Arles is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Arles sits on a low hill where the Rhône river branches in two parts to the sea. The commune is the largest in France, with an area of 75,893 ha (about 170,000 acres). The town dates back to the 7th century BC, and was a major Gallo-Roman city. The major Roman sites, such as the Arena and the Theater, are unique in that they are integrated into the houses and buildings of the town, rather than sitting apart as they do in places such as Orange.
Nearby: | Aigues-Mortes 44 km | Aix-en-Provence 76 km | Alpilles 20 km | Avignon 36 km | Les Baux-de-Provence 20 km | Camargue 5 km | Cavaillon 42 km | Glanum 23 km | Marseille 89 km | Nîmes 30 km | Saint Gilles 18 km | Saint Martin-de-Crau 15 km | Saint Remy-de-Provence 30 km | Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer 38 km | Tarascon 16 km |
The streets of this city are truly medieval in character: narrow and winding between ancient buildings. Automobile traffic is permitted on many of them, but walking is much easier than driving.
The Place du Forum is our favorite square in Arles. In the center of the old town, up the Rue du Palais (northwest of Place de la République), Place du Forum is packed with terrace cafés, restaurants and of couple of excellent hotels. There are many small shops and boutiques on the narrow streets radiating from the square.
The Place de la République is the main square in the old town, north up Rue Jean Jaurès from the Bvd des Lices. In the center of the square is a 19th-century fountain topped with a Roman obelisk. The obelisk was erected in Arles' Roman circus by the Roman emperor Constaine II. After the circus was abandoned in the 6th century, the obelisk fell and was lost until the 14th century, then mounted on a new pedestal in its current location in the 17th century.
The Sainte-Anne d'Arles Church, on the west side of the Place de la République, was the main parish church in the Middle Ages. It was rebuilt once in the 12th century, but fell into ruin. The current church was completely rebuilt in the early 17th century.
The Romanesque Cathédrale Saint-Trophime d'Arles is on the east side of the square, with its ornate entrance way with bas-relief columns, was built in the 12th century. The original belfry was replaced in the 13th century by the current square tower.
Adjacent to the Saint-Trophime Cathedral is the Saint-Trophime Cloistre, with its separate entrance onto the Place de la République. The Cloister was built in the second half of the 12th century, with a pair of galleries added in the 14th century. The central cloisters are being completely refurbished (2013), but the galleries are open for visits, housing art exhibits and (in the winter) the annual Salon des Santonniers.
The International Photography Encounter is an annual summer event in Arles. You can get more information from the Office de Tourisme, or directly from the Event organizers (Tel: (33) 490 96 76 06).
Santons in Arles
Every winter (mid Nov - mid Jan) Arles hosts the Salon des Santonniers. This annual Santons Fair is located in the Cloitre St-Trophime, on the Place de la République. The Cloitre is adjacent to the 17th-century Eglise Saint-Anne on the east side of the square. The santons are exhibited in the large, ancient rooms of the cloister.
The many santons on display include a huge Provencal scene with hundreds of amazing details and many other exhibits by some of the most famous santonniers of provence. We've been visiting the Arles Salon des Santonniers since the Millennium winter of 1999-2000. Some of our recent photos are in the Beyond Photo Gallery section: Santons Arles.
Laverie Automatique Lincoln - Rue de la Cavalerie, by the Portes de la Cavalerie in the north end of the town center.
Parks and Playgrounds
A lovely calm park, with benches and curved walkways is located along the Bvd. des Lices, by the end of the Roman "Theatre Antique" - very handy for resting your weary feet on a market day (Saturday and Wednesday). Large trees, including a truly gigantic cedar, provide a welcome shade on the hottest days.
A playground with lots of colorful rides is also beside the Bvd des Lices, just above the park.
Van Gogh came here from Paris on 20 Feb 1888. He stayed 14 months, until 8 May 1889, having one of his most prolific times, producing 200 paintings. From 23 Oct to 26 Dec he was with Paul Gaugin.
Visiting Nearby Arles
We were asked about visiting villages while based in Arles, when there are members of the party who have some difficulty walking.
Southwest of Arles is Aigues-Mortes; a very historical, walled town, from where the Knights departed on their Crusades. Probably very crowded with tourists during the summer. Not described in Beyond because it's outside our area.
