Roman treasures, sultry stone squares and a festive atmosphere that reaches crescendo during bullfights makes Arles a seductive stepping stone into the Camargue. And if its colourful sun-baked houses evoke a sense of déjà vu, it’s because you’ve seen them already on a Van Gogh canvas.
Long before the Dutch artist captured starry nights over the Rhône, the Romans had been won over by the charms of the Greek colony Arelate. In 49 BC Arles' prosperity and political standing rose meteorically when it backed a winner in Julius Caesar. After Caesar plundered Marseille, which had supported his rival Pompey the Great, Arles eclipsed Marseille as the region's major port. Soon its citizens were living the high life with gladiator fights and chariot races in magnificent open-air theatres. Still impressively intact, the 12,000-seat theatre and 20,000-seat amphitheatre now stage events including Arles' famous férias, with their controversial lethal bullfights, less bloody courses Camarguaises and three-day street parties.