History

Long before Van Gogh 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 (where the animals are still taunted) and three-day street parties.