Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Arles. Ici: Arles.

This was the announcement that told us when to get off the train at Arles station. We found we had a day to kill in Marseille between checking out of our hotel and our train leaving at 7.30 pm. So we decided to day-trip to Arles, which is a scenic and historic backwater town on the Rhone, where among other people Van Gogh did most of his painting. I was more interested in its Roman architecture and the twelfth-century church of St. Trophime.

Arles, like Marseille, was founded by the Greeks in the 6th century BCE, but they quickly lost it to the Celts in 535 BCE. In the second century BCE, it became the Roman town of Arelate, and since, unlike Marseille, it was on the winning side of the power struggle between Caesar and Pompey, it kept its laurels, so to speak, and was designated as a retirement colony for veterans of the Sixth Legion.

The old city of Arles is about a ten-minute walk from the train station. I was a bit spacey that day: this is a picture taken from the point at which I turned to Rex and remarked, "I wonder where the Roman arena is?"

arena

It's a very impressive piece of engineering: stone instead of concrete, but really beautiful in its proportions. The best part? It's still in use for everything from bullfights (the Provencal kind, where the bull isn't killed) to rock concerts. In the picture below you can see the numbered gates so you can match the location of your seat with the right entry. This is in fact a Roman system (at the Colosseum, your "ticket" was an ostrakhon -- a potsherd -- with your seat number on it), but the thing is, the original numbers have all worn off the Arles arena.

arena3

The church of St-Trophime also blew me away, with its beautifully preserved 12th century portal. This guy has apparently been waiting for his pizza since 1175:

trophime5

while inside the cloister, memorial plaques for the canons of the establishment are located around the walls:

trophime6

This one is dated 1221 (click for an inexact translation).

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