A visit to Arles, France  Map

We were onboard a Viking River Cruise ("Avignon & Provence") and Arles was the first stop after Avignon. The ship moved from Avignon, south to Tarascon at 5AM (approximately 30 kilometers), so that the day's tour to Arles could begin from there. The tour to Arles was via tour bus, so moving the ship closer made the bus route shorter.

The town of Arles is a community situated in the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur in the south eastern area of France. It is a coastal community and a tourist destination, a popular seaside resort. Arles was established by the Ligurian populations during the times of the Ancient Rome and it used to serve as an important port and commercial hub. It is possible to see the remains of the old buildings preserved since the Roman times, like the old Amphitheater, aqueduct, and others.
Click here to go to the Arles Wikipedia page.

Interesting Facts about Arles, France
  • The Ligurians were in this area from about 800 BC. Later, Celtic influences have been discovered. The city became an important Phoenician trading port, before being taken by the Romans.
  • The Roman and Romanesque Monuments of Arles were listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1981.
  • Vincent van Gogh painted his famous Sunflowers in Arles.
  • Arles is twinned with: Pskov, Russia; Jerez de la Frontera and Cubelles, Spain; Fulda, Germany; York, Pennsylvania, United States; Vercelli, Italy; Sagné, Mauritania; Kalymnos, Greece; Wisbech, United Kingdom; Zhouzhuang, Kunshan, Jiangsu, People’s Republic of China; Verviers, Belgium & George Town, Penang, Malaysia.
  • An international photography festival has been held in Arles since 1970.
  • World Famous Painters Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin lived in Arles.
  • The Population of Arles as of 2015 is 52,886.
  • Arles is situated on the Camargue plain where the Rhône River divides to form its delta.
  • Arles is the largest commune in France in terms of territory.
  • A major French publishing house Actes Sud is also situated in Arles. It was founded in 1978 by author Hubert Nyssen.
The Arles Roman Amphiteatre

The Arles Amphitheatre was our first exploration stop. This two-tiered Roman amphitheatre is probably the most prominent tourist attraction in the city. The pronounced towers jutting out from the top are medieval add-ons.

Built in 90 AD, the amphitheatre was capable of seating over 20,000 spectators, and was built to provide entertainment in the form of chariot races and bloody hand-to-hand battles. Today, it draws large crowds for bullfighting during the Feria d'Arles as well as plays and concerts during the summer.

 Ampitheatre History 

The building measures 136 meters (446 ft) in length and 109 meters (358 ft) wide, and features 120 arches. It has an oval arena surrounded by terraces, arcades on two levels (60 in all), bleachers, a system of galleries, drainage system in many corridors of access and staircases for a quick exit from the crowd. It was obviously inspired by the Colosseum in Rome (in 72-80), being built slightly later (in 90). The amphitheatre was not expected to receive 25,000 spectators, the architect was therefore forced to reduce the size and replace the dual system of galleries outside the Colosseum by a single annular gallery. This difference is explained by the conformation of the land. This "temple" of the games housed gladiators and hunting scenes for more than four centuries.

With the fall of the Western Empire in the 5th century, the amphitheatre became a shelter for the population and was transformed into a fortress with four towers (the southern tower is not restored). The structure encircled more than 200 houses, becoming a real town, with its public square built in the centre of the arena and two chapels, one in the centre of the building, and another one at the base of the west tower.

This new residential role continued until the late 18th century, and in 1825 through the initiative of the writer Prosper Mérimée, the change to national historical monument began. In 1826, expropriation began of the houses built within the building, which ended by 1830 when the first event was organized in the arena – a race of the bulls to celebrate the taking of Algiers.

Click here to read the complete Wikipedia Article.
Arles Hospital

This is where (also now known as "L'espace Van Gogh" and no longer a hospital) Vincent van Gogh stayed in December 1888 & January 1889 (after he mutilated his ear). Van Gogh made several paintings of the hospital and grounds, and as you can see, the grounds are still very pretty.

Vincent Van Gogh moved to Arles from Paris in 1888. He produced quite a few paintings while here, however, his increasing mental illness caused the local government to have him hospitalized at least once.

