Tracking Vincent van Gogh in Arles (Part 3)

France > Arles

September 2013

In this final Vincent van Gogh story, we track two more of his paintings in Arles. In total we find eight of them, while altogether the trail has ten sites. We skip the other two due to accessibility and lack of time … hopefully we can do them in our planned Winter 2014 trip. As with the previous two instalments, I also dedicate this piece to Ishak Ariffin and Aina. 😀


The fabulous night cafe image still playing in my mind, such a visually magical piece it is, we leave Place du Forum via another lane. There’s a nice old building to the right and we enter it out of curiosity.

We find ourselves in a rather ornate lobby of what turns out to be the 17th century Town Hall. The Mayor of Arles still has his office here, and this hallway is said to be the perfect example of French stereotomy — ‘stereotomy’ is described as “the art of cutting three-dimensional solids into particular shapes”. With proper lighting, it looks very impressive.

Passing through the Town Hall, we emerge into the Place de la Republique, with its 4th century Roman obelisk, built during Emperor Constantine II. This is another UNESCO World Heritage Site item.

There’s a tourist group in front of the Arles Cathedral, from the 12th century. There used to be the basilica of Arles right here, from the 5th century AD.

The west portal of the cathedral faces the square, and it has a fine Romanesque sculpture. It tells of the Apocalypse, with Jesus Christ in the middle, surrounded by the angel of St Matthew, the lion of St Mark, the eagle of St John and the bull of St Luke. Below him are his Apostles, while to the left, a procession of good Christians going to heaven, and on the right, sinners damned to hell. Interesting … this is all so familiar.

We cross the square and look back at the 17th century Town Hall. The crowd is still admiring the west portal of the Apocalypse.

Another side lane later and we are here — another majestic Roman ruin.  This is the Roman Theatre of Arles, dating from just before Jesus was born, most likely built during Augustus’s reign (27 BC – 14 AD).

Much of it has been demolished, and like many other Roman ruins, the stones were pillaged for other buildings throughout the many centuries.

Restoration work seems to be in progress, and we can see bits and pieces of the pillars and stone decorations above entrances. Roman Arles must be older then Hierapolis (near Denizli, Turkey) by about 100 years, but Ephesus (near Izmir, Turkey) is much older. Their stories can be found HERE. I also visited the Roman ruin in Baalbek, eastern Lebanon, which is about as old as Ephesus, but I have yet to write about it.

And just outside the Roman Theatre, another van Gogh’s site.

It’s in a large park called Jardin d’Eté. VvG actually painted people at the entrance to the park, which is behind me.

And naturally it’s called … “Entrance to the Public Park in Arles”.

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

Washington D.C., USA


From the park, we cross the road to collect our car, and drive out. Our next query is set just 3km south of downtown Arles. It is not too difficult to find in the beautiful countryside of southern France, the stomping ground of VvG.

Yes, the instantly recognisable old bridge across the canal.

When vG painted it, it was called the Langlois bridge, but has now been renamed the van Gogh bridge … why not?

There’s a more modern bridge next to it which cars can use, and an old wooden lock no longer in use.

It’s quite a largish wooden bridge which can be raised to allow barges and boats to pass through. Note the other bridge and lock at the back … and the ma’am sitting on the steps.

And so VvG painted the Langlois bridge from the above viewpoint, and he simply named it … “The Langlois Bridge at Arles with Women Washing”.

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

Otterlo, The Netherlands

There you go, our quick Arles tour of Vincent van Gogh and Roman ruins. We managed to visit eight of the ten sites listed in the VvG guide. We had to skip the other two due to time constraint, but hey, we plan to return to drive France in Winter 2014, so we’ll have another go at them. The remarkable thing is that we went to Arles to see the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, but instead the Vincent van Gogh’s trail took precedence. It was a great experience to rediscover the genius of VvG, who had the uncanny ability to transform normal, mundane, everyday stuff into fantastic eye candies! But now we have to drive 250km to Nice for an appointment, and Marseille has to wait.






9 Responses to “Tracking Vincent van Gogh in Arles (Part 3)”

  1. MrsNordin says:

    Excellent piece!! How is it possible that something that was pictured 125 years ago still remain standing until now? Amazing! Thanks for sharing.

  2. naim says:

    Thanks. Actually the Langlois bridge is a replica from another site since the original was destroyed.

  3. MrsNordin says:

    Oh.. I see…

  4. CJ says:

    We’re going next month and found this very helpful. Nicely done – congratulations!

  5. naim says:

    Thanks, all the best. Very worthy trip to Arles!

  6. Cathy says:

    My husband and I were in Arles in October. I really enjoyed reading this piece as it was like being back there. You got great shots of sites I neglected to photograph so it was enjoyable seeing them again. I had a new appreciation of Van Gogh after visiting the places where he painted and seeing his creations juxtaposed in front of them. Thank you for this.

  7. Allison Williams says:

    Came to this from your comment on the NY Times article. Very powerful series. Using “Vincent” as your soundtrack added to the poignancy. Well done.

  8. naim says:

    Thanks a lot, it was indeed a memorable journey.

  9. naim says:

    Thank you!

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