France > Arles

September 2013

We continue with our story of Vincent van Gogh (VvG) while absorbing the Roman heritage of this wonderful town of 50,000 people. Of course, this instalment is also dedicated to Ishak Ariffin and Aina.¬†ūüėÄ


Starry-starry-night done, we search for the next site, which is supposed to be nearby. The autumn leaves are beginning to litter the streets.

As usual the ma’am spots it first. The plaque is in broad daylight while I was looking under the trees! So what’s this then? A yellow house stuck to the front of a larger building, but where is it?

Alas, the yellow house is now gone, but the building behind it is still standing. To the left, the Rhone river where VvG painted his starry-starry-night is only 150m away.

So this is VvG’s home ¬†… “The Yellow House” — his room is upstairs with the green shutters, next to it his favourite restaurant. Further back there are two train bridges, now only one is operational.

Vincent van Gogh
Painting, Oil on Canvas
Arles: September, 1888

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

After virtually viewing VvG’s yellow house, we re-enter the old town via a Roman gate.

The wall from the gate extends all the way to the Rh√īne¬†river.

There’s a fork in the road where an impressive mural faces the road … we take the left.

We come to a leafy square almost packed with the morning crowd enjoying their coffees and cakes.

Then another fork, and immediately we can see a famous landmark at the back — the Roman Arena, dating back to 1st century AD.

The typical narrow lane of old Arles, and again we can see the Arena looming in the background.

I love these colourful doors set against the ochre wall.

More nice doors.

The Arena proper, a 2,000-year-old structure. With seating for 20,000 people, it was used for chariot races and for bloody hand-to-hand-combats between gladiators and against animals. Pure entertainment for those people.

And here, another van Gogh’s landmark. It looks like a scene of people inside the Arena itself, enjoying a bullfight or something.

Of course to enter the Arena now, we must pay a fee, and it does not look that attractive from here.¬†By the way, when we visited Hierapolis in Turkey earlier this year, we were told that the Romans would build an amphitheatre with seating capacity for 10% of the city’s population. So does that mean that Roman Arles had 200,000 people? That’s a huge number in those days! Today Arles only has 50,000 people.

Well, VvG was indeed inside the Arena … “Spectators in the Arena at Arles” he calls it.

Vincent van Gogh
Painting, Oil on Canvas
Arles: December, 1888

St. Petersburg, Russia

And we actually saw the above painting when we visited The Hermitage, St Petersburg, in April last year.

This is a major UNESCO World Heritage Site, so I better spend some time loitering here.

In the Middle Ages, after the Romans were chased out, people actually built a township inside this huge amphitheatre. Only in the mid-19th century, the authority relocated the people, demolished the buildings and restored it to its original form.

In any case, Arles is a fine example where a Roman city managed to adapt to the medieaval  period and survived.

We again take to the narrow lanes of Arles.

Residents’ cars are allowed, and they make their way in a single file along the narrow paths. I’d prefer it if they revert to old-style cobblestones, but then it’d be noisy for vehicles. I remember getting lost driving along lanes like this in old Sevilla, Spain, a few years ago! I got out by following a commuter bus.

A corner butcher, and note those vines.

It’s quite common to see these vines draping the buildings, the greenery is soothing.

We soon come to another square surrounded by cafes, but we are looking for a special one. This is Place du Forum.

And there it is, vacated by a bunch of tourists in the nick of time.

Obviously it was not called this when VvG painted it exactly 125 years ago, but I wonder how business is doing nowadays.

If you come here, expect to be constantly photographed by pesky tourists. This cafe is a major icon of van Gogh’s and that’s that.

It is indeed the night cafe … “The¬†Caf√© Terrace at Night”, a very famous work of the man’s.

Vincent van Gogh
Painting, Oil on Canvas
Arles, France: September, 1888

Otterlo, The Netherlands





This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.