InspireKeith Van SickleProvencal History & Traditions

Discovering the Roman Barge and Other Treasures of Arles

The Roman History of Arles

What’s 2,000 years old, 100 feet long and used to float?

If you guessed a Roman barge, you win! And you can see one now in the Arles Museum of Antiquity.

Arles was once an important Roman town, a trading centre with a significant port. Barges with cargo from all over the Empire plied the waters of the Rhone River.

Around 2,000 years ago, one of those barges sank. It lay there quietly, covered by mud until scientists surveying the river discovered it about ten years ago.

You would think that a ship that old would have dissolved by then. But no! The mud had protected the wood from decay. That was the good news.

The bad news was that the wood was so weak that the barge would collapse if brought to the surface and dried out. What to do? Fixing this problem would cost money and lots of it.

Roman Barge Arles Museum Antiquity

Luckily, the European Union named Marseille and Provence the European Capital of Culture for 2013. EU money rained down from the sky, paying for the barge’s restoration plus a new wing in the museum to house it. So everything was all set, right?

Not so fast

The process of restoring the barge was complicated, and experts thought it might take ten years. But they didn’t have that much time, so an incredible crash program was developed that only took two years. Impressive!

First, the barge was cut into sections and brought up from the river, piece one piece at a time. This wasn’t easy, given the strong currents of the Rhone and its near-zero visibility. Next, the ship was entirely disassembled—each piece and each nail. Then a kind of resin was used to strengthen the wood. Finally, the barge was put back together.

Now you can see it in all of its glory! Well, at least as much glory as any barge can muster. Still, it is impressive to see a ship that old.

Roman Barge Arles Museum Antiquity

The barge is 102 feet long and very narrow. There is a raised section where the crew cooked and slept and—these being bored sailors and all—probably cheated at dice. Nevertheless, everything is in surprisingly good condition.

The museum exhibit includes an excellent 20-minute video with English subtitles. The film shows the whole process by which the barge was recovered and restored. You can watch it below:

Be sure to check out the rest of the museum, with its excellent Roman mosaics and perhaps the world’s best bust of Julius Caesar. It is worth a visit on your next trip to Arles.

Roman Barge Arles Museum Antiquity

Roman Barge Arles Museum Antiquity

Practical Information:

Musée départemental Arles antique
presqu’île du cirque romain
BP 205
13 635 Arles cedex.
Tel : +33 (0)4 13 31 51 03

Closed on Tuesdays
Free entry the 1st Sunday of each month

Image Credits: Photos courtesy of

  1. Rémi Bénali – Musée départemental Arles antique – CD13
  2. Rémi Bénali – Musée départemental Arles antique – CD13
  3. Christian Rombi – Musée départemental Arles antique – CD13
  4. Keith Van Sickle
  5. Keith Van Sickle

Please share this with friends and family.

All rights reserved. Perfectly Provence articles and other content may not be published, broadcast, rewritten (including translations into other languages) or redistributed without written permission. For usage information, please contact us.
Syndication Information
Affiliate Information
As an Amazon Associate, this website earns from qualifying purchases. Some recipes, posts and pages may have affiliate links. If you purchase via these links, we receive a small commission that does not impact your price. Thank you in advance for supporting our work to maintain Perfectly Provence.
Previous post

Mapping France in Wine Bottles: Where to Get Affordable French Wine

Next post

What to do with Ripe Figs? Make some Fig Jam

Keith Van Sickle

Keith Van Sickle

Keith and Val Van Sickle made their first trip to Provence decades ago, and it was love at first sight. After that, they came back every year until 2008, when they began a part-time life there, splitting their time between Provence and California.

Over the years, they’ve travelled all over Provence, seeing sights both well-known and obscure. Their French friends have introduced them to favourite restaurants and wineries and picnic spots and taught them funny local expressions (not all for polite company).

Keith now shares this local knowledge in his new book, An Insider’s Guide to Provence. Packed with the Van Sickles’ favourite things to see and do, it’s a must-have for anyone travelling to this glorious corner of France.

Keith previously published two books about the couple's experiences in Provence. One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence, and Are We French Yet?, both are available from Amazon.

You can see all of Keith’s blog posts at Life in Provence.


  1. blank
    Val Poore
    November 13, 2017 at 1:47 pm — Reply

    Fantastic sight! I can’t imagine that it could have been that comfortable living on board something so limited, and it’s amazing they used them on the Rhone. Not the kindest of rivers. Fabulous restoration job!

    • blank
      November 13, 2017 at 2:15 pm — Reply

      Thanks Val I could not imagine being in one of those boats on the Rhone! The exhibit at Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence antiques is certainly worth a visit.

  2. blank
    Carol Luciano
    February 10, 2018 at 3:15 am — Reply

    Watching this video and seeing what it took just to bring it to the surface was fascinating. Thank you for sharing. What an amazing discovery and restoration.

    • blank
      February 10, 2018 at 8:06 am — Reply

      Hello Carol Thanks for reading Keith’s article. The museum is definitely worth visiting and the barge is mind-blowing when you understand the work required to recover and restore it.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.