Self-guided Walking Tour of Arles (with Map!)

Self Guided Walking Tour Of Arles

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Embarking on a walking tour of Arles is like stepping into a vivid tapestry woven with the threads of ancient history, artistic heritage, and Provençal charm. Nestled in the heart of the sun-drenched region of Provence in southern France, Arles serves as a captivating portal to the past, boasting an array of well-preserved Roman monuments, medieval buildings, and streets that echo with the footsteps of Vincent van Gogh, who found profound inspiration in this picturesque town.

As you meander through the cobblestone lanes, every turn presents a new page of history, a burst of colorful culture, or a masterpiece of nature. From the imposing Roman Amphitheatre, whispering tales of gladiators and spectators of yore, to the serene beauty of the Rhône River that gently nudges the town’s edges, Arles is a mosaic of timeless moments.

This blog aims to guide you through the most enchanting corners of Arles, ensuring you soak up the essence of its storied past and vibrant present. Whether you’re a history buff, an art enthusiast, or simply in search of the Provençal dolce vita, our walking tour itinerary is designed to offer a comprehensive experience of Arles’s unique allure. We’ll explore hidden gems and iconic landmarks, delve into the town’s rich artistic legacy, and perhaps, find ourselves walking in the very steps of Van Gogh, immersing in the landscapes that inspired some of his most celebrated works.

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Place de la Republique (Republic Square)

Arles Place De La République
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Wolfgang Staudt

The Place de la République, nestled at the heart of Arles, embodies a pivotal spot within the city’s vibrant core. This square is a tapestry of architectural evolution and urban metamorphosis over centuries, crafting its distinctive, multifaceted identity. Located to the south of the erstwhile Roman forum, this space was initially a compact antechamber flanked by the Saint-Trophime and Sainte-Anne churches during the medieval era. The construction of the town hall in the 17th century marked a significant transformation, broadening the square and altering its façade considerably. Over the years, the Place de la République has been embellished with a variety of monuments, each bearing different styles and purposes, assembling an eclectic mix reminiscent of an Italian piazza. It has become a focal point for significant local traditions, including the triennial crowning of the “Queen of Arles,” which draws community engagement and infuses the area with energy.

Clock Tower of Arles

Featuring classical Provençal Renaissance decorations, the clock tower is a testament to the area’s refined architectural taste. Even with the new town hall’s construction, the decision to keep the clock tower by the city’s leaders emphasizes a commitment to preserving the classical elegance of that era.

Location: Place de la République, Arles, France | Hours: 24 hours | Price: Free
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Obélisque d'Arles

Obélisque D’Arles

The Arles Obelisk is a significant ancient Roman monument located in Arles, France, recognized for its historical and cultural importance. It is an anepigraphic obelisk, meaning it lacks inscriptions, and stands out due to its Roman origins and inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1981. Unlike traditional Egyptian obelisks made from Egyptian granite, the Arles Obelisk is crafted from red granite from Asia Minor, around the ancient city of Troy, and stands approximately 20 meters tall, including its base.

Originally erected in the 4th century during Emperor Constantine’s reign, it was positioned in the Roman circus of Arles, a site for chariot races. The obelisk fell into disrepair by the 6th century, breaking into two parts. Rediscovered in 1389, there were plans by King Henri IV to relocate it to the Arènes d’Arles, which were never realized. In the 19th century, the obelisk’s base was adorned with a basin and bronze lions designed by sculptor Antoine Laurent Dantan, enhancing its visual and historical appeal. Since 1840, it has been recognized as a historic monument, underscoring its significance within Arles’ rich Roman and Romanesque heritage.

Location: Obélisque d'Arles, Place de la République, Arles, France | Hours: 24 Hours | Price: Free
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Saint-Trophime Cloister

Cloister View, Saint-Trophime Cathedral,Arles
CC BY-SA 4.0 / John Samuel

The Cloister of St. Trophime, nestled within the ancient cathedral of Arles, stands as a testament to exquisite craftsmanship spanning the 12th to 14th centuries, imbuing it with profound historical and artistic value.

Distinctively positioned in relation to the cathedral, the St. Trophime Cloister diverges from common architectural practices; it’s linked to the choir via a staircase of twenty-five steps, rather than adjoining the nave or transept directly.

