it.
A DISH WITH A LOT OF PERSONALITY
This is a Mediterranean town with a large number of very varied food resources. These products are promoted through various fairs and markets throughout the year. Stalls are often set up on the Place de la Republique, where you can buy and taste gastronomic delicacies from the land. Due to its geographical position, Arles is close to the sea, on the edge of the delta and the river Rodano itself, resources are very abundant so that its stews are varied. Some of them are original to this area.
The Camargue rice dishes stand out. The variety of rice grown here is "bomb rice". It is usually cooked with fish and shellfish. It is easy to find them with Camargue crabs or with “telinas”. Telinas are a variety of mollusc-like crustaceans, smaller in size, like shellfish. Rice is cooked with olive oil, with olives and vegetables. It is seasoned with salt obtained from the salt pans of the nearby town of Aigues Mortes. "Salicomia" is an aromatic herb that grows along the rivers and natural channels of the delta and is common to find in these stews.
As we mentioned earlier, the region is rich in breeding farms specializing in bulls. There is a typical stew which consists of a stew of bull meat. This is cooked with lots of vegetables, boiling the meat and vegetables in red wine from the region. It is a healthy dish that is served with boiled potatoes, rice or salad. A glass of red wine is the ideal drink to accompany a dish with so much personality.
FRESH AND LOCAL PRODUCTS
Arles is a city of about 50,000 inhabitants. If we add to that the neighbouring villages and the visitors that come to the city, the result is a very active city commercially speaking.
The most commercial streets in the city are “Rue del Hotel de Ville” and “La Rue des Arenes”. There we find all kinds of commerce: from souvenirs, to food, clothes, etc.
If we are lucky enough to arrive in Arles on a Saturday morning, we can attend the typical products market of the region that takes place along the “Boulevard Des Lices”. This is located behind the Roman Theatre and the Amphitheatre. Local artisans and producers come to offer artisan products, as well as vegetables, cheeses and sausages. Among the latter, salchichón stands out. If we are not lucky enough to find the open market, salchichón and cheese can be found in any gourmet store, of which there are several in the city.
In the city, a store recently opened which, although not exclusive to Arles, is well known in the region. The tradition of Provence perfumery is well known. In the region and taking advantage of the abundance of flowers and aromatic plants there are numerous perfumeries.
One of the most famous is Fragonard. Its origin is in the city of Grasse, although it has workshops and museum-shops throughout the region and even in Paris. The novelty of Arles is that the store this time is accompanied by a small boutique hotel. In this store we can find all products for own production in perfumes. The shop is very close to the town hall and the Van Gogh Cafe on Rue du Palais.
A FHOTO TO FRAMEA
One of the most pleasant and peaceful areas in Arles is the former “Hotel Dieu”. This place wasn´t exactly a hotel. It was a hospital.
In France, there are many public buildings that are called "hotel". They are usually large buildings or mansions. When they are private they are called “hotel particulier” in the case in question, “hotel Dieu” refers to an old hospital. Thus, the garden of this former hospital immortalized by Van Gogh can be the ideal place to take a beautiful photograph.
The famous painter immortalized this corner of Arles in one of his paintings after spending a few days here to treat the wound caused by the cut in his ear, after the big fight he had with Paul Gauguin, whom he almost killed, and which Gauguin ran away from. Arles and Van Gogh.
Today the hospital no longer exists as such. It was closed for this purpose in the 1970s. Now the place is a cultural centre called “Space Van Gogh”. It was restored for this purpose and the interior garden was maintained with the same appearance it had when Vincent Van Gogh was hospitalized and painted there.
In the garden, the flowers are changed according to the time of year and it is always very colourful. It is worth mentioning the aspect that the place has from the month of July when the lavender flower predominates with its characteristic colour.
CITY HALL BASEMENTS
The beauty of Arles is evident. It impresses that very special mix of styles that prove the rich history of the city. We have monuments and sites within easy reach.
In Arles, when we walk, we continually find interesting places. Some, however, are hard to find. This is the case with “Cryptoportics”. Their name already tells us that they are in hiding.
These are underground vaults that are found under the medieval centre of Arles: they pass through several streets very close to the Place de la Republique. The site is accessed from the lobby of the Hotel de Ville (city hall). This vestibule is interesting.
This is the lower part of the town hall. It connects Rue du Palais with Place de la Republique and in summer, when the heat hits, it´s a cool place where you can breathe. From the lobby you descend through these unsettling underground corridors.
There has been a lot of speculation about the function of these. It seems that they served as a song and support for the Roman Forum that was above them. Its function was to level the ground so that the forum square did not have slopes. The holes that remained in the porticoes were used to store goods, but it does not seem that the place, due to lack of light, was a Roman market as initially thought.
The hidden and inaccessible of the place served for that the Cryptoporticos were used during the Second World War as refuge for members of the French Resistance that fled from the German army that occupied this part of the country.
