Well we drove to Arles, and Arles was there.
Then we promptly got lost looking for the eSpace Van Gogh, finally we asked some likely lads on a back street and they kindly directed us to the old hospital.
This is where Van Gogh was hospitalised after that infamous argument with Paul Gauguin, and the later lopping off of his own ear.
You may have seen Van Gogh’s painting. The hospital was built in the 16th and 17th centuries and is named the Hôtel Dieu-Saint Espirit, the entrance is on Rue Dulau.
Today it’s a community centre with some tourist shops on the ground floor, which was a surprise to us. But, looking at the garden you can still imagine Vincent on his way to talk to Dr Felix. All in all much better than another mausoleum for another dead artist.
Walking back to the town square it’s hard to ignore St. Tropheme, apparently it’s a great example of the Romanesque style of architecture. Round arches mean Romanesque, if pointed it’s gothic. So Notre Dame would be …
We stopped to watch an open air puppet theatre on the street in front of St Tropheme,along with an entranced audience of local children. I’ve always found this style of puppet slightly sinister, the dead white of the face, brrr.
Then we headed up the Rue du Cloitre towards the roman theatre.
Passing under the archway of and round the corner takes you to the edge of the roman theatre. When I think about I’ve actually seen a few Roman theatres, Jordan, Greece, Egypt and Italy. Which kind of indicates that a) the Romans loved their theatre, and b) they really got about.
The local Coliseum of Arles, and colossal sums it up. Built in that confident and much copied, ‘the Empire will last a thousand years’, imperial style. Of course once the Empire fell the local population decided that civil protection was more important than circuses, so out went the lions and in went the towns folk, in what ended up as a town within a town.
The coliseum remained a suburb of Arles (including it’s own two churches) until the 19th century when the place was returned to it’s former glory. There have been bull fights here since its restoration, Although the traditional form is a bloodless contest (for the bulls) in which the competitor has to snatch rosette from the head of the bull. Unfortunately Spanish bull fighting, in which the bulls die, is becoming more popular.
And here’s Van Gogh’s view of the ring and bull games as the locals call it, painted in November or thereabouts of 1888. Just a few short weeks later, came that christmas argument with Gauguin.
And of course I lost Galina in the tunnels beneath the Coliseum, small panicky moment in the labyrinth before heading up top to the entrance staircase to wait until… ‘Matthew!’. Phew, I was starting wonder how to explain loosing my bride on her honeymoon. 🙂
When VG painted those leaning houses and odd perspectives he wasn’t exaggerating, here it is. After looking at the map we plunged into the heart of the old town to check out some more ancient ruins.
Constantine’s thermal baths with that Byzantinian look. Arles has been a favourite city of the Roman Emperor’s ever since Arles sided with Julius Caesar against Pompey. The Emperors often used it on military campaigns, so much so that the emperor Constantine II was actually born in Arles.
So after our sightseeing we wandered along the edge of the Rhone until we got to the Rue Du Pont then walked back towards Place du Republique where we sat down and had a drink in the midst of which we both agreed that an ice cream would be a great idea, said ice cream procured it was time for a little window shopping. Things are so much cheaper out here in the provinces, didn’t you know. 🙂
Mid afternoon we very regretfully took our leave of Arles and headed west to make our connection with the TGV at Montpellier and then… Barcelona!