Initiated around 1150, the construction of the cloister began with the north gallery and was swiftly followed by the east gallery. It was only by the late 14th century, during Jean de Rochechouart’s episcopacy (1390-1398), that the construction saw completion, including the west and south galleries. This phased development bestowed the cloister with a blend of Romanesque styles in the north and east galleries and Gothic styles in the west and south galleries, marking a fusion of architectural influences.

The architectural finesse of the St. Trophime Cloister, with its balanced volumes and intricate sculptural details, reflects the artisans’ pursuit of aesthetic excellence.

Since being designated a historical monument in 1846, and later a part of the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1981 for its inclusion among the Roman and Romanesque monuments of Arles, the St. Trophime Cloister has been celebrated for its exceptional cultural significance and contribution to the architectural heritage of the region.

Location: Cloître Saint-Trophime, Rue du Cloître, Arles, France | Hours: From 01/03 to 30/04, daily between 9 am and 6 pm. From 01/05 to 30/09, daily between 9 am and 7 pm. From 01/10 to 31/10, daily between 9 am and 6 pm. From 02/11 to 01/03, daily between 10.30 am and 4.30 pm. Closed exceptionally on May 1st., January 1st and December 25th. Last entry 16h. | Price: Full price: 6 € Reduced price: 5 €.
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Église Sainte-Anne d'Arles

1024px-Église Sainte-Anne D’Arles
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Guiguilacagouille

The Sainte-Anne church, erected between 1614 and 1630, exhibits the enduring charm of southern Gothic architecture, providing insights into the area’s rich artistic legacy. Furthermore, the 17th-century revamp of the archdiocese and the late 18th-century reconstruction of its façade add to the Place de la République’s architectural richness, creating a layered and compelling narrative of Arles’ historical and cultural landscape.

Location: Église Sainte-Anne d'Arles, Place de la République, Arles, France
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Town Hall and Cryptoportics of Arles

CC BY-SA 4.0 / Bjs

Arles boasts two notable yet intertwined heritage sites: the Town Hall and the Cryptoportics, each reflecting the city’s rich history.

The Arles Town Hall, finalized in 1676 and declared a historical monument, stands as a testament to architectural magnificence and fine craftsmanship across its three stories. Upon entering, visitors are welcomed by a grand vestibule under a low vault, demonstrating the intricate French stereotomy. This architectural feature, with its dual intersecting barrel vaults tied elegantly to the walls through arches and spanning 15 meters with minimal sagging, highlights the exceptional skill of its creators. It showcases the essentials of stereotomy, like the precision in lowering and the masonry’s interplay, all while revealing the inner beauty of the vault’s structure.

The ascent up the main staircase introduces guests to lion sculptures by Jean Dedieu, adding to the space’s splendor. A reproduction of the Venus of Arles, a find from Arles’s ancient theater now in the Louvre, graces the staircase. A replica by Girardon enriches this setting with classical elegance. The first floor features a balcony supported by double columns, and the second floor is distinguished by a central pediment with the sun symbol of Louis XIV, decorative balusters, and fire pots, enhancing the Town Hall’s historical allure.

In close proximity, the Cryptoportics form a mysterious underground network dating back to Roman times, lying beneath the city’s contemporary heart. Originating from the first Roman colony in 46 BC, these subterranean passages, possibly built upon older Greek structures, invite visitors to traverse through millennia. Likely serving as commercial or storage spaces in the Roman forum, the Cryptoportics offer an immersive journey into Arles’s ancient commercial practices and everyday life.

The combination of the Town Hall and Cryptoportics in Arles presents an enriching narrative of the city’s past, from the splendor of municipal architecture to the underground echoes of ancient commerce, offering a comprehensive glimpse into the legacy and daily existence of historic Arles.

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Église Saint Trophime d'Arles

1280px-Arles Eglise Saint Trophime
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Wolfgang Staudt

Dedicated to the legendary first archbishop of Arles, this church showcases the Romanesque architectural style and stands on the foundations of a 5th-century basilica. It functioned as a cathedral until the episcopal see was relocated to Aix in 1801. Constructed from the 12th to the 15th centuries, it is celebrated as a quintessential example of Provençal Romanesque art. Noteworthy is the elaborately carved western entrance, crowned by a tympanum that illustrates the Apocalypse, featuring St. Trophime wielding his bishop’s staff. The interior houses a treasury with relics of Arles’ bishops. The adjacent Cloître St-Trophime cloister occasionally serves as a venue for exhibitions.

