Déjà’-vu is not an uncommon feeling even on ones first visit to Arles. As you meander the winding streets and find yourself at the foot of the colorful houses and enjoy a cafe in the squares, it is as if you have wandered into a painting by Vincent Van Gogh.
This captivating city perched on the Grand Rhône River bears the footprints of previous occupants, During the Bronze Age it was a Celtic settlement before becoming a Greek colony then in 49 BC the Romans settled in and its prosperity and political standing soared when the powers of the day backed Julius Caesar. Caesar had never experience defeat throughout his illustrious career. Marseille had made the error of not supporting Caesar choosing to back Pompey the Great. For this error in judgment, Marseille was seized and pillaged. It cost them the power that is associated with being the region’s major port.
Along with power came growth and within the next century it accumulated both an amphitheatre which would seat 20,000 and a 12,000 seat theatre. The citizens were invited to partake in the entertainment of the day which included chariot races and contests among the gladiators. Amazingly, these two structures are still intact and in use. However, the gruesome sports of the past have been replaced by events such bullfighting (in France, the bull is not killed) and concerts. Regardless of the change in what is offered there is still the air of excitement when the season begins again each spring. The venues are packed with locals and tourists alike.
While Arles was memorably rendered by one-time resident Vincent van Gogh. Sad to say, not one of the 200-odd canvases Vincent painted here, in just over a year, remains in Arles, but the town has made him a starring attraction nonetheless. From the re-creation of his bedroom to exhibitions in the former hospital where he had his ear stitched up, there’s a whole lot of Vincent to enjoy. Don’t miss the Van Gogh trail, a walking tour of sites where the artist set up his easel to paint canvases such as Starry Night.