Arles has strong connections to Vincent Van Gogh who spent 15 months of his most productive period in the town; There is a new museum dedicated to Van Gogh opened in 2014 – Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles which “aims to showcase and promote van Gogh’s artistic heritage while also asking questions about the resonance of his oeuvre in art today. By presenting the painting of van Gogh in the context of works bycontemporary artists, it seeks to stimulate a fruitful dialogue centred on interrogation and reflection.”
Arles starts its bullfighting season with the Feria de Pâques (Easter Festival) from 10 – 13 April 2020, Many visitors may feel squeamish or even disapproving about the spectacle of bull-fighting, but it is a long-maintained tradition in Provence and southern France, especially in the Camargue. You can however still enjoy the spectacle (and avoid the risk of any gore)by seeing the noisy and colourful parades and bull-running through the town. My view is that if you really object to this form of “entertainment” then avoid the area.
The bull-fighting (corrida) takes place in the spectacular Roman Arena in Arles, and there are other options such as the Course Camargaise, which is another local form of bullfighting without the drawing of any blood.
About course camarguaise: It is a summer pastime practiced in many small towns around Arles and the area. There are local leagues which are reported in local newspapers..
This different kind of bullfighting is known alternately as “course libre” or “course camarguaise“. This is a bloodless spectacle (for the bulls) in which the objective is to snatch a rosette from the head of a young bull.
The participants, or raseteurs, begin training in their early teens against young bulls from the Camargue region before graduating to regular contests held principally in Arles and Nîmes but also in other Provençal and Languedoc towns and villages.
Before the course, anencierro — a “running” of the bulls in the streets — takes place, in which young men compete to outrun the charging bulls. The course itself takes place in a small (often portable) arena erected in a town square.
For a period of about 15–20 minutes, the raseteurs compete to snatch rosettes (cocardes) tied between the bulls’ horns. They don’t take the rosette with their bare hands but with a claw-shaped metal instrument called a raset or crochet(hook) in their hands, hence their name. Afterwards, the bulls are herded back to their pen by gardiens (Camarguais cowboys) in a bandido, amidst a great deal of ceremony. The star of these spectacles are the bulls, who get top billing and stand to gain fame and statues in their honor, and lucrative product endorsement contracts!
In the Autumn there is another bullfighting festival in Arles – The Feria of Rice ( Feria du riz) 12 13 September 2020. The Camargue and its famous rice is close by.
For a considered view of the bullfighting tradition see Anthony Peregrine in the Telegraph (18 March 2014)
For more info on the Ferias see www.arenes-arles.com
Arles is a UNESCO World Heritage site for its ancient Roman and medieval history: “It has some impressive Roman monuments, of which the earliest – the arena, the Roman theatre and the cryptoporticus (subterranean galleries) – date back to the 1st century B.C. During the 4th century Arles experienced a second golden age, as attested by the baths of Constantine and the necropolis of Alyscamps. In the 11th and 12th centuries, Arles once again became one of the most attractive cities in the Mediterranean. Within the city walls, Saint-Trophime, with its cloister, is one of Provence’s major Romanesque monuments.”
Also nearby is the Camargue, a largely unspoilt regional natural park lying between 2 arms of the Rhone delta. To the east are the charms of Les Baux de Provence, St Remy-de-Provence and the wines of Les Baux de Provence AC – where I would recommend a visit to Mas Ste Berthe to try (and buy) some of their wines and/or olive oil and to takes a walk around the signpost route around the vineyard.
In the Summer there is an annual Photographic Exhibition – Les Rencontres d’Arles (1 July – 22 September 2019) – see www.rencontres-arles.com
For more info on Arles and the surrounding area see www.tourisme.ville-arles.fr
A new Arts space is coming to Arles – LUMA in 2018 on the site of a former railway yard!:
LUMA Arles is a new experimental contemporary art center that brings together artists, researchers, and creators from every field to collaborate on multi-disciplinary works and exhibitions. Located south of Arles’ historic city center, the project repurposes the industrial ruins of a 10-acre rail depot and introduces a new public park at the Parc des Ateliers. The central team of designers for the project includes Frank Gehry who has designed a new Arts Resource Center building, Selldorf Architects entrusted with the renovation and conversion of five former rail facilities into new exhibition spaces, and Bas Smets who is responsible for the landscape design.
LUMA Arles, Parc des Ateliers at 45 chemin des Minimes – see www.luma-arles.org/arles/
Arles is twinned with WISBECH in Cambridgeshire – although I doubt you will find much bull-running there! – although it is known as the Capital of the Fens which could be considered as comparable to the Camargue – flat, marshy and a haven for wild life.