Van Gogh's time in Arles became one of his more prolific periods: he completed 200 paintings, and more than 100 drawings and watercolours.

 Events leading up to Van Gogh's stay at the Arles Hospital 

Van Gogh's mental health deteriorated and he became alarmingly eccentric, culminating in an altercation with Paul Gauguin in December 1888 following which van Gogh cut off part of his own left ear. He was then hospitalized in Arles twice over a few months. His condition was diagnosed by the hospital as "acute mania with generalised delirium". Dr. Félix Rey, a young intern at the hospital, also suggested there might be "a kind of epilepsy" involved that he characterised as mental epilepsy. Although some, such as Johanna van Gogh, Paul Signac and posthumous speculation by doctors Doiteau & Leroy have said that van Gogh just removed part of his earlobe and maybe a little more, art historian Rita Wildegans maintains that without exception, all of the witnesses from Arles said that he removed the entire left ear. In January 1889, he returned to the Yellow House where he was living, but spent the following month between hospital and home suffering from hallucinations and delusions that he was being poisoned. In March 1889, the police closed his house after a petition by 30 townspeople, who called him "fou roux" (the redheaded madman). Signac visited him in hospital and van Gogh was allowed home in his company. In April 1889, he moved into rooms owned by Dr. Félix Rey, after floods damaged paintings in his own home. Around this time, he wrote, "Sometimes moods of indescribable anguish, sometimes moments when the veil of time and fatality of circumstances seemed to be torn apart for an instant." Finally in May 1889 he left Arles for the Saint-Paul asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, having understood his own mental fragility and with a desire to leave Arles.
Click here to view the complete Wikipedia Article.

Arles City Hall

The 50 foot obelisk in front of the building, was first erected under the Roman emperor Constantine II in the center of the spina of the Roman circus of Arles. After the circus was abandoned in the 6th century, the obelisk fell down and was broken in two parts. It was rediscovered in the 14th century and re-erected on top of a pedestal soon surmounted by a bronze globe and sun on March 26, 1676.

Back to the Viking Heimdal

We had a light snack while hoofing about Arles, because we knew that lunch aboard the ship was going to be another great meal! The tour bus returned us to the ship for lunch, and we decided to not take the optional afternoon tour to St. Remy and instead hung out and worked on further jet-lag removal (AKA "nap").

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  • The Viking Lyon & Provence Cruise Overview & Guide Our Viking River Cruise from Marseilles to Lyon, north on the Rhône River with various ports of call, click here to read more.
  • Avignon, France The first stop as we head up the Rhône River, click here to read more.
  • Arles, France The town of Arles is a community situated in the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur in the south eastern area of France. click here to read more.
  • Châteauneuf-du-Pape, France While docked in Avignon, Viking organized an afternoon tour to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine region, known in France as one of the appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) regions. click here to read more.
  • Tournon-sur-Rhône, France The Viking Heimdal cast off at 4AM to continue north on the River Rhône, to Tournon - set to arrive at 1PM. This was the longest leg of the cruise, it is approximately 150 kilometers from Avignon to Tournon. click here to read more.
  • Vienne, France Vienne is a commune in southeastern France, located 35 kilometres (22 mi) south of Lyon, on the river Rhône. It is only the fourth largest city in the Isère department, of which it is a sub-prefecture, but was a major center of the Roman Empire. click here to read more.
  • Lyon, France The ship arrives in Lyon at 3PM, and we initially tied up at the Quai Claude Bernard - the eastern side of the Rhône River. This is a very scenic location, adjacent to the Université Lumière Lyon and only 2.2 kilometers from the Place des Terreaux. click here to read more.
  • Perouges, France The optional free bus tour to Perouges departs at 2PM today, and we drive through some really beautiful countryside on the way there. The La Dombes district is where fish are raised in a series of 1,200 ponds. Click here to read more.
  • Our Thoughts on Viking River Cruises Our perspective on Viking River Cruises, plus a few pros & cons to consider. Click here to read more.

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