Northeast of Arles is Les Baux-de-Provence. Very touristy, but interesting (described in Beyond). It does require a lot of walking for a visit, and close parking is difficult during the season.
- St. Remy-de-Provence is a good town to visit; many things of interest; plenty of terrace cafés for the less energetic to rest while others tour.
East and northeast of Arles is an area with lovely little villages fairly close together. Have a look at the appropriate Beyond maps and villages pages.
First record, 7th-c BC Theline; 4th-c BC: Arelate
Celto-Ligurian: Arles is the site of the Phoenician town of Theline from the 7th century BC. Large amounts of 6th-c-BC Greek pottery found here indicate that this was a staging post for river traffic between Marseille (Massalia) and northern Gaul. In the 4th-century BC, this was the Celtic-Ligurian town of Arelate, meaning 'the town by the marshes'.
Gallo-Roman: Arles was one of the richest urban centers in France during the Gallo-Roman period. In 102 BC, Marius started construction of the Fossae Marianae, a shipping canal paralleling the Grand Rhône from Arelate to the sea. In 46 BC, Roman legion veterans were settled here, in a large territory taken from the Salyen tribe and from Massalia. At this time, Arelate became Colonia sextanorum, and later Arles. Caesar used local shipyards for building warships to fight against Massalia in 49 BC. The port brought prosperity to Arles during the reign of Augustus, and by the time of Constantine (306-337) it was the second capital of the Empire. Ausonius called it "the little Rome of Gaul".
Medieval: Barbarian invasions from the 5th to 9th centuries were devastating, and Arles didn't recover until Charlemagne's empire, when it became the capital of an independent state, the Kingdom of Arles. In 1521, Arles was permanently attached to the Comté de Provence.
Office de Tourisme
Esplanade des Lices
Tel : 04 90 18 41 20; Fax: 04 90 93 17 17
Every Wed, Sat - Market day, Bvd des Lices
Every March - Carnaval - Bvd des Lices
Every Apr - La Feria Pascale: Corridas and events (Easter weekend)
Every May - Jazz in Arles, week of Jazz au Méjean; 21h
Every May - La Fête des Gardians; Election de la Reine d'Arles
Every June - Les Fetes d'Arles (June-July) - June 23, feux de la Saint Jean (fireworks)
1st half July - Les Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie - Evenings at the Theatre Antique (photos, dances, etc)
Every Sep - Bulls - Feria des Prémices du Riz (corridas, animations tauromachiques); Corso (parade); Fêtes des Prémices du Riz (Rice festival)
Every Winter - International Salon des Santonniers (Dec-Jan)
Olive Oil Mills
We have 2 olive oil mills listed for Arles (click).
Arles France Transportation is listed on a separate page.
Avignon-Arles river cruises.
Location: Avignon-Arles river cruises.;
Tel: 0490 856 225
4x4 (Jeep) tours of the Camargue, departing from Arles, Aigues-Mortes, Le Grau-du-Roi, Port Camargue or La Grande Motte. All year, by reservation.
Location: 24, rue Porte de Laure; 13200 Arles
Safari 4x4 Gallon
4x4 (Jeep) tours of the Camargue, departing from Arles or Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.
Also horseback tours, ferrades, and farmhouse dining.
Location: Mazet de la Montlong - Villeneuve; 13 200 Arles
Entry: Safari 4x4 per person: 1h30 €20, 2h30 €33, 3h30 €48 (2012)
Tel: 0490 936 031; Fax: 04 90 96 31 55
IGN (1/25,000) #2943 ET "Arles, Camargue"
Arles is surrounded by river, marshlands and the Camargue, and offers none of the typical Beyond hiking trails. Visiting the sites in and around Arles, including the many fine Roman locations, will give you hours of exercise. The "Camargue" map includes the area around Arles.
The GR 653 (Grande Randonnée) trail runs west from St Gilles, 16 km west of Arles. The Alpilles mountains, with the GR 6 trail is only 20 km northeast, and the Luberon mountains are about 50 km east-northeast of Arles.
Three different self-guided walking tours are available for discovering Arles. Colored icons and arrows on the sidewalks direct you through the town: yellow for Van Gogh; green for Medieval; blue for Antique Arles.