Arles Amphitheatre | Attraction Guides | History Hit

Arles Amphitheatre

Arles, Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur, France

Lucy Davidson

20 May 2021

About Arles Amphitheatre

Arles Amphitheatre, or ‘Amphithéâtre d’Arles’, is a large sports arena built by the Romans during the reign of Augustus (27 BC–14 AD) around the first century BC or AD. At the time, Arles was flourishing as a Roman colony and benefitted from the construction of several monuments, of which Arles Amphitheatre was one of the grandest.

History of Arles Amphitheatre

Known as the ‘Soul of Provence’, Arles is a southern French city situated in the Bouches-du-Rhône department of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region.

Built to accommodate over 20,000 spectators, with over a hundred Corinthian and Doric columns spread over two levels and at a length of 136 metres, Arles Amphitheatre remains one of the town’s most impressive sites.

With the Colosseum in Rome having been built from 72-80, the amphitheatre was certainly inspired by it, being built slightly later, in 90.

The Amphitheatre is oval-shaped and is surrounded by terraces, a total of 60 arcades on two levels, bleachers, a system of galleries, and a drainage system.

After the Western Empire fell in the 5th century, the amphitheatre became a shelter for the population and was transformed into a fortress with four towers. As a real and functioning town, the structure encircled more than 200 houses, with its public square built in the centre of the arena along with two chapels. Its role as a residential site continued until the late 18th century, and under the initiative of writer Prosper Merimee, from 1825 it was changed into a national historical monument.

The houses were slowly placed under national ownership and razed to the ground, with the cleared space being reopened as an arena in 1830, with a race of the bulls to celebrate the taking of Algiers taking place.

From 2001, an extensive and historically authentic restoration project was undertaken. Arles Amphitheatre is now one of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Arles Amphitheatre Today

Its excellent state of preservation means that Arles Amphitheatre is still in use today, not for chariot races, but for bullfighting. This takes place most notably during the popular festival Feria d’Arles, with one taking place in April and another in September.

Musical concerts are also held in the amphitheatre.

A painting by Vincent Van Gogh entitled ‘Les Arènes’ depicts a bull fight at the site.

Today, visitors can enjoy walking around the amphitheatre, or with a little more forward planning, see a live show at the venue itself. There are also a number of other Roman sites in Arles that visitors should try and see, including Arles Roman Theatre, the Constantine Baths, and the Archaeological Museum.

Getting to Arles Amphitheatre

From the centre of Arles, the Amphitheatre is reachable in around 6 minutes by foot via Rue de la Calade and Rond-Point des Arènes. By car, the site is reachable in around the same amount of time via Rue des Arènes.

 

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