About Arles Archaeological Museum
The Arles Archaeological Museum, known as Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence Antique, displays an array of artefacts from archaeological sites in Arles and in the surrounding region.
From prehistoric funereal pieces to Roman statues and mosaics from the nearby sites such as the Arles Roman Theatre, the Arles Archaeological Museum is a good place to gain an overview of the town’s history. A visit can be done chronologically or by theme and guided tours are available every Sunday at 3pm (July-August daily).
Arles Archaeological Museum history
The Departmental Museum of Ancient Arles was built on the site of the old Roman circus in 1995, to house the very rich archaeological collections of one of Bouches-du-Rhône’s most beautiful cities.
The city of Arles has a long history of interesting monuments and artefacts which have captured the curiosity of the population. In 1614, the first presentation of a public collection of antiques was organized at the “Common House”. Public heritage awareness was asserted in the 17th century when a decree ordered that the product of any discovery be deposited in this place.
The construction of the Town Hall offered an exhibition space in the entrance hall which housed the city’s first public collection.
This allowed major works, now exhibited in the museum, such as the torso of Aiôn or the statue of Medea, to be preserved. A real museum was created on the site by Étienne Dumont in 1784 which was unfortunately looted during the Revolution. In 1805 an imperial edict established a museum that took shape in the Sainte-Anne church under the Restoration.
In 1936, the lack of space led to the annexation of the Jesuit chapel: the pagan and Christian collections were arbitrarily separated. The creation of an adapted museum institution brought together all the collections in 1995 within the Musée de l’Arles antique.
Arles Archaeological Museum today
The thrilling thing about this region around the Rhône delta is that it keeps throwing up new discoveries. One of the museum’s star exhibits was found in 2008 just on the other side of the river.
In 2016 the Musée Arles Antique became one of 20 museums in France to be awarded a coveted third star in the Michelin Guide.
The Musée Arles Antique is dominated by Roman artefacts, but also has ceramics, jewellery, tools and weapons from the pagan, Neolithic era, dating back to 2500 BC. The Greeks and early Christians are represented too.
Inside the vast exhibition spaces display the permanent and temporary collections arranged in chronological and thematic order.
As usual in French museums, most of the information and signage is in French only, except in the new extension for the Arles Rhône 3 barge, which has signs in Italian and English.
The museum organises theme tours, lectures, performances, classes and workshops throughout the year.
Getting to Arles Archaeological Museum
The museum is built near the ruins of the Roman circus of Arles and the Rhône river, a 20 minute walk away from the centre of Arles. There is a free shuttle bus (route Navia A) that runs every half hour.
There’s plenty of parking around the museum, including free parking areas and a charge point for electric cars. The busy N113 road leading east out of Arles passes close by, via exit no.5.
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