The ApartmentThe Apartment
Beautiful towels were just one of the nice features of our Airbnb.
Airbnb has been getting a lot of negative press lately about its shift to corporate listings and away from its owner-operated roots. Well, this apartment was probably the best place we have stayed in all our European trips. Roomy, well equipped, bright, quiet. Tastefully decorated and run by the nicest couple who met us on arrival and explained everything about the apartment and discussed opportunities in Arles. Made us feel like we should have stayed longer. There are many sites to visit in the area if you have a car (and time), The Pont du Gard and Avignon are two places within easy reach from Arles (we had been to both from Montpellier) but there are lots of smaller attractions we couldn’t get to because of not having time or a car.
The closest thing to a problem was that it was on the opposite side of the Rhône from the old city. It wasn’t that big a walk to the old city but the wind was blowing pretty heavily and one is quite exposed on the bridge. The apartment was worth it though. Les Alyscamps
The Alyscamps was a large Roman burial ground that
Quite the river. This was our third encounter with it. It also passes through Lyon and Avignon, two of our previous stops.
was used for 1,500 years. It was such a popular place to be buried that people shipped bodies from all over Europe. There were so many sarcophagi that they were stacked three deep. During the Renaissance it was pillaged for souvenirs and building material. Some sarcophagi were given as gifts. The railway and a canal cut through the area further reducing it. Van Gogh and Gauguin painted side by side at this site in the late 1800s. There is not much left of the original cemetery but it was still worth a visit. Many of the best sarcophagi are on display in the Arles Museum. Cloister of Saint Trophime
Built in the 11th
centuries on top of a 5th
century basilica, it was the starting point of the Via Tolosana which went to Santiago de Compostela. Amazing how often this pilgrimage site comes up in this part of the world. Saint Trophime was believed to be the first bishop of Arles in the 4th
century and was buried in the Alyscamps. Christ was believed to have attended the funeral and left a knee print on his sarcophagus. Arena and Theatre
The arena was built
There are locks and canals all over France. Luckily, they are one of my favourite attractions.
in Roman times patterned after the Coliseum in Rome. It is in much better shape than the one in Périgueux (more like the arena in Nîmes) although it had been added to in the Middle Ages when it became part of the city walls. It is still used for concerts and bull fights. The modern seating that is used doesn’t distract too much from the ambience of the ancient monument. Like the one in Nîmes, it was saved by the fact that a whole city built up inside it using the structure for walls etc.
The theatre was built to seat 8,000 patrons but didn’t survive quite as well as the arena. It the Middle Ages, it was used as a quarry. What is left allows you to imagine the glory that was Rome. It is still used for theatre production during the summer. Baths of Constantine
Built in the 4th
century there isn’t too much left. If you have been to other Romans bath sites, you know what to expect. Apparently we haven’t seen enough Roman ruins as we keep going to whatever we can find. Archeological Museum
Yes, more Roman ruins and artifacts.
All that is left of a once huge cemetery.
But this time with a difference. There is a 2,000 year old Roman cargo boat on display that was discovered at the bottom of the Rhône River in 2011. A fascinating movie on the process of restoring it. Supposed to take ten years, it was restored in three. The movie is in French but there are excellent sub-titles in three languages. Well worth the visit.
Arles is a city of 50,000 but it has only two bridges. One is the last bridge over the Rhône until it reaches the Mediterranean. This interested me because the river is quite wide and swift. The Romans apparently built a floating bridge here using two massive towers on each bank and a bunch of boats used to hold the bridge deck. One of the neat things at the museum is the number of scale models on display showing how things worked back in the day. Réattu Museum
The museum was housed in a 15th
century buildings that once housed the Order of Malta. It had quite a history until the National Convention seized it during the Revolution and sold them off in one by one. Jacques Réattu started acquiring them
Typical of how the sarcophagi were decorated. This fine specimen probably came from Les Alyscamps but was in the archaeological museum.
to hold his own art and collections and his daughter sold them to the city in return for a pension and the right to live there. It also contained many other businesses until it was converted full time to a museum in the 1950s. It contains a works by Van Gogh (who lived for three years in Arles) and drawings donated by Picasso. Market
One of the reasons for going to Arles (I am told) was to see the weekly market for which it is famous (I am told). We had a later train on the Saturday, so we checked out of the apartment, pulled our suitcases across the bridge and headed for the market on our way to the train. The main street through the city is closed off and booths and tables set up along a stretch of about 10 blocks. If you can’t find what you need there, you don’t really need it. Food, clothes, electronics, kitchen tools, you name it, they have it for sale. There is food to buy for immediate consumption and to take home. All ages and nationalities are there. Luckily, we were travelling and couldn’t take any more with us
Les Alyscamps again
This is how Vincent Van Gogh saw the cemetery. Van Gogh and Gauguin used to paint the same scene sitting side by side and comparing results.
so it was just a look-see visit. Onward
Side note: It is May 1st
and we got home last night. As previously noted, I got a bit behind in my blogging and will catch up over the next few days. Hard to believe we were away 68 days! Good to be home but we are looking forward to our next trip.
The last stop on our visit to France was a cat sit in Aurignac, a town south-west of Toulouse. Because we had to rent a car and drive there, (we were still in the south-east), we decided to stay a couple of nights in Toulouse. Back on the train and back through all those towns we had visited before. Did I mention that we were leaving on a Saturday? Did I mention that one isn’t supposed to travel on Saturdays during the Gilets Jaunes protests? ToBeContinued!
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