Arles France is a popular stop on the destination list for European travelers. The town is a go-to for those who enjoy ancient Roman history, as the Roman ruins here are spectacular. This town is home to the famous Arles Amphitheater, one of the best preserved Roman structures in Europe. The amphitheater and the other ruins are incorporated into the everyday life of the town, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town is pleasantly medieval, with winding streets and cobblestone paths. The surrounding area of Arles France is also an idyllic place to explore after you discover the ruins here. Travel to Arles is best during the spring and summer months when the weather is pleasant, but there will be a crowd at this time of year, so if you’re seeking solitude, you may pick another season to visit.
Arles France was established by the Greeks in the sixth century BC under the name of Theline. The settlement was then taken over by the Celtic Saluvii in 536 BC and finally taken by the Romans in 123 BC and re-named Arelate. The Romans transformed the city and made it an important stronghold of the Roman Empire, greatly improved infrastructure and built a canal outlet to the Mediterranean Sea in 104 BC. The city remained prominent through the fourth and fifth centuries AD, as it served as the place of power for Gaul and later became a favorite city of Emperor Constantine the Great. Roman Arelate, present day Arles, began its decline when the Muslim Saracens gained power of the area in the sixth century. Although it enjoyed small boosts of economic strength after this, Arles ceased to operate at its past strength and became a recluse area for those who preferred a quiet life, such as painter Vincent van Gogh.
Although the area is quiet, many travel to Arles to explore the acres of Roman ruins and get a glimpse of the prominent past life this settlement enjoyed. The Roman Arena in Arles is one of the most famous sites here and one of the most intact. It can hold about 25,000 spectators and was built by the Romans in 50 AD. The arena served as the main place of entertainment for the citizens of Arles. It regularly held bullfights, and today visitors can enjoy a variety of shows, including bullfighting, throughout the year at the Roman amphitheater. The arena also plays hosts to a number of festivals, such as the International Photography Festival from July through September and the Epic Film Festival in August.
The Thermes de Constantin, meaning the Baths of Constantine, are another must-see spot on your travel to Arles. They are situated in the north part of town near the Rhone River. These baths were constructed by the Emperor Constantine the Great who took a strong liking upon the city and named it his capitol in 306 AD. The complex of Thermes de Constantin was built as part of Constantine's palace here and were quite a spectacle when completed. Of these once beautiful buildings, only three survive. Visitors can now explore the Caldarium (warm bath), Hypocaust (underfloor heating), and Tepidarium (warm air room) to gain an understanding on how complex these baths actually were.
St. Trophime Cathedral is also an excellent sign of Roman power and creativity. The Romanesque portal at the entrance to the cathedral is elaborately carved and depicts scenes of the Last Judgment. Although the inside of the cathedral is somewhat dim, the symmetry and architecture are worth a look. The Museum of Ancient Arles is also a must-see. It provides detailed information of the development of Arles over time and showcases the hundreds of artifacts that have been found on-site. It houses a large collection of Roman sarcophagi and artifacts from the Greeks.
Arles has certainly earned its status as a great attraction in France, due in no small part to its excellent Roman ruins. If you’re planning a trip to the Mediterranean or are interested in touring Roman ruins in the ancient world, such as Leptis Magna or Aspendos, it’s worth adding Arles to your itinerary—this is a destination you won’t soon forget. Arles is near the southern coast, meaning it's easy to add trips to Marseille or some of the French beaches to your vacation as well.