Arles, France – Van Gogh, Caesar, and everyone else

It was market day in Arles, so off we drove to the ancient little town in search of fabric, lavender, cheese and chanterelles.  Along the way we discovered the trails that VanGogh followed and the wonders that Caesar left behind.

A ring road circles the inner city; on Saturdays wall-to-wall market stands blanket the ring road.

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The ever-present security forces were cheerful as they made their rounds on market day in Arles.
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Marching past hundreds of market stands in Arles.
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That’s me trying to figure out how to get a watermelon home in my purse. Arles, France Market
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I wish I liked cheese – the selections were amazing! Arles, France Market
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Squash blossoms, anyone? Arles, France Market
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Every kind of olive – and I bought lots. Arles, France Market
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Arles, France Market
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I so wish I could have brought all this through customs. I wasn’t sure which would be considered spices and which would be considered seeds – customs confiscated my lavender last year. Arles, France Market
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I wish I could share the heavenly aroma. And, yes! I did bring home curry. Arles, France Market
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Market, ARles, France
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Just more and more wonderfulness. Arles, France Market
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The sweetest, freshest garlic. We took some home and roasted garlic with dinner. Delicious! Arles, France Market
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Here’s the forbidden lavender – I knew I couldn’t get it through customs. But the scent memory lingers. Arles, France Market
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It was melon season in the south of France. Sweet and vibrant, the melons were our staple with nearly every meal. Arles, France Market
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The euro stand thrives at French markets with all the little things you would find at an American dollar store, complete with “made in China” imprinted on most items. Arles, France Market

 

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This old, boarded up building stood next to the market – no idea what it is or what it was once used for. But the grim, dirty structure reminded me of buildings left to decay on the streets of our rust belt cities. Arles, France Market
Puppies in a window. The French love their dogs and we usually saw pets in markets, under cafe tables, even in churches. But these were the only dogs we saw in the crowded Arles market. Arles, France Market
Puppies in a cage. The French love their dogs and we usually saw pets in markets, under cafe tables, even in churches. But these were the only dogs we saw in the crowded Arles market. Arles, France Market
The colors of Provence are subtle, worn and heart-breakingly beautiful. Arles, France Market
The colors of Provence are subtle, worn and heart-breakingly beautiful. Arles, France Market
Boys will be boys! Arles, France
Boys will be boys! Arles, France
Van Gogh

Van Gogh’s life and paintings tapped us on our shoulders, demanding attention, wherever we traveled in Provence.  Arles was ripe with reminders of Van Gogh’s prodigious work.

Van Gogh sat next to the coliseum in Arles and painted the crowds as they swarmed after an event. This is where he painted the Arena at Arles in 1888. The sign says: "I saw bullfights in the arena, or rather sham fighting ... Only the crowd was wonderful, the large, colorful crowd, superimposed two and three stories of steps with the effect of sun and shade of the huge circle. This painting is at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia.
This sign uses Van Gogh’s words about this painting. He sat next to the coliseum in Arles and painted the crowds as they swarmed after an event. This is where he painted the Arena at Arles in 1888. The sign says: “I saw bullfights in the arena, or rather sham fighting … Only the crowd was wonderful, the large, colorful crowd, superimposed two and three stories of steps with the effect of sun and shade of the huge circle. This painting is at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Van Gogh sat in a garden painting the entrance way to create L'Entree du Jardin Public in 1888. (The painting is now owned by the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. - one of my all time favorite galleries!) The sign posted in the garden contains Van Gogh's words in a letter to his brother: "Because I never had such luck, here nature is extraordinarily beautiful. Everything and everywhere the dome of the sky is admirable blue , the sun was a pale sulfur radiation and it's sweet and charming as the combination of celestial blue and yellow in the Van der Meer of Delft. I can not paint as beautiful as this, but absorbs me as I let myself go without thinking of rules."
Van Gogh sat in a garden painting the entrance way to create L’Entree du Jardin Public in 1888. (The painting is now owned by the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. – one of my all time favorite galleries!) The sign posted in the garden contains Van Gogh’s words in a letter to his brother: “Because I never had such luck, here nature is extraordinarily beautiful. Everything and everywhere the dome of the sky is admirable blue , the sun was a pale sulfur radiation and it’s sweet and charming as the combination of celestial blue and yellow in the Van der Meer of Delft.
I can not paint as beautiful as this, but absorbs me as I let myself go without thinking of rules.”
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This is the garden path that Van Gogh painted, as described in the photo above. Arles, France
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A tribute to Van Gogh just a few steps from where he once painted in Arles, France.
Stores throughout Arles sell everything from bobble heads to postcards in honor of their favorite visitor, van Gogh. Arles, France
Stores throughout Arles sell everything from bobble heads to postcards in honor of their favorite visitor, van Gogh. Arles, France
The Fondation Van Gogh
The Foundation Van Gogh transformed the 15th century Hôtel Léautaud de Donines into a showplace for Van Gogh's art. Arles, France
The Foundation Van Gogh transformed the 15th century Hôtel Léautaud de Donines into a showplace for Van Gogh’s art. Arles, France

The Foundation van Gogh is a beautiful gallery that features the works of van Gogh alongside modern-day artists whose work relates.  (Here’s an interesting article from the NY Times about the gallery opening in 2014.)  We raced through the works of Glenn Brown, not quite understanding the connection, and a bit horrified at the personal agony undertaken in the art.  But we were rewarded with the lucious paintings of Van Gogh.