An amazing place that you shouldn´t miss.
A NICE CHALLENGE
The challenge we propose in Arles is not very difficult and does not require much courage. We head towards Place de Forum. The one so crowded where we found the Van Gogh Cafe. At number 8 of this square, we find the ice cream shop “Glacier Arlelatis”. It is the most famous ice cream shop in town. It usually offers 38 different flavours that change. To the classic flavours known to everyone, it is necessary to add typical Provence flavours, such as lavender honey ice cream or chestnut ice cream.
Ice creams can be purchased in a cone or can be taken on site. The ice cream served on site comes in bowls with fruit-flavoured syrup or whipped cream for those who like sweets.
Do you dare to try and taste these original flavours based on lavender or chestnut honey? How many different flavours can you try?
THE FORMULA 1 RACING CIRCUIT IN ROMAN TIMES
We meet at the Place de la Republique. In the centre of the square is the great Roman obelisk. Its origin is the old circus.
Don´t confuse circus with amphitheatre. The circus was an elongated stadium where, above all, chariot races (2 horses) and quabigas (4 horses) were held. Formula 1 at the time.
Cars had to go around the speed bump. This was an elevation that divided the lane in 2 and was adorned with statues and obelisks. So, this one that is now in the middle of the Place de la Republique comes from there. It was found in the 14th century, buried where the circus was. When the obelisk fell, it broke in two, so it had to be restored before being placed where we see it now.
This happened in the 16th century. With what can we say that it is the oldest monument in the entire square. It was carved from pink marble from Asia Minor during the 4th century AD. It has no hieroglyphics as it is Roman.
In the square it is also interesting to see the church of Saint Trophime. It is of Romanesque style, built from the 12th century. Completed in the 15th century. It is dedicated to a bishop who was in the city when the church was a cathedral. At the beginning of the 18th century, the bishopric moved to nearby Aix in Provence and the cathedral became a church. Inside, the cloister where exhibitions are organized and the treasure that contains relics of the saint stand out.
A TOUR FULL OF HISTORY
How not to walk through the archaeological zone of Arles?
One of the city´s main attractions is its Roman ruins. The most important and best preserved monuments are the Roman theatre and amphitheatre. We find it east of the medieval centre but close to this area. They can be visited by paying an entrance fee, which is obtained at the entrance to the site on rue de la Calade.
If we don´t want to pay the entrance fee, we can walk through the ruins, starting with rue du Cloitre from where we have a magnificent view of the theatre almost in its entirety, continuing through rue de la Calade and rue du rond point des Arenes from where we can see the impressive view. from the amphitheatre. Its dimensions are impressive: 21m high, 136m long and 106m wide. It is believed that it could accommodate up to 50,000 spectators.
Both buildings were built in the 1st century BC under Emperor Augustus. The city that was originally ruled by the Greeks came under Roman control at the time of Julius Caesar. At a time when it had a great development after the decline and destruction of neighbouring Marseille. The theatre was used for lyrical performances while gladiators and wild beasts fought in the amphitheatre.
Currently and after being adapted both buildings continue to be used. In summer and in the evenings at the theatre there are concerts and theatrical performances. You must imagine the magic that surrounds these shows on hot summer nights.
The amphitheatre is mostly used during the day for bullfights. It must be remembered that in the south of France there is also a fondness for this festival. In Arles there are shows where the grooms jump over the bulls and there are also traditional bullfights and others where the bull is not sacrificed.
A PAINTER´S CAFE
France is not a country that lacks places to sit and watch life go by. This is a country with a great coffee culture and the French sit and stare at the street. Never turn your back on these.
Undoubtedly, the place where you can carry out this practice in Arles is the Van Gogh café located on Place du Forum. This small square is located between the Place de la Republique and the shopping area of "Arenes" and "Hotel de ville" streets. When we walk through the city it is impossible not to pass through it.
The fame of the Van Gogh Cafe comes from the fact that the painter made several paintings in this place, depicting both the interior and the exterior of the same. Today it is the ideal place to sit on your terrace day and night and watch life go by and all kinds of people, both visitors and locals. The establishment outside was immortalized by Van Gogh under the title "Evening Cafe". He also painted the interior and from that we deduced what the atmosphere of the place was at the time.
The cafe was the shelter for the homeless, prostitutes and the low-income, where Van Gogh and Gauguin would drink absinthe. A drink with a high alcohol content that destroyed the nerves and brains of the people who consumed it and very fashionable in France in bohemian and artistic circles. Many of the excesses and imbalances of the artists of the time, whether Van Gogh, Gauguin, Toulouse Lautrec... could have come from this practice.
We usually associate Van Gogh with this cafe. But Gauguin also immortalized the place. More specifically, he painted the portrait of “Madame Ginoux”. Looks like it was the owner of the business.
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