Roman Arena in Arles (#13)

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Today we continue examining the list of 52 Ancient Roman Monuments which had been claimed as a “must see” by Touropia Travel Experts. The last location we had checked out was #14 – Library of Celsus.

Today we’re headed to the western portion of the Roman Empire as we head to France to bring to you #13 – Roman Arena in Arles!

The Arles Amphitheatre is a Roman Amphitheatre in the southern French town of Arles. This 2-tiered Roman Amphitheatre is probably the most prominent tourist attraction in the city of Arles, which thrived in Roman times.

Built in AD 90, the amphitheatre was capable of seating over 20,000 spectators. It was built to provide entertainment in the form of chariot races and bloody hand-to-hand battles.

Interior of arena

The building measures 446 ft in length and 358 ft wide, and features 120 arches. It has an oval arena surrounded by terraces, arcades on 2 levels (60 in all), bleachers, a system of galleries, drainage system in many corridors of access and staircases for a quick exit from the crowd.

Arcade

It was obviously inspired by the Colosseum in Rome, being built slightly later. The amphitheatre was not expected to receive 25,000 spectators, the architect was therefore forced to reduce the size and replace the dual system of galleries outside the Colosseum by a single annular gallery.

This difference is explained by the conformation of the land. This temple of the games housed gladiators and hunting scenes for more than 4 centuries.

With the fall of the Empire in the 5th Century, the amphitheatre became a shelter for the population. It was transformed into a fortress with 4 towers (the southern tower is not restored).

Exterior arcades with a tower added in the 6th Century.

The structure encircled more than 200 houses, becoming a real town, with its public square built in the center of the arena and 2 chapels, 1 in the center of the building, and 1 at the base of the west tower. The pronounced towers jutting out from the top are add-ons from the Middle Ages.

This new residential role continued until the late 18th Century. In 1825, through the initiative of the writer Prosper Mérimée, the change to a national historical monument for the Arles Amphitheatre began.

Bullfight from 1963

In 1826, expropriation began of the houses built within the building, which ended by 1830. In that same year the 1st event since Roman times was organized in the arena, a race of the bulls to celebrate the taking of Algiers.

Today, it draws large crowds for bullfighting during the Feria d’Arles as well as plays and concerts in summer. The Romans certainly would have approved of all 3 of these modern events taking place in their arena.

Les Arènes by Vincent van Gogh

Arles Amphitheatre is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Together, with other Roman buildings of the city, it makes up part of the Arles, Roman and Romanesque Monuments group.

We hope you enjoyed today’s adventure. We look forward to you continuing the countdown to #1 with us.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

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