and western Provence

Arles was founded by the Romans as a rival to the ancient Greek cities (like Nice and Marseilles) along what is now the French coast when they conquered Gaul. Its legacy is still visible in the public buildings that remain from the Roman era. During the Middle Ages, Arles was briefly the capital city of its own kingdom and part of the Holy Roman Empire before being taken over by France. Nowadays tourists are the main invaders of Provence.

The old Roman walls, for example, still encircle part of the old town:

Odd fragments of the Roman past are sprinkled throughout
the old town, such as what remains of this Roman temple:

The Roman past had to accomodate itself to changing realities, though. This Roman amphitheater was converted in the Middle Ages into a fortress by blocking up the openings and building towers here and there around its perimeter. At one point during the early Middle Ages there were over 200 houses and 2 chapels within the amphitheater, so it became almost a town within a town. In recent years, most of the doorways have been restored to their Roman appearance, but some of the medieval towers and blocked up archways remain.

One of the most famous sights in Arles is the Romanesque church of St.-Trophime,
built in the twelfth century, with its elaborated sculpted entrance:

The carvings recall the Christians thrown to the lions during the Roman persecutions,
since Arles was one of the oldest of Roman towns with a Christian population.

Within the church grounds is a beautiful cloister, also from the Romanesque era:

This cloister also has beautiful sculptures, dating mostly from the twelfth century:

As with all Roman towns, it was forbidden to be buried within a town, so the cemetery lined the roads
outside the town walls. Remnants of one of the roads and its cemetery still survive at Arles:

Nîmes is another city that began as a Roman settlement, as is not too far from Arles.
Again, the remnants of that past are plentiful.
Between Arles and Nîmes lies the tiny village of Les Baux de Provence. Well, tiny to us. It was for a short while the capital of the independent kingdom of Provence, so it has the ruins of what were for the time wealthy homes made of stone and walls that encircle the town.
It is easy to see why this site was fortified during the Middle Ages:
it commands a view over the huge mouth of the Rhône River.
Much of Provence is like that: rocky outcrops and high hills rising from the plain. In this same region is also the town of Gordes that offers such a picturesque sight that it is often visited and photographed by tourists to Provence.
The narrow and winding streets of Gordes are just what you would imagine Provence to look like.
A few miles from Gordes is the now abandoned village of Les Bories, made entirely of piled stones
in a traditional manner once regularly used by the poorest people in Provence.
This part of western Provence is also home to one of the best preserved of Roman aqueducts, called the Pont du Gard.
Just a few miles from the Pont du Gard there happened to be another of the churches dedicated to Saint Gerald,
in a small village called Esterzargues. Of course, we had to see it.
What was fascinating about this church, as with others that were far distant from Aurillac, is how differently Saint Gerald has been remembered there. According to a local legend, he was a nobleman who became a hermit and lived near the Pont du Gard. An eighteenth-century painting shows him as a medieval nobleman, but in the same church, he is also represented as a dark-skinned Roman soldier (probably confused with one of several north African Roman soldiers who were martyred for their Christian faith).
Click here to go to the next page.
Click here to return to the main menu and the map of France.