Thursday, December 5, 2013

Romans in Arles, France

Written by Karen.
We roll into Arles, France one afternoon after being ricocheted like a pinball throughout Provence for most of the afternoon.  Provence, like other areas in France, has traffic circles installed at every junction to keep the traffic continuously flowing. This can be a good thing if you happen to know exactly where you are going. In these cases, you can arrive at a planned destination in relatively short order.  However, traffic circles can also be an exercise in flexibility and map-reading frustration if you - like us - are not exactly sure of your current location.  

We opted to not rent GPS on this road trip through Italy and France and have lived to regret that decision.  Over the past several weeks, we have stopped multiple times along the side of the road to spread our regional map across the entire front hood of the little guy in a vain attempt to actually locate where we might be.  We have found that most of the secondary roads - and other small off-roads - are not marked on our maps.  Eventually in order to ensure marital bliss, we have decided to throw caution to the winds, threw away our maps, and have determined to just drive. 

We see blue signs indicating the national highway is somewhere close by, but opt to take the road less traveled.  Sometimes we can see a small white signpost pointing in the direction that we think we should take.  Sometimes we miss the turn altogether and just keep going in another direction.  And other times we make illegal turns in a valiant attempt to find our destination.  We eventually found our destination this afternoon as we finally entered the city limits of Arles.  

Arles is the largest city - area wise - in France. Surprisingly, it is more than three times the municipal area of Paris, while only having around 50,000 people claim residency to the city of Arles. It is also a city that has been in existence since around 800 years B.C.  With a very long and varied history that includes Ligurians, Roman Emperors, Greeks, Celtics, Italians, French, philosophers and artists, the city - and surrounding area - demands to be given time to expose herself to the visitor.  

The small, cobblestoned alleys are lined with vibrant orange, yellow and burnt sienna colored buildings.  As we walk, the warmth of the Proven├žal light turns these alleys into a series of Post-Impressionist paintings.  It's easy to see how Vincent Van Gogh painted more than 250 paintings in the short period of time he lived in Arles in the late 1800's.  The afternoon light beckons you to turn a corner, to see the colors, the light, the shadows, and then beckons you to see something else as the afternoon light changes. And then it changes again.  

Arles is also a city full of Roman ruins, with the Arles amphitheater being one of the most significant historical ruins to visit.  

According to the literature posted around the amphitheater, the Arles amphitheater was built during the last decade of the I century A.D with traces of the original ancient Roman city walls.  These original walls of Arles date back to the reign of Roman Emperor Augustus. The Arles amphitheater was originally used for bloody hand-to-hand gladiator combat and chariot races.  Today, the Arles amphitheater is used for bloody bullfights and theatrical plays.  

The Arles amphitheater was inspired by the Roman coliseum, but is slightly larger in size.  According to posted literature, the amphitheater has a main axis 136 meters long and a minor axis 107 meters wide and figures in 20th position among the amphitheaters of the Roman world.  The shape is elliptical.  The 21 meter high facade is composed of two levels of sixty semi-circular arches.  Spectators were seated according to their social status.  The seating galleries were organized so that the building could empty in a very short time without spectators from different social classes ever meeting.  

Adam and I walk up and down the steps of the amphitheater, poke into the dark, dusty  caverns that feel - and smell - ancient, stare over the red roofs to the Rhone River in the far off distance, feel the sandy, crusty indentations that have been also felt by others centuries ago, hear the muted sounds of voices echo throughout the stone corridors and feel the warmth of the sun start to fade as we travel through time.

Pictures of the Arles Amphitheater

Checker-board stacked stone walls
View to the Rhone River.  On the sides of the walls throughout the amphitheater, names and dates are carved into the rock walls, now slightly crumbly and soft.
Long distance views from the very top of the amphitheater
An ancient stone sea scallop - perhaps six inches across - embedded into the top stone as you climb up and down the stairs.  The scallop feels soft and warm, and I can feel the ridges as I run my fingers over the stone shell.  How many people have touched this stone sea scallop as they descended down the steps? 
Neighboring homes seen through the lower level arches
Original ancient architecture 
The underground walkways and side caverns where people and animals were staged.
The amphitheater
The recreated amphitheater from a birds-eye perspective.  Courtesy of the Arles amphitheater posted literature.
Arles amphitheater arches and angles
Across the street from the Arles amphitheater is the ancient Roman theater.  The following pictures are taken of the mostly dismantled theater. While similar in time and use of building materials to the amphitheater, the theatre was primarily used for song, dance and plays and had incredible acoustic capabilities.

The final two remaining original Corinthian pillars
Decorated rooms and arches

While mostly dismantled, the remnants of the ancient theatre are stacked in piles throughout the area.

Walking around the neighborhoods of Arles, the color in this part of the wall grabs my attention.
The sunlight turns the colors and tiny cobblestoned alleys into Post-Impressionist paintings.
Cafe Terrace at Night, September 1888. Vincent Van Gogh. Courtesy of Wikipedia


Jennifer Chase said...

AMAZING photos! Did you get to spend much time just sitting and taking everything in? Thanks so much for sharing.

Observers of Life said...

Hi Jennifer!

Thanks! We were able to sit and be still in the moment - it's always amazing to feel the warmth of old stones and know they are from another time!