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World Heritage # 7: Arles, Roman and Roman monuments

As part of a series specially devoted to French sites recognized as World Heritage by UNESCO, we invite you to discover one by one the exceptional French destinations, preserved as heritage of humanity. We continue this series with one of the sites recognized in 1981, Arles and its Roman and Roman monuments.

Lhe Roman and Romanesque monuments of Arles are privileged witnesses major historical periods. They alone reveal the cultural and economic richness of places, at different times of human history. According to UNESCO, Arles moreover offers "an example of adaptation of an ancient city to the civilization of medieval Europe". Imposing ancient monuments from the first century BC stand alongside buildings and remains from the XNUMXth, XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries. This great diversity reveals to visitors how the city of Arles has managed to maintain its prestige throughout history.

Ancient remains, witnesses of the first golden age

The arenas of Arles are a Roman amphitheater inspired by the Colosseum in Rome. They are particularly preserved. The majestic building is the most important Roman remains visible in its integrity in France. In the first century, 25 people could gather at the arenas to celebrate gladiators and Roman victories. Later, shows will be organized there. But with growing medieval insecurity, the population transformed the building into an urban fortress.

The ancient theater of Arles, devolved to Apollo and built during the reign of Augustus, is one of the first stone theaters in the Roman world. The cavea could accommodate 10 spectators, divided according to their social background. Of the 000 majestic Corinthian-style columns that decorated the stage wall, only two have survived. They are now nicknamed "the two widows".

As in any Roman city the forum had a central place within the city, but today only two fragments of the forum of Arles are still visible. On the other hand, the astonishing foundations of this large paved square of 3 square meters - which constitute the originality of this work - are still visible in the basement of the city. Cryptoporticus supported the forum of the ancient city thanks to a horseshoe structure 89 meters long and 59 meters wide.

Arles from the sky
Arles from the sky

The remains of the second golden age

Built at the beginning of the XNUMXth century when the Emperor Constantine resided in Arelate, the thermal baths of Constantine or thermal baths of the North, are among the best preserved in France. The visible remains correspond to the caldarium and solium. The Alyscamps - Champs-Elysées in Provençal - constitute a pagan necropolis from Roman times, which became Christian in the Middle Ages. It witnessed the martyrdom of Genest in the XNUMXth century, and it finally became the starting point of the pilgrimage to Compostela for Provençal pilgrims.

The Alyscamps
The Alyscamps

Medieval remains

In the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, Arles once again became one of the most beautiful cities in the Mediterranean world. Saint-Trophime cathedral is also one of the major monuments of Provençal Romanesque art. Its vast cloister rivals in size with that of Thoronet, Sénanque or Montmajour. Its sculpted portal constitutes one of the largest sculpted sets of Romanesque art in Provence.

Saint-Trophime Cathedral in Arles
Saint-Trophime Cathedral

Arles today

Nowadays, the Roman amphitheater is the most visited monument in the city, but also the best known internationally. It is home to many shows and Camargue races. The theater has also become a place of shows. In summer, it hosts the Arles and Costume Festivals, the International Meetings of Photography, and the Peplum Film Festival. Saint-Trophime Cathedral houses magnificent works from different eras. Visitors can admire there Aubusson tapestry, paintings by Louis Finson such as the stoning of Etienne, but also numerous sculptures, early Christian sarcophagi, tombs and funeral monuments.

At the gates of Arles, the Camargue, a territory where "men live with horses, bulls, birds, sky and water" is offered to visitors. This preserved natural space of 100 hectares, a veritable sanctuary for exceptional flora and fauna, is now protected by the Camargue Regional Nature Park. Manades and marked trails welcome hikers on foot, by bike or on horseback.

Horses running free in the Camargue
Horses running free in the Camargue