Self portrait with Grey Felt hat, 1887. A museum display says the painting is, "very accomplished and portrays a more elegant van Gogh (than an earlier self portrait). It is well-considered and neo-impressionist experiment in his new modern style and technique, executed in strong, contrasting colors and expressive brushstrokes."
Self portrait with Grey Felt hat, 1887. A museum display says the painting is, “very accomplished and portrays a more elegant van Gogh (than an earlier self portrait). It is well-considered and neo-impressionist experiment in his new modern style and technique, executed in strong, contrasting colors and expressive brushstrokes.” Fondation van Gogh, Arles, France
Van Gogh's Pollard Willows at Sunset, Arles, 1888
Van Gogh’s Pollard Willows at Sunset, Arles, 1888 Fondation van Gogh, Arles, France
Van Gogh's Avenue of Poplars in Autumn, 1884. The museum says van Gogh was an admirer of seasonal landscape motifs and was influenced by both Western art and Japanese prints. "Every year the arrival of autumn excited him and led to beautiful and slightly melancholic works." This landscape was painted near Neunen.
Van Gogh’s Avenue of Poplars in Autumn, 1884. The museum says van Gogh was an admirer of seasonal landscape motifs and was influenced by both Western art and Japanese prints. “Every year the arrival of autumn excited him and led to beautiful and slightly melancholic works.” This landscape was painted near Neunen. Fondation van Gogh, Arles, France
Van Gogh's Blossoming Chestnut Trees, Auvers-sur-Oise, 1890. Fondation van Gogh, Arles, France
Van Gogh’s Blossoming Chestnut Trees, Auvers-sur-Oise, 1890. Fondation van Gogh, Arles, France
DSC03316 Arles Van Gogh - Snow Covered Field with a Harrow, 1890
Van Gogh’s Snow Covered Field with a Harrow (After Millet) Saint-Remy-du-Provence, 1890. (Don’t you love the line after line of paint like waves in the ocean?) Fondation van Gogh, Arles, France
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Van Gogh’s Field with Trees near Arles, 1888. (see those horizontal lines again?) Fondation van Gogh, Arles, France
DSC03309 Arles Van Gogh - Fishing Boats on the Beach at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer 1888
My favorite painting in this collection. According to the museum, van Gogh was convinced that color was the key to modernity. That’s why I love this painting – the color! Fishing Boats on the Beach at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Arles, 1888. Fondation van Gogh, Arles, France
DSC03302 Arles Van Gogh - Sorrowful Old Man, 1890
This painting breaks my heart. I can feel this old man’s despair. Van Gogh’s Sorrowful Old Man, 1890. Fondation van Gogh, Arles, France
Bistrot Arlesien

My favorite part of the day – lunch!  We strolled around until we spotted the Bistrot Arlesien near the center of town.   The cafe was empty (it was early) and we chose the perfect shady seats just out of reach of the hot sun.

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Sher and Denise at the Arles Bistrot Arlesien
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We chose the special of the day. Delicious chicken, a crisp salad, and the expected French fries. Excellent. Arles Bistrot Arlesien
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Menu at Arles Bistrot Arlesien, Arles. Lunch was about $15.
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Painting on a column near our restaurant. Arles Bistrot Arlesien
Caesar comes to Arles

I was surprised at the huge presence of Rome in southern France.  Every city seemed to have a bit of aquaduct or an arena to call their own.  Those Romans were wiley!  First they provided extraordinary infrastructure – roads and water – to their conquered citiies.  Then they added government buildings.  Entertainment soon followed housed in centrally-located arenas and coliseums.

Hard to turn my back on this view of the Roman coliseum! Arles, France
Hard to turn my back on this view of the Roman coliseum! Arles, France
This coliseum still has it's third story placard in place, rare for a Roman ruin. Arles, France
This coliseum still has it’s third story placard in place, rare for a Roman ruin. Arles, France
You can see that modern entrepreneurism sits cheek to jowl to the ancient coliseum. Arles, France
You can see that modern entrepreneurism sits cheek to jowl to the ancient coliseum. Arles, France
The beautiful colors of Provence, ready to take home, next to the coliseum. Arles, France
The beautiful colors of Provence, ready to take home, next to the coliseum. Arles, France
Many of the ancient buildings have been used and reused over the centuries. This building was the Franciscan Cloister in 1469, the Chapelle des Penitents Gris in 1562, and is currently the College of St. Charles.
Many of the ancient buildings have been used and reused over the centuries. This building was the Franciscan Cloister in 1469, the Chapelle des Penitents Gris in 1562, and is currently the College of St. Charles.
Ancient Antiquities

Arles takes its treasures seriously and established the Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence antiques in 1995.  Of course, we had to see it!

