On the Trail of Van Gogh
30 July, 2015
Located in the south of France, an hour’s drive from Marseilles and alongside the Rhone, Arles is a town you really must see if you’re heading to Provence. And, if you’re also a fan of Van Gogh, you have even more reasons to rediscover the landscapes and architectures that inspired the grand master in his Post-Impressionist painting.
Arles’ Roman Past
You cannot possibly visit this town without becoming steeped in its Roman heritage. In AD 46, as a reward for having supported Julius Caesar is his struggle against Pompey, Arles was turned into the major harbour in the area, a privilege which was withdrawn from Massilia (the former Marseilles), for having mistakenly supported the opposite side. As a result, the town then lived out its age of splendour, of which several monuments have survived the test of time, some still in excellent condition. One example is the Arles Arenas, an amphitheatre built around the 1st century AD for staging gladiator combats, the most spectacular show at the time. It is still used today, as it hosts theatre plays, concerts, bullfights and courses camarguaises (a typically local type of bullfighting). The 1st-century AD Roman Theatre is another standout monument in the city. Like all Roman cities, Arles also had its forum, the centre of the community’s social, political and religious life. In addition to the nomenclature, Place du Forum, it features an underground Cryptoporticus, a network of galleries where foundations were laid and which is open to visitors, accessed via the Hôtel de la Ville.
Other Sights in the Town
The Church of St. Trophime, located in the town hall square, is a classic example of Provençal Romanesque and Gothic. Built between the 12th and 15th century, its cloister is also well worth visiting. Another interesting sight is the Alyscamps, A Roman necropolis which was taken over by the Christians and used until the end of the Middle Ages. For those interested in discovering the town’s archaeological history, we can recommend a visit to the Musée Départemental Arles Antique, which features some striking mosaics, among other things.
Arles – the Setting for Van Gogh’s Paintings
Apart from drawing tourists to its monumental heritage, Arles attracts visitors for having being one of the major settings for Van Gogh’s works. The artist’s sojourn in the town was comparatively short – from February 1888 to May 1889 – but there he was hugely prolific, producing over 200 paintings. Captivated by its light and colour, he painted it in all its guises. Curiously enough, not one of these paintings is housed in Arles, but you can still visit all the places that inspired them. We recommend getting a street map – which can be picked up in the tourist office – and letting yourself get carried away. Some of the landmarks on the Van Gogh tour are:
- The Maison Jaune (Yellow House), on the Place Lamartine;
- The “Café la Nuit” (Night Café), on the Place du Forum;
- Arles Arenas and the Alyscamps;
- Trinquetaille Bridge;
- “Starry Night Over the Rhone”;
- “The Old Mill”, on rue Mireille;
- The garden on the Boulevard des Lices;
- The garden of the hospital, known as the Espace Van Gogh (where he was admitted during his illness and where he had his ear stitched back on after cutting it off);
- The Langlois Bridge, also known as the Van Gogh Bridge.
However, Arles did not only serve as Van Gogh’s haunts. Gauguin also visited the town and painted some of its spots. It was precisely on account of an argument between the two painters that Van Gogh ended up cutting off his ear. Another genius, Picasso, also frequented Arles over a number of years. He would often go there to watch bullfighting and to visit his friends. Proof of his close ties to the town is the donation he made of fifty-seven drawings, which can be seen in the Arles Fine Arts Museum, the Musée Réattu.
Ready to take a Vueling and be dazzled by Arles?
Text by ISABELYLUIS Comunicación
30 July, 2015