We chose Arles as the base for our time in Provence, spending four nights here. The city isn't quite as lively as Avignon particularly at night but it's easy to get in and out of, it's very walkable and there is plenty to do in town as well as in the surrounding area.
This model of the Roman town of Arelate (the precursor to Arles) can be found in the Museum of Arles which is located at the far end of the Circus in the top left of the model. The Circus is almost completely gone but the major sites in this model do still exist including the arena, amphitheatre, baths, parts of the walls and parts of the forum.
The arena is generally referred to as the Theatre in Arles. Parts of it are restored, other parts are reinforced or modified so that they can still use it as an arena. Bullfights are the most common event here nowadays.
Perhaps the most fascinating period in the history of the arena is actually the Middle Ages when it became a town with the town of Arles. Houses were built using the existing walls and tiers. These matched the underlying structure to form sort of a bowl-shaped enclave with about 200 homes and 2 churches crammed into the space. The Roman remnants were since reclaimed.
Nearby is the amphitheatre, also still used for modern performances. Arles sells a combined ticket for all of the major attractions which is the only reasonable way to see them. Otherwise it's 3-5 Euros for each site.
The Alyscamps started out as a Roman necropolis, visible in the model of Arelate as the cemetery-looking thing on the bottom left side of town. It continued to be used for the same purpose by early Christians and became a rather popular place to be buried for the rich and notable of the Middle Ages.
This wall is part of the original church of St. Honoratus. This was also the beginning site of one of the French branches of the St. James pilgrimage to Santiago, Spain.
Facing away from the church towards Arles and the route of Santiago there is still a long gauntlet of tombs. Many of these have original markings or portions of them at least. This is a surprisingly peaceful and quiet bit of Arles. Either we showed up between tour buses or they just don't stop here.
If one were to continue on the route to Santiago, following a series of scallop-shell signs through Arles and out into the countryside - the next major site would be the abbey in St. Gilles. St. Gilles is 15km (9 mi) west of Arles. The abbey is a little difficult to find. We stopped here on our way back into Arles from Nimes and due to a sudden thunderstorm spent some extra time in the abbey church.
The Rhone River splits just upstream of Arles into the Petit Rhone and the Grand Rhone. The delta area between them is known as the Camargue and Arles, St. Gilles and Aigues Mortes all sit on the edge of this region. Gardians are the people who live here and follow a relatively pastoral lifestyle heavily involved with the white Camargue horse, the bulls that they herd and the few crops that can be raised in the delta - mostly rice.
These obviously urban pictures are from the Festival of the Gardians which is held in Arles each year in May. There's some traditional dress (or so we're told) and some show of horsemanship in the arena. The Gardians are not really nomadic but their horses are. They are traditionally allowed to roam the Camargue freely. Apparently they have to remain on lead while in the center of Arles.
Yet another Roman relic in Arles is this obelisk in front of the city hall. Just appearing on the right edge of this picture is the medieval church of St. Tropheme. There is a difficult to find cloister that can be visited as well. We mostly went there because it was part of the Arles visitation pass we had purchased. You don't have to see everything on the list, but somehow we were always just around the corner from the next thing. We spent time almost every day sitting on the benches in this square, generally eating something we had purchased at the nearby patisserie. If you're planning to sit in the square and admire Arles, you might as well have a blueberry klafouti to keep you company.
We've more or less ignored the whole Van Gogh itinerary through Arles. It includes uninspiring monuments like the exact spot where he painted 'Starry Night'. Today, there is a river cruise port at the exact site so you have to imagine it without the mooring poles and the fancy street lights. Van Gogh also painted this courtyard when it was part of a mental hospital and he was institutionalized here. Since he painted it, everything involved has stayed more or less the same. Presumably all the postcard stores are newer additions though. Café de Nuit is another Van Gogh installation in town. It's a café much like all the rest on the small square it is located on. We avoided it because there didn't seem to be any reason to end up in that many photos whilst having lunch.
Just across the Camargue from Arles is the walled city of Aigues Mortes. It's a perfectly rectangular fortress city sitting in the middle of an otherwise featureless salt plain. It was built by the French kings so they would have at least one fortified port city on the Mediterranean. The 7th and 8th crusades launched from here. Inside the walls everything is souvenir stores and restaurants.
We stayed just across the Rhone from Arles in the district known as the Trinquetaille. This involved a pleasant five-minute walk into town across the bridge (except when raining). We can't really say enough about the restaurant scene in Arles. For a city this size it has a remarkable number of highly esteemed restaurants. We had excellent meals every night but just in case anyone is reading this before eating out in Arles - we have to particularly recommend both Au Brin du Thyme and L'Ecrin.