Medieval towers of the Amphitheatre
The glory of Arles faded with that of
Rome; and from the day that Honorius
submitted to the dictates of the barbarian
powers, this city became involved in continual disquietudes and distresses; besieged,
plundered, depopulated, by every passing
swarm of conquerors, it fell to ruin, commerce fled from its deserted wharfs to seek
prosperity in other ports; the canals that
were wont to bestow fertility upon its sunburnt plains, and to convey their rich productions to a ready sale, were left without
repairs or support, and soon choaked up
with sand, forming heads to numberless torpid pools, the nests of infection and disease.
Henry Swinburne - Travels through Spain in the Years 1775 and 1776 to which is added a Journey from Bayonne to Marseille - 1787 Edition
An excrescence, not forming part of the original structure of the amphitheatre, are the two square towers surmounting the entire edifice. But they are interesting historical relics having been raised in the 8th century, either by the Saracens who under Jussouf Ben Aldelrahman, Wali of Narbonne, then obtained possession of Arles or by Charles Martel who expelled them from the city in 739. At all events the amphitheatre like the Coliseum of Rome was at that period converted into a fortress and withstood sieges and assaults, while 4 towers of defence were erected at the 4 cardinal points.
John Murray III - Hand-book for Travellers in France - 1843
Arles languished many centuries, but even at its most
disastrous period, while its ruined edifices
were yet reeking with the fire which the
Saracens had kindled, Boson, the brother-in-law of Charles the Bald, chose it for the
capital of a kingdom which he had erected
out of many usurped provinces in 879. After passing through two families, this title devolved
upon the imperial house of Swabia, a great
but unfortunate race of princes, that failed in
the year 1268. Long before this epocha their power in Provence had been reduced to an
empty name. Swinburne
Arles retained some importance after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, but it is only in the early XIIth that new buildings having an architectural interest were erected. Saint-Jean-de-Moustiers retains the apse of a medieval church which was decorated with channelled pillars which were designed after ancient Roman patterns. They are similar to those of Saint-Quenin, another Romanesque church at Vaison-la-Romaine.
The Church of St-Trophime is esteemed here to be
the greatest, and takes its Name from one that was the
first Bishop of Arles, and so called Disciple of the Apostles,
and one of the first founders of the Christian Faith among the Gaules, as the Papists say.
Francis Mortoft's Journal of his travels in France and Italy in 1659
The cathedral of St Trophimus (..) is entered by a very curious projecting porch (..). It consists of a deeply recessed semicircular arch with mouldings (..) resting upon a horizontal sculptured frieze which forms the lintel of the door and is continued from beneath the arch on the rt and l of the facade supported on pillars. There are 6 of these pillars round square and octagonal on either side of the door, of stone resembling metal in colour and one in the middle of the door forms the support of the lintel. They are based upon carved lions, some of them devouring men. Between the pillars are statues of Apostles and Saints, those in the angles being St Trophimus and St Stephen. Murray
The church of S. Trophime at Arles is said was consecrated in 1152. (..) The plan is cruciform with a massive tower over the crossing. (..) The style is very simple; there is little ornament in the interior, and the exterior is so hemmed in by other buildings that only the west front, and the central tower make any show. (..) The west front, otherwise plain, has the well-known portal which is one of the glories of Provencal Romanesque. Splendid as it is, ornament does not run right over the whole of the design, as it does in some later French Gothic portals, but is held well within bounds. Of the three parts into which the front is divided the lower is kept severely plain, and the upper which contains the arch has a great deal of plain wall-space and hardly any sculpture except in the tympanum.
Thomas Graham Jackson - Byzantine and Romanesque Architecture - 1913
The portal illustrates the advantage this part of France had over the rest in possessing so many monuments of ancient art, for nowhere else does sculpture play
so important a part in the design, or attain the same
degