A Trip to Arles

While in France we made the trip to Arles, the Roman city of Arelate. I had not seen the splendid Musée de l’Arles et la Provence antique before. It is located at one end of the Roman circus, and has a wonderful collection, exhibited in a purposebuilt building with great lighting for photography (and viewing in general). The collection of early Christian sarcophagi is worth the trip in itself. The museum also arranges trips to archaeological sites usually shut to the public.

Arles Museum
Sarcophagus with Old Testament scenes, 4th century CE. Musée de l’Arles et la Provence antique. Photo: TMK, August 2005.

Arles’ importance in the late antique period was immense. Constantine built a palace in the city, of which the baths are open for visitors. Parts of the palace itself can be peaked at through a groundlevel window at the Hôtel d’Arlatan in Rue du Sauvage (a wonderful street name!), just north of the Place du Forum. The Imperial mint was moved there in 313 CE, and in 428 it replaced Trier as the seat Prefecture of the Gauls. It was also the location of several ecclesiastical Councils.

The Cryptoporticus under the Forum is currently closed for safety reasons – “pour une periode indéterminée”, I was told. Arles has much else to offer, however, such as the Amphitheatre (currently being renovated) and the Theatre. The Spina from the Circus can be found on the Place de la République. But one of the most interesting sites for me were the Alyscamps, or Elysii Campi, the funerary street just outside the city walls immortalized by Van Gogh.

Modern and ancient monuments in the Alyscamps, Arles. Photo: TMK, August 2005.

I have uploaded more photos from the trip to The Stoa.

Henry Cleere. 2001. Southern France. Oxford.*

*This book is part of the Oxford Archaeological Guides series, that is something of a mixed bag. The guide to Rome, written by Amanda Claridge, is the essential archaeological guide in English to the Eternal City. The one on Greece, however, is almost useless for anyone with a profound interest in archaeology. The Spanish guide is better though, and it includes the Punic and Islamic sites as well (just as the one to Southern France includes Gallic sites). I have no practical experience with the guide to Israel (‘The Holy Land’), but that one is actually an updated version of an earlier book and not specifically written for the series. In short, the series is characterized by a real lack of coherency. There are also much better guides to the archaeological sites of southern France, especially the excellent book series published for individual sites by the French Cultural Ministry, Guides archéologiques de la France. The guide to Arles antique is written by Jean-Marie Rouquette and Claude Sintés, but seems to be sold out, unfortunately.

P.S. I just remembered that Philippe Leveau had a article in AJA last year (“La cité romain d’Arles et le Rhône: La romanisation d’un espace deltaïque”, 108.3: 349-375), mainly on the Roman city’s use of the countryside and an interesting study of the relationship between urbs and environment.

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