Wednesday, 29 July 2015


One hundred and twenty five years ago today, Vincent Van Gogh died.

Of the three sites in Arles most associated with him one, The Yellow House, was destroyed during the Second World War but The Hospital (left) and The Night Cafe (below) can still be visited today. Appropriately the latter is still painted yellow. I was not able to photograph it at night, but my picture was taken from a not totally dissimilar angle to that of the painting.

The Van Gogh connection is not the only reason to visit Arles.  I was unprepared for the remarkable state of preservation of the Roman Amphitheatre, which is today still in use for bull fighting (with Spanish bulls) and the racing games featuring the smaller Camargue bulls.

Though much smaller than the Roman Colosseum, the Arles amphitheatre has suffered less depradation by builders looking for a cheap stione quarry.  This was because it served as a fortress on the bank of the Rhone (below)  and was able to contribute to the defences of the town.

Considerably less grand are the late Roman Empire baths, the contrast between the two clearly evocative of the decline of Roman civilsation, even if the latter was the work of Constantine.

Arles was frequently a Roman headquarters and briefly a usurper capital.  It is also known as an early site of the religious conflict between Rome's Catholicism and the Arianism of the Visigoths, the independence of the latter no doubt being strengthened by the local traditions originating from Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer not far to the south.

The Emperor Barbarossa was crowned here in the 12th century, but Arles' importance declined as that of Marseilles grew. Today, perhaps especially today, it is probably best known for its association with Van Gogh.