Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Arles, Provence

Initially when I arrived in Arles, it was simply to make a bus connection travelling further South to reach Saintes Maries de la Mer (see the post below), but due to train delays I missed my connection and had nearly a full day of adventure time on my hands. I'm glad things worked out the way they did because Arles is a lovely place and full of fascinating spots to visit.

With a free map courtesy of the Tourist Bureau, I set out on foot to explore the city that inspired Van Gogh's Starry Night. In fact, having been the setting for many of Van Gogh's paintings, you can imagine that Arles is rightfully proud of its importance in Van Gogh's personal history. There are markers noting where the painter created each work in the city so that you can see the same scenery as he once painted it. These plaques are also accompanied by a reproduction of the painting. I really enjoyed seeing Van Gogh's subjects (often the Rhône river) and then how they were tranformed via the artists' canvas.

Anyone who knows much about Van Gogh knows the tale of his ill-fated ear. He cut it off in Arles, and the mental hospital where he was sent after the incident is well preserved and open to visitors. Known as L'espace Van Gogh, the former sanitorium is actually quite pleasant, featuring a vibrant courtyard painted in bright Provencal yellow and blue with gardens maintained in their original 19th century design, just as Van Gogh painted them during his recovery period.

Arles' history goes much further back than Van Gogh, however. Constantine's Roman baths, a wonderfully preserved Roman arena (the largest in France), a smaller Roman theatre, a 12th century Romanesque church and cloisters, pices of the city's medieval wall and more can all be visited on foot in the old town.

The colors of Arles are great to behold, with bright colored shutters in hues of red, blue, pink, and green. Every window features a flower box heaped with generous floral plants and vines, giving even the oldest beaten down buildings an inviting, warm glow.

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