The ancient French city of Arles is filled with beautiful Roman Architecture and the medieval streets are lined with many colorful buildings. To my eye, it may be a little tired looking and not quite as picture perfect as some of the other villages in the South of France, but I enjoy a bit of grit and rusticity and found that I easily connected with the charm and beauty of this sweet town.
I confess that I initially only knew of Arles because I am a huge fan of Van Gogh – he is one of my favorite artists, along with Monet and Cezanne. I knew that he had lived there for 15 months – and was very prolific - producing nearly 300 paintings and drawings during that time. He came to Arles after his stint in Paris and found the town and countryside captivating.
Van Gogh painted the world around him. He had an amazing capacity to make the mundane look extraordinary. That was his gift. And I think that the best way to enjoy Arles is to view the town through his lens and connect with our own inner Van Gogh – to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. The city has even provided a walking tour for those who want to see as Van Gogh saw. Just download the PDF and you can see different scenes around the town, and the paintings he created from them, like The Starry Night over the Rhone, Café Terrace at Night, Sunflowers, and so many more.
Arles came under Roman rule during the time of Julius Caesar in the 1st century AD and was then the Roman capital of Provence. The town prospered for the next four centuries and became a major trading center. It was during this time that the Amphitheatre, the Theatre Antiqu and the Thermal Baths were built, and they are still standing today. As the Roman Empire collapsed during the 5th century, Arles went into decline as well. Today, because of its many monuments, the city of Arles is a UNESCO World heritage site.
Arles is also home to the oldest international photography festival in Europe – Les Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie – held every summer in Arles. Thousands of photographers descend on this town and the sound of clicking shutters can be heard even over the buzz of the chattering tourists.
You will leave Arles knowing that you encountered something special - a real place filled with beauty, charm, and grit; one that speaks to your heart. If you allow it, Arles will speak to the artist within you. Enjoy.