Why Visit LUMA Arles Contemporary Art Centre and Urban Garden
The city of Arles is considered the gateway to the Camargue wetlands and Rhône River delta. It is the last major urban centre before leaving Provence’s southwestern boundary. In June 2021, LUMA Arles – an interdisciplinary creative campus – officially opened to the public in the former Parc des Ateliers. Maja Hoffmann’s grand vision for converting 11 hectares of abandoned railway yards into a gathering place for creative minds began as a concept in 2013. Frank Gehry Architects designed a contemporary tower that reflects elements of the natural environment in its construction materials.
So why visit LUMA Arles?
Ancient History of Arles
While there is evidence of Ligurian settlement dating from 800 BC in the area, the Phoenicians established a port on the shores of the Rhône River. In 123 BC, the Romans took control of Arles (Arelate in Latin), determined to expand the influence of the community as a trading centre. Although Arles would have been closer to the sea during that era than today (due to centuries of silt build-up), the Romans built a canal to the Mediterranean in 104 BC.
Depending on how you enter the centre of Arles, you may pass a portion of the ancient ramparts. Relics of the Roman city are visible today, and it’s easy to walk between them. These sites include the amphitheatre (arena), antique theatre, the Alyscamps burial ground, Constantin thermal baths, Saint Trophime cloister, and the Cryptoportiques (old shops). In addition, the Musée départemental Arles antique has several vestiges and models from the Roman era, including a full-size wooden barge.
While some detractors may have yet to embrace the 12-story Frank Gehry-designed tower, few can argue that the LUMA Foundation project has successfully converted abandoned railway lands into an attractive urban park and gathering place. Today the sparkling 15,000 m2 LUMA tower twists skyward from its circular base, surrounded by 11,000 stainless steel bricks that reflect the Provencal sun and sky.
We wanted to evoke the locale, from Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ to the soaring rock clusters you find in the region. Its central drum echoes the plan of the Roman amphitheatre. ~Frank Gehry about the tower.
Where the Frank Gehry group had Maja Hoffmann’s vision and guidelines to follow, they would break ground on a new building. However, the balance of Parc des Ateliers was little better than a scrapyard which included seven industrial hanger buildings and a plot of land that had once been part of the Alyscamps cemetery. French landscape architect Bas Smets’ first impression of the site was a harsh landscape with abandoned slabs of concrete, no water and almost no vegetation. He describes this project as the most complex and challenging of his career. In a complete transformation, the Parc des Ateliers now has a pond, pathways, varied topography, 80,000 plants and 500 trees.
Visit LUMA Arles
LUMA Arles (website)
Parc des Ateliers
35 Avenue Victor Hugo
Open daily from 10h to 19h30
The park grounds, the base of the tower and the Drum Café are all free to visit.
For dining at the Drum Café, reservations are recommended.
Book in advance for the guided visits of the tower and grounds.