How to Spend a Day Sightseeing in Arles
This week has flown by to the extent that it feels like someone has been playing with time. Whereas the days slipped comfortably by last week, these last seven days have hurtled past, with so much going on that it’s been hard to keep up. It felt like I’d stumbled my way through, tripping over my feet, as I shifted direction at speed, meeting myself coming backwards. So I’m sure you can imagine that I was delighted when good friends asked if I fancied joining them for a day out in Arles on Friday. It would be fair to say that they had hardly finished asking me before I said yes. Continue reading here for the original Vaucluse Dreamer post.
Sightseeing Roman Arles
Arles sits on the banks of the mighty Rhône River, making it the perfect hub for the Roman sea and river trade. Large ships that plied the waters of the Mediterranean Sea would come to Arles to exchange cargo with the smaller vessels that could navigate the Rhône or would unpack their loads for overland travel to other cities in the empire. In recent years, scientists have explored the river’s murky depths and made remarkable discoveries. First was the bust of Julius Caesar, considered the best found. Then came an actual Roman barge over 100 feet long. Both are now in the Museum of Ancient Arles, along with mosaics, coins, and other artifacts from the glory days of the empire. Read Arles vs Nîmes.
Immortalized in Dante’s Inferno, Alyscamps, one of the most famous historical burial grounds outside of Rome, is a short walk from the centre of Arles in the southwestern corner of Provence. The day my tour group visited, there was no one else there except a few stray cats, and the autumnal hues hadn’t yet colourized the landscape. We’d xeroxed copies of the paintings Van Gogh and Gauguin created here, but it wasn’t easy to locate their vantage point because even though their easels had been set up side-by-side, their vision of the same scene was very different. Standing at the Cyprus tree-lined promenade entrance defined by two-thousand-year-old sarcophagi vanishing into the distance, it was hard to imagine lovers frequented this place during the Victorian period.
Frank Gehry designed Luma Arles, which opened in June 2021, a project commissioned by local philanthropist Maja Hoffmann. Parc des Ateliers, the old SNCF railway grounds, now includes a gleaming, aluminum-clad tower. In contemporary structures, there are probably equal numbers of fans and critics in a one-time Roman town. But seriously, who had heard of Bilbao before the Guggenheim Museum?
“Luma Arles is a creative campus dedicated to providing artists with opportunities to experiment in the production and presentation of new work in close collaboration with other artists, curators, scientists, innovators and audiences.” ~ Luma Arles Website
Fondation Van Gogh
Imagine arriving in Provence for the first time on February 20, 1888, after two years of struggling to make a living in Paris. For Vincent van Gogh, who grew up in Holland with its muted colour palette and luminosity, Provence’s radiant light was a stark contrast. This profound change spurred his creative abilities, some might say to obsessive reaches. During his two years in the South of France, van Gogh produced over 200 paintings and drawings. Visit Fondation Vincent van Gogh in the centre of Arles.