Entering Roman Arles


With my focus on Van Gogh in Arles, I had given scant attention to the history of the place. But soon, in its quiet unassuming way, that history would impose itself. We had no choice. There is no “new” part of downtown Arles. It’s all old – like Roman and early Christian old – and incredibly charming.

Arles - Fortified City Entrance

One of the entrances to the old city. Just beyond this was Van Gogh's first residence in Arles, the Hotel Restaurant Carrel.

The founding of the town dates to about 800 BC. It was a Phoenician trading post until the Romans took over about 123 BC. As a Roman city, it really came into its own during the reign of Julius Caesar who built it into an important trading and military centre. Under Roman rule, the city reached its peak of influence during the 4th and 5th centuries, when it had a population of over 100,000 (today’s population is about 53,000).

Arles-sky view

The forum is in the middle, the amphitheatre is the wedge in the lower left. Everything is near each other, but because the city isn't laid out on a grid, it's easy to get lost.

Arles - Amphitheatre two columns

What's left of the amphitheatre, right across from our hotel. They still hold plays and musical events there, but imagine it with a whole row of columns across the back of the stage.

When we walked around the town, the history was right in front of our eyes, a mixture of Roman, Christian and I’m sure Phoenician if we knew what we were looking at. We found a church with the date 534 on it. I find these kind of time-spans mind-boggling. The only thing that I can begin to compare it to in North America is the Mayan culture which started around 2000 BC and flourished between 250 and 900 AD.

Arles - Notre Dame de la Major

The 12th century Eglise Notre Dame de la Major. We were too late to go inside. But from the outside it sits there just so solidly as if to say I'll be here long after you're gone.

Read a quick history of Arles here on Wikipedia.

Check in at Le Calendal was fast, and in minutes we were shown to our room which was a short walk through the interior courtyard restaurant and into the adjoining building. Up a flight of narrow stairs and we were in front of room 33, named Violette. We’d just had room 55 in Paris, now 33 here.

It was a pretty room with a wine-red bedspread, carpet and chairs. Through full-height windows, the room opened up to a little parking area and a side street.

Arles - Calendal Hotel outside

I wonder how old the hotel is. Was it here when Van Gogh walked by? I assume so.

Across the street was a crêperie with a wonderful little patio. Looking at it from the outside, we were under the awning that read Salon de Thé. Perfect!

Arles - Calendal Hotel Marlene Salon de Thé

Come up for a cup of tea sailor?


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