Marseille & Provence Chapter 7 : Arles

After the wonderful morning experience to the Camargue I headed to nearby Arles. I thought that due to the closeness of the city the trip would be uneventful but I was a little wrong : first, I was running very low on gasoline and I couldn’t find a gas station. Finally, after some scare, I found one near the centre of Arles.

Secondly, upon reaching the historic center there was very HEAVY traffic and I lost close to half an hour for a distance of 1-2km. Seemed a touring bus from Germany broke down just in the central street, where most traffic passes and stops as the historic centre is not really suitable for cars

Finally I made it and parked in a large under/overground garage and started walking to explore the Arles historic center

Arles is a rather compact city, very pleasantly laid back. It is to this day known mainly for two things : a) As the Roman city where Julius Caesar built a fleet in one month and thus thrust into prominence and b) as the French city that has been associated with the most creative and tragic Vincent Van Gogh.

The center of the city is more or less the area of the former roman colony. There are ancient ruins and remains almost everywhere but the heart of the activity lies in the Place du Forum which as the name suggests is the location where the roman forum was situated in the ancient times. I started walking towards it, passing first from the Place du Republique where the Hotel de Ville (town hall in France),the cathedral of the city, the church of St Trophime and an obelisk in the centre placed there by Luis the 14th. This square is nice and wide, with many people walking by, kids playing but not many people staying as there are no cafes or shops.

The place du Forum is really the hub of life in Arles, there are many cafes, restaurants and shops there and around. I made a stop there for some refreshment. A famous tourist trap is the yellow cafe, immortalized forever in Van Gogh’s Cafe Terrace at Night, the painting he created in 1888 standing at the northeastern corner of the square

After my coffee I went to visit the cryptoportiques. They are an underground gallery, built by the Romans, with the entrance inside the Hotel de Ville. Now they are completely submergedย  but in the Roman times they were partially below ground and partially above. It is believed they were some sort of base or slave barracks. They are not long, you can stroll around in 15-20 minutes. The atmosphere is very quite and eary and a little cold but a quite nice and different experience

I also checked out in a map that the current extend of the cryptoportiques is running in a horseshoe form up to (below) the place du forum. Cool!

After that, I strolled around for close to 1 hr. There are two more important ancient monuments, the classical theater and Les Arenes, the Roman amphitheatre. They are close together and around 5 min walk from the Hotel de Ville so I visited both of them but on the outside, not getting in as the theatre had already closed for the day and the Arenes was closing (it was around 8:00 pm by the time I got there). But I had a chance to see the interior standing just outside the gates

The clasicall theatre is nice, but is half demolished as material had been used through the centuries to build city walls, houses and churches. I understand there are plays staged there, but as I have experienced much bigger and better preserved classical theaters in Greece (Athens, Epidavros, Dodona and others) I guess it was not so spectacular (for me)

The Arenes is majestic. I believe it its the biggest and best preserved Roman amphitheatre outside of Italy. They stage plays and also bullfights, but not the bloody Spanish version but rather the Camargue version where neither animal nor human is killed. It would be nice to watch but sadly it was not the right season!

After the Arenes I continued walking up to the Rhone bank, with the sun setting and then back to the parking space passing by several shops and cafes. Then I left straight for Marseille as my friends that were visiting Cannes had driven there and we would have dinner. I arrived a little late, in a designer restaurant near the Vieux port. The food was .. spectacular but more extravagant than .. filling. (I have to admit I was a little dissapointed).

Anyway, going back to the hotel I couldn’t resist getting some MORE night shots of the photogenic Marseille Pavillion.

After that was sleep. The next would be by my last full day and I planned to … deepen my connection to Marseille (i.e. remain in the city and explore more :- )

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