A bit north of the Place du Forum, at about 13 Rue du Sauvage, are the remains of a basilica incorporated into the façade of the Hôtel d’Arlatan. A sign on the building on the west side of Rue du Sauvage marks the spot. Some of the stonework in the wall as well as the small pillar reliefs seem to be what is being referred to as the preserved portions of the basilica. Apparently other elements are conserved inside the building as well. The basilica here is dated to the reign of Constantine.
A few blocks north at Rue du Grand Prieuré are the remains of the Thermes de Constantin. The Themes de Constantin follow the same opening hours as the rest of the monuments and are included in the combination tickets. Individual admission to the baths is 4 Euros. As the name suggests, the bathing complex was constructed during Constantine’s improvements to the Arelate; the impressive apse once fueled speculation that it was part of a palatial complex. Though less than a third of the baths remain extant, the original complex is estimated to have been the largest bathing complex in the whole of Southern Gaul, covering more than 3700 square meters.
The large apse seems to have housed the pool of the caldarium, while the adjacent room, with some of the hypocaust system remaining, is identified as the caldarium. The rooms to the east of the caldarium seem to have been other heated rooms of some type, perhaps a laconicum in one, as well as what might be another praefurnium. The large room to the south is the tepidarium, and while the area of the frigidarium has been identified, it is largely inaccessible and contained within the modern buildings to the south of the tepidarium.
Heading back south in the direction of the forum area, a bit to the west, there is the Musseon Arlaten at 31 Rue de la République. The museum itself is an ethnographic museum, so there is probably not anything in the collection that would particularly appeal to one seeking the Roman vestiges of the city. I can’t confirm this, because at the time I visited, the museum was closed for renovations. The renovations were scheduled to be finished at some point in 2019, but as of the time of writing, it had not reopened. Despite the collection not being of particular interest, in the courtyard of the museum there are the remains of an exedra, possibly associated with a temple off the forum. There are also the remains of some of the late Roman city walls. When the museum is open, these features are apparently accessible.
Heading toward the southwest of the old town at Presqu’île du Cirque Romain is the Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence Antique. The museum has more consistent hours than the rest of the monuments, being open all year from 10:00 to 18:00, and open every day except for Tuesdays. Admission is included in some of the combination tickets, but individual admission to the museum is 8 Euro.
As one might expect, the museum for a city as archaeologically wealthy as Arles sports an impressive collection of artifacts. As the name suggests, though, the collection is representative of the wider area, and not just that of ancient Arelate. The museum strikes a nice balance between displaying impressive, aesthetically interesting pieces, smaller everyday objects, and archaeologically significant artifacts. The museum is mostly a large open space laid out thematically, with like themed objects grouped together, and tied in a narrative often relating to one of the monuments of the city. There is a fair amount of statuary, inscriptions, and reliefs.
There are a few really spectacular pieces in the museum. The Arles Rhône 3, a flat bottom river boat discovered in the Rhône near Arles in 2004 and on display in the museum since 2013 is particularly impressive for its completeness and level of preservation. There are also some nice figural mosaics of Aion, Orpheus, and Europa with conveniently placed viewing platforms. A fragmentary colossal statue of Augustus and a bronze statue of a captive are also among some of the nicer pieces in a collection full of interesting artifacts.
I spent a roughly two and a half hours or so in the museum, being neither rushed nor taking too leisurely a pace. There wasn’t very much in the way of English information (or any language other than French), so someone who reads French might actually see fit to spend a bit more time there. The museum is absolutely well worth visiting and makes an especially good afternoon stop in the summer; the perfect excuse to escape the heat of the day.
Circus and Necropolis
Just outside the front entrance of the museum is a semicircular, recessed green area. Within this area are the remains of the rounded end of the circus of Arelate. A few of the cells that supported the cavea of the circus are clearly visible and excavated and the curve of the track can also be seen. There is no access down into to the area, but it can be viewed from public areas that are accessible at any time. To the east across the street that borders the east end of the semicircular area, there is another large green area that contains some more remains of the circus. Parts of the northern side of the circus can be seen from Avenue Jean Monnet. There is also a path that runs along the south part of the green area, along the Canal d’Arles à Bouc. Some remains of the circus are also visible here. The visibility of all of the remains of the circus seem dependent on the upkeep of the areas, though, as a little bit of overgrown foliage would seem to be able to obscure much of what is there.
Heading back to the northeast at the intersection of Avenue des Alyscamps and Chemin Marcel Sembat is the Alyscamps Necropolis. The Alyscamps shares the same hours as the rest of the monuments and is included in some of the combo tickets. Individual admission to the necropolis is 4.50 Euro. The Alyscamps started as a Roman necropolis that grew up along the Aurelian Way in the 4th century CE as it skirted Arelate. It continued to be used through the end of the Roman period, and some of the undecorated or less decorated sarcophagi from this period remain on site, while the nicer examples are displayed in churches or in the museum. The area continued to be used as a burial ground through the medieval period and unfortunately there isn’t much differentiation on site between the funerary objects present from the earlier and later stages of use.
The final visible remains of Arelate are found to the north of the Alyscamps, along the west side of Boulevard Emile Combes between Boulevard des Lices/Avenue Victor Hugo and Rue Camille Pelletan. Here some of the remains of the Roman city walls can be found. There is also a stretch of the walls extending west down Montée Vauban from the Tour des Mourgues. The fortifications continued to be used after the Roman period, so there are sections with later constructions, such as the tower at the southeastern corner of the circuit, the Tour des Mourgues. While some Roman construction at the base can be seen, perhaps even dating back to the 1st century BCE, most of the tower is of later construction, in part using spoliated Roman material.
The walls circuit continues both to the west and to the north from there, though the section to the west is less impressive, but much easier to discern the Roman from post-Roman construction. To the north there are several towers and gates, as well as the point at which an aqueduct entered the city. This point is labeled with a sign and the route of the aqueduct beyond the city walls is memorialized with the Rue l’Aqueduc Romain, though no actual remains are visible as the aqueduct continued underground from this point. Just beyond the aqueduct entrance is the Porte de la Redoute, or sometimes called the Porte d’Auguste, the Augustus Gate. Though it’s difficult to get a good view of because of the height and trees in the area, it is in the area of the two ramparts located high above the street. As the name suggests, this portion of the walls dates to the reign of Augustus. The walls continue on, and some of the lower courses can continue to be identified as Roman in origin, though, again, most of the construction of the walls here dates to a later period.
As one of the most important Roman cities in the region, Arelate/Arles is well worth the visit. Again, one is seldom able to find the remains of all three of the major Roman entertainment venues surviving in one city (however fragmentary the circus remains may be). Arles is certainly worth a full day, and really, less than that would not do it much justice. Just hitting the major sites (theater, amphitheater, and museum) would probably be enough for a full day for some, but even with including all the minor sites, it’s a feasible endeavor to undertake without much rushing.
Ammianus Marcellinus, Rerum Gestarum, 14.5.
Avienus, Ora Maritima, 679-80.
Bromwich, James. The Roman Remains of Southern France: A Guidebook. London: Routledge, 1996.
King, Anthony. Roman Gaul and Germany. University of California Press, 1990.
Pliny the Elder, Historia Naturalis, 3.4.
Smith, William. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography. Walton & Murray, 1870.
Stillwell, Richard, William L. MacDonald, and Marian Holland. McAllister. The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. Princeton, NJ: Princeton U Press, 1976.
Strabo, Geographica, 4.1.