 

Photo source: Arles-guide.com
Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence Antiques. Photo source: Arles-guide.com
Model of the Arles coliseum. Musée de l'Arles et de la Provence antiques
Model of the Arles coliseum. Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence antiques

So what do you do when your city is under constant attack in the middle ages?  How about building your city inside the walls of the long defunct coliseum?  That’s what the people of Arles did during the 1500’s.

People built their homes inside the walls of the coliseum in medival times. Musée de l'Arles et de la Provence antiques
People built their homes inside the walls of the coliseum in medival times. Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence antiques
Here's my man, Cesar. He couldn't be everywhere so a statue of his likeness was posted in every occupied town. Napoleon liked the idea so much that he sent paintings of himself for display in his conquered cities. Musée de l'Arles et de la Provence antiques
Here’s my man, Caesar, about 100 BC. He couldn’t be everywhere so a statue of his likeness was posted in every occupied town. Napoleon liked the idea so much that he sent paintings of himself for display in his conquered cities. Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence antiques

According to the Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence Antiques:  “In 49 BC, in the midst of civil war, Caesar who wanted to take the City of Marseilles that supported his opponent Pompeii resolved to build 12 ships at Arles which being completed and rigged in 30 days – from the time the timber was cut down – and brought to Massila (Marseilles)” (De Bello civili, I-36).

“At the end of the conflict with the supporters of Pompeii in the Iberian Peninsula, victorious Caesar rewarded Arles for its help by founding in 46 BC a colony under Roman law and granting it with part of Masilla-confiscated territories. He settled there the veterans of the VIth legion who had remained faithful to him during the civil war, whence the name of the new colony Colonia Julia paterna Arelate sextanorum  this decision allowed the free Arlesian people to become Roman citizens.”

A Roman floor fount intact in Arles. Musée de l'Arles et de la Provence antiques
A Roman floor fount intact in Arles. Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence antiques
Part of a grand Roman mosaic floor. Musée de l'Arles et de la Provence antiques
Part of a grand Roman mosaic floor. Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence antiques
Statue of a captive slave. Musée de l'Arles et de la Provence antiques
Statue of a captive discovered in 2007. The Museum says this is a high quality bronze figure of a man in the classic attitude of a prisoner, symbolizing that the people of Arles are now under the authority of Rome. This was a monumental public figure. Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence antiques
Ancient lion discovered in Arles. Musée de l'Arles et de la Provence Antiques.
Ancient lion of l’Arcoule was discovered in Arles. This lion, made from local materials, was unusual for the region and the era, was probably used as part of funeral art. Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence Antiques.
I cannot believe these graceful scrolls were created more than 2,000 years ago. Musée de l'Arles et de la Provence Antiques.
I cannot believe these graceful scrolls were created more than 2,000 years ago. Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence Antiques.
More grace discovered in Arles, with flowing robes and curvy legs. Musée de l'Arles et de la Provence Antiques.
More grace discovered in Arles, with flowing hair and curvy legs. Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence Antiques.

So how did all this stuff get to Arles?  Much of it was created onsite but much also arrived by boat.  The museum features a preserved merchant boat that carried everything from rocks to wine.

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Merchant boat. Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence Antiques.
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Merchant boat. Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence Antiques.
So much Roman remnants have been discovered that sarcophagi cover an entire wall of the museum. These items are at least seven feet wide! Musée de l'Arles et de la Provence Antiques.
So many Roman remnants have been discovered that sarcophagi friezes cover an entire wall of the museum. These items are at least seven feet wide! Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence Antiques.
Close-up of a sarcophagus. Musée de l'Arles et de la Provence Antiques.
Close-up of a sarcophagus from a later period of Arles history. Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence Antiques.
Here's a close-up of the detailed carvings on a sarcophagus. Musée de l'Arles et de la Provence Antiques.
Here’s a close-up of the detailed carvings on a sarcophagus. Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence Antiques.
A Roman frieze. Musée de l'Arles et de la Provence Antiques.
A Roman frieze. Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence Antiques.
More Roman artwork. Musée de l'Arles et de la Provence Antiques.
More Roman artwork. Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence Antiques.
The museum offers free portable seats - most welcome after a long day of walking on cobble stones and asphalt. Musée de l'Arles et de la Provence Antiques.
The museum offers free portable seats – most welcome after a long day of walking on cobble stones and asphalt. Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence Antiques.

We only scratched the surface of Arles during our day trip.  You could spend days here roaming the countryside, visiting the shops, enjoying cafe life, and meeting the residents.  And I will – on another day!

Arles, France
Arles, France
Arles, France
Arles, France

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author: barbgrano1

Just let me see the world! I’m currently focusing on the US and Europe and invite you to share my travels. I teach ethics and political science at St. Petersburg College part time; I retired as a college administrator in Ohio. I am a total geek about government with huge wishes for continued freedom and respect for the individual. We must each do our part.

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