Arles (Arle in Provençal) is a city in the south of France, in the Bouches-du-Rhône département, of which it is a sous-préfecture, in the former province of Provence.


The Rhône river divides itself in two arms in Arles, forming the Camargue delta. Because the Camargue is administratively part of Arles, Arles is the largest commune in France in terms of territory, although its population is only slightly more than 50,000. Its area is 750 km², which is 7 times the area of Paris.


Arles was an important city in Roman times (Latin name: Arelate), frequently used as headquarters for Roman Emperors in the 4th century during military campaigns, as well being the seat of the Praetorian Prefecture of the Gauls. Roman Arles was the birthplace of the skeptical philosopher Favorinus.

Arles was a favorite city of Emperor Constantine the Great, who build baths there, remains of which are still standing. Emperor Constantine III declared himself emperor in the West (407 - 411) and made Arles his capital in 408. Though Arles was Arian in the 4th century, it became an important base for the Christianization of Gaul. Saint Honoré, then Saint Hilary were bishops of Arles in the first half of the 5th century. The friction between the Arian Christianity of the Visigoths and the more orthodox Catholicism of the bishops sent out from Rome established deep roots for religious heterodoxy, even heresy, in Occitan culture. At Treves in 385, Priscillian achieved the distinction of becoming the first Christian burned alive for heresy (Manichaean in his case, see also Cathars, Camisards).

View of the city center, with the Rhône in the background

The Roman amphitheater

During the Middle Ages, townspeople fortified the amphitheater and built a little town inside it, letting the walls of the amphitheater serve as the walls of a minuscule walled town, but in the modern period this town was demolished and the amphitheater returned to its Roman appearance.

Vincent Van Gogh lived in Arles in 1888-1889 and painted a number of his most famous paintings there, including the Night Cafe, the Yellow Room, Starry Night, and L'Arlesienne. Paul Gauguin visited van Gogh in Arles. However, there is no painting by Van Gogh in Arles.


Important remains of Roman times include the ancient theater, the arena or amphitheater, and Alyscamps (Roman cemetery). They have been listed as World Heritage Sites since 1981.

The cathedral of St. Trophime (Saint Trophimus) is a major work of Romanesque architecture, and the representation of the Last Judgment on its portal is considered one of the finest examples of Romanesque sculpture, as are the columns in the adjacent cloister.

Portal of Saint Trophimus cathedral

Cloister of Saint Trophimus


A famous photography festival takes place in Arles every year, and the French national school of photography is located there. The major French publishing house Actes Sud is also located in Arles.

Bull fightss are conducted in the Roman amphitheater, including Provencal-style bullfights in which the bull is not killed but rather a team of athletic men attempt to remove a tassle from the bull's horn without getting injured.

Jeanne Calment (1875-1997), the oldest human being whose age is documented, was born, lived and died in Arles.

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