My adventures in southern France travel blog

A Romanesque bronze fountain depicting Herakles wearing the skin of the Nemaen...

The exterior fascade of the Roman amphitheater in Arles

A Roman head dredged from the Rhone River thought to be Julius...

A fragmented statue with the head of Augustus, first emperor of the...

A fragmented torso of Silenos, a helper to the god of wine...

The corner of a Roman sarcophagus depicting a theater mask

A mosaic with a scene of Orpheus charming the animals with his...

A mosaic with a scene of Europa and the bull

A scale weight in the shape of the goddess Minerva

The foot of an oenochoe (wine jar) depicting Herakles


Well, Richard recovered enough from our marathon at Avignon yesterday to strike out for Arles today.

The city became an important Phoenician trading port, before being taken by the Romans

in 123 BCE who expanded it into an important city, with a canal link to the Mediterranean Sea being constructed in 104 BCE. However, it struggled to escape the shadow of Massalia (Marseilles) further along the coast.

Its chance came when it sided with Julius Caesar against Pompey, providing military support. Massalia backed Pompey; when Caesar emerged victorious, Massalia was stripped of its possessions, which were transferred to Arelate (the Roman name for Arles) as a reward. The town was formally established as a colony for veterans of the Roman legion Legio VI Ferrata, which had its base there. Its full title as a colony was Colonia Iulia Paterna Arelatensium Sextanorum, "the ancestral Julian colony of Arles of the soldiers of the Sixth." It became the hub of the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis and offered visitors a theater, amphitheater, large bath complex, a triumphal arch and circus (hippodrome) where chariot racing was held.

Like Nimes, the amphitheater survives today because it continues to be used for bull fighting. However, unlike Nimes, in Arles the bulls are never killed (at least on purpose). I managed to get some nice images of it including some panoramas. The people of Arles also use the ancient Roman theater for concerts like the people of Orange but the skene structure (backdrop) is no longer extant.

We wandered around looking for the remains of the bath complex and finally found it. A pizzeria has been built in the front portion. It still had part of the round vaulted roof but none of the interior artwork remained. Usually these structures were beautifully painted with scenes of sea creatures and often featured beautiful mosaic floors but apparently they have not survived. Baths were often the center of Roman social

life and in addition to the cold, warm and hot soaking pools, usually included a library and a gymnasium for healthful exercise. Throughout most of the empire, the baths were free for everyone including slaves, although different genders and social classes had different scheduled usage hours.

It was lunch time by the time we found the baths so we chose a restaurant that was a little farther away from the tourist scene with hopes we might be able to snag another good meal like yesterday. The little restaurant was a family business with the mother and teenage children waiting on us. I ordered baked fish au gratin that was smothered with a wonderful white cheese sauce mixed with herbs and served with delicious mashed potatoes and an apple tart for dessert for only 7 euros. The bread was good and fresh too. Sorry I forgot to take a picture of it. I must have been hungry!

Unfortunately, my friends ordered rib eye steak that was served the French way - quite rare (barely seared) and neither of them liked their meal that much. I usually don't order beef when I eat out because we have it so often at home. If I do, I guess I'd better specify medium and not medium rare here.

Arles is also the home to a very large museum of antiquity. Richard and Cecelia do not like to stand around while I take pictures of museum collections so I suggested they drop me off and go shopping or sight seeing and pick me up in a couple of hours.

I had forgotten that Arles was the location that a Roman head thought to be Julius Caesar was dredged out of the Rhone River. So, if you know how much I admire Julius Caesar, you can imagine how excited I was to find the head is now the centerpiece of the museum here. Not all scholars agree with this identification as the man appears to have a wider facial structure than other sculptures identified as Julius Caesar but it was exciting to see it anyway. It has also been carefully cleaned now. It was still smudged with river mud when I first saw a picture of it on the web years ago.

There was another monumental sculpture that appeared to have the head of Augustus, the first emperor of the Roman Imperial Period. The torso of the statue was quite muscular though and since Augustus was sickly throughout most of his life, must have been a repurposed statue from an earlier period.

The museum also had some beautiful mosaic pavements. One depicted the myth of Europa and the bull and another depicted Orpheus charming a variety of animals with his lyre music. There were also several festooned with geometric patterns but I always like the polychrome picture type the best. Some of the most beautiful picture types were excavated in north Africa. I was fortunate enough to see them on a touring exhibit at the Getty Villa in Malibu several years ago.

After we got home, Cecelia made a really good cold tuna salad tonight for dinner. She cooked spiral pasta al dente then blanched fresh green beans till just tender crisp and chopped them up. Then added two cans of tuna (undrained), a can of drained sweet corn and stirred it all together with mayonnaise and "a bit" of tartar sauce. It was very tasty served with fresh bread from the "Boulangerie" and real butter (I know what you're thinking but I'm burning so much energy every day maybe it won't hurt much!) We topped it off with French pistachio ice cream that was really good. I had given up on pistachio when I tried Jello pistachio pudding and didn't like it years ago. But in real ice cream pistachio is really good!

I keep seeing these dolls called Santons at all of the souvenir shops around here so I'm contemplating getting a French Santon peasant doll for my doll collection even though I don't really have any cabinet space left. We're going over to the town of Anduze tomorrow for their weekly market and Cecelia tells me they usually sell handcrafts as well as produce so maybe I'll find just the right small one there that will still fit in one of my china cabinets when I get home.

"Santon dolls represent traditional Provencal characters that existed a few hundred years back in all villages in the South of France. They are carefully made with clay and painted by hand one by one with real life details. All objects that they carry are real and scaled down. The origin of the Santons goes back to the French revolution; Santons meaning “saint” were traditionally used in churches at Christmas time around the “crèches” or nativity scene where they represented characters from the bible and as a result attracted large crowds mostly in the Provence region. In 1789, when the French government abruptly closed all churches the parishioners were distraught and sought solace in recreating their own nativity scenes which included Santons in their homes."

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