Location: Eglise Saint-Trophime, Place de la République, Arles, France
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Théâtre Antique, Arles (Ancient Theatre of Arles)

Roman Theater In Arles
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Bokeby

The Arles Ancient Theater, nestled in Arles, France, is a significant historical landmark, constructed towards the close of the 1st century BC under Emperor Augustus’s rule. It emerged as one of the initial Roman stone theaters, with its construction phase stretching from around 40/30 BC to approximately 12 BC, coinciding with Arles’s elevation to a Roman colony status.

Positioned along the decumanus, the primary east-west thoroughfare in the Roman urban layout, the theater exemplifies the Romans’ sophisticated approach to city planning. Since 1840, it has been acknowledged as a historical monument, underscoring its profound historical importance.

Presently, this site offers a window into the past for visitors. Despite the survival of only a single section of the original seating structure, this remnant, repurposed as a part of the medieval city’s fortifications, speaks volumes about the theater’s former splendor. The orchestra, the space preceding the stage, retains evidence of an altar dedicated to Apollo, featuring swan motifs, a nod to Emperor Augustus’s symbol.

A notable aspect of the Arles Ancient Theater is the “two widows,” solitary columns from what was once a hundred-column stage facade, standing as silent witnesses to history’s passage.

Beyond its historical allure, the theater doubles as a vibrant cultural hub, hosting an array of events and festivals from June to August. These include the Arles and Costume Festivals, the International Photography Meetings, Les Suds, Cargo Stopovers, and the Peplum Film Festival, breathing life into this ancient venue and perpetuating its role as a center for cultural and artistic endeavors.

Location: Roman Theatre of Arles, Rue du Cloître, Arles, France | Hours: 01/03 to 30/04: daily between 9 am and 6 pm. 01/05 to 30/09: daily between 9 am and 7 pm. 01/10 to 31/10: daily between 9 am and 6 pm. 02/11 to 01/03: daily between 10.30 am and 4.30 pm. Closed January 1st, May 1st & December 25th. | Price: Full price: 9 € Reduced price: 7 €.
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Arenes d'Arles (Arles Amphitheatre)

Arles Amphitheatre
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Wolfgang Staudt

Located in the charming town of Arles, the Arles Amphitheatre is a monumental structure from Ancient Rome, constructed in 90 AD. This magnificent amphitheatre is a testament to the architectural prowess and enduring legacy of Roman civilization, making it a key attraction for visitors to Arles.

Designed as a two-tiered coliseum, it could host over 20,000 spectators, offering them a variety of spectacles, from thrilling chariot races to intense gladiatorial combat, reflecting Arles’s cultural prominence in the Roman world.

Despite its ancient origins, the amphitheatre underwent changes in the medieval period, including the addition of towers that contribute to its distinctive appearance by merging Roman and medieval architectural styles.

Today, the Arles Amphitheatre continues to enchant audiences, serving as a venue for cultural activities rather than ancient sports. It is the centerpiece of the Feria d’Arles, a lively annual festival, and hosts an array of performances such as plays and concerts during the summer, drawing both local and international crowds.

In 1981, UNESCO acknowledged the amphitheatre’s significant cultural contribution by designating it a World Heritage Site, under the “Arles, Roman, and Romanesque Monuments” category. This honor emphasizes the amphitheatre’s role in global heritage, celebrating its historical and cultural importance.

Location: Arles Amphitheatre 1 Rdpt des Arènes 13200 Arles France | Hours: From 02-11 to 28-02 : 10am - 5pm // From 01-03 to 30-04 : 9am - 6pm.// from 02-05 to 30-09 : 9am - 7pm // From 01-10 to 31-10 : 9am - 6pm. | Price: Adult: €9/€11
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Musee Reattu (Reattu Museum)

Arles Musée Réattu
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Mbzt

The Reattu Museum stands out for its eclectic array of art, including paintings, drawings, sculptures, and photographs. It highlights works by Jacques Réattu, a native of Arles, alongside pieces by Picasso and a range of contemporary artists. The museum also frequently organizes contemporary art exhibitions.

Home to a remarkable collection of 800 works by Jacques Réattu, the museum dedicates twelve rooms to both his creations and personal collections, primarily featuring 17th-century paintings. The exhibition space also honors Réattu’s connections, showcasing works by his uncle Antoine Raspal, among others, with “The Couturiers’ Workshop” from the 1780s as a standout piece. Picasso’s artistic genius is spotlighted in three rooms, while a separate area is reserved for an extensive photography collection, representing various artists and eras.

The Musée Réattu’s holdings are rich in contemporary sculptures by figures like César, Richier, Bourdelle, and Zadkine, and modern paintings by Dufy, Vlaminck, and Prassinos. This breadth offers a panoramic view of historical and contemporary art movements.

A distinctive feature of the museum is its vast photography collection, initiated with contributions from notable photographers such as Richard Avedon and Man Ray, expanding to over 4,000 works by 2001. This collection has grown through donations from participants of the Rencontres d’Arles photography festival, enriching the museum’s offerings and providing a deep dive into the development of photography as an art form.

Location: Musée Réattu, Rue du Grand Prieuré, Arles, France | Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 02 November - 28 Februar : 10am to 5pm 1st March - 31 October: 10am to 6pm Closed on Monday. Closed on 1st January, 1st May, 1st November and 25 December | Price: Full: 6€ - Reduced*: 4€ (Combined ticket Réattu museum + Vincent van Gogh Foundation: 12 €)
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Thermes de Constantin (Baths of Constantine)

Thermes De Constantin
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Sailko

The Baths of Constantine, also known as the Thermes du Nord, are historic Roman bath ruins situated along the Rhône River in Arles. Constructed in the early 4th century during Emperor Constantine’s stay in Arelate (Arles), these baths later earned the moniker “Palais de la Trouille” in the Middle Ages, mistakenly thought to be a palace built by Constantine himself.

Recognized as historical monuments in 1840, with the Roman wall and adjacent cellars additionally classified in 1922, the city acquired and meticulously renovated the site from 1980 to 1995, aiming to safeguard its architectural legacy.

Today, the Thermes de Constantin rank among France’s most well-preserved Roman baths, alongside the Thermes de Chassenon in Charente and the Thermes de Cluny in Paris. Initial excavation and cleaning in the 19th century revealed much of what is visible today.

Presently, the baths’ most prominent features are the remains of the caldarium, the hot-water bath area, characterized by its underfloor heating system (hypocaust) and three pools, two rectangular and one semi-circular with an apse, showcasing three windows under a half-dome vault. This area links to the laconicum (a dry sauna) and the tepidarium (a warm bath), the latter ending in a semi-circular apse on its western side.

Visitors to the Thermes de Constantin are offered a fascinating insight into Roman bathing culture and architectural ingenuity. The diligent restoration and conservation efforts by Arles highlight the enduring allure and historical importance of these ancient baths.

Location: Thermes de Constantin, Rue du Grand Prieuré, Arles, France | Hours: 01/03 to 30/04: daily between 9 am and 6 pm. 01/05 to 30/09, daily between 9 am and 7 pm. 01/10 to 31/10, daily between 9 am and 6 pm. Closed exceptionally on May 1st, January 1st and December 25th.| Price: Adults €5 Children €2.5
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Place du Forum, Arles

Public Domain / AlanFord

Forum Square is a place of considerable historical and artistic value, historically serving as the heart of activity in many Roman cities, including Arles. Originally, it covered a vast area from what is now Boulevard des Lices to the north, reaching towards the river.

The square’s fame is significantly attributed to Vincent van Gogh’s iconic painting, “Cafe Terrace at Night,” created in September 1888. This artwork captures a lively café scene on Forum Square, where the café now known as Cafe Van Gogh stands, painted in the same yellow hues featured in Van Gogh’s piece. Though the painting bears no signature, Van Gogh frequently discussed and referenced it in his correspondence, and a pen drawing of the scene is part of his estate.

Present-day visitors to Forum Square can experience the same view Van Gogh did when he painted the enchanting café scene. The square remains a vibrant center of life in Arles, bustling with energy both day and night. Tourists are invited to enjoy the lively scenes, absorb the square’s ambiance, and witness the timeless allure that inspired Van Gogh.

Forum Square not only highlights the historical prominence of Arles as a Roman metropolis but also stands as an emblematic site in the art world, famed for being depicted in one of Van Gogh’s most celebrated paintings. Its rich history intertwined with notable artistry continues to attract global visitors, offering them a chance to delve into Arles’s cultural heritage.

Location: Place du Forum, Arles, France | Hours: 24 Hours | Price: Free
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