Our ship was not due to depart from Arles until 6 pm, so Marg and I used the time available to take a walk around the town. We shared the walk with Canadian friends we’ve met on the cruise. We had two goals – to visit some of the exact places where Van Gogh painted some of his famous Arles art works; and to visit the some of the structures built by the Romans when Arles was once the provincial capital of this corner of the Roman Empire.

Our cruise company makes a phone app available which allows the people on the cruise to take self-guided tours of the cities the ship visits. When I loaded the walking tour guide for Arles into the app, it provided me with an interactive map of the town dotted with the locations where Vincent created his paintings. We selected a few that we wanted to see. Only five minutes from our ship we came to our first Van Gogh location. It was the place where he painted the Yellow House. It’s a beautiful painting, with vibrant yellows set against a blue sky. You can see the painting by clicking this link. The actual location is the first photo below.

Just a few hundred metres beyond the yellow house we caught a glimpse of the Roman ruins we had also wanted to see. As we approached, the scale of those ruins became evident. They were massive. We were standing before a magnificent Roman amphitheatre, very similar in appearance to the Colosseum in Rome. The structure towered above us. Its exterior appeared to be in remarkably good shape for a building that was constructed two thousand years ago. We paid a small entrance fee and entered the arena. Immediately it was obvious that this historic place was still used today as a venue for ticketed events, as seats were numbered and metal barriers had been erected to separate sections of the crowd. And a glance at the arena itself soon made it evident that, on the sandy surface where gladiators once did battle, today bullfights pit man against beast. That’s one sport I will never become a fan of.

Just beyond the amphitheatre, was a small theatre, also used as a public entertainment venue today. While we were there, workers were setting up the sound system for a concert. I would have loved to sit through a concert in that space, as the acoustics are reputed to be amazing in those ancient open air theatres.

The Roman arena had featured in a Van Gogh painting. So had the garden immediately adjoining the theatre. While walking through the garden we met up with other people from our cruise who recommended we should visit the place where Vincent painted the hospital garden. They pointed us in the direction we should take. Our friend Chris got out his map and soon we arrived at the place. This was the former hospital where he had come after he famously cut off his own ear. They’ve erected an information board at the front of the garden that features Van Gogh’s painting, The Hospital Garden. You can see it below, towards the end of the photos. If you look closely you will see that little has changed in that scene from the time it was painted.

We needed to be back on the ship before it left Arles at 6 pm, so we headed down to the waterfront and followed the path along the Rhône all the way back to our vessel. We passed the spot where Van Gogh painted the bridge and the spot where he painted the starry night. We also passed sections of the old Roman wall that once encircled the town.

I really enjoyed the time we spent in Arles. I loved its streets and its buildings. I particularly loved its wooden shuttered windows. And I think it’s probably true that, as I walked through the town, in my head were images of Roman soldiers, gladiators and raucous spectators, or instead there were images of an artist standing by his easel capturing the special qualities of the light at the end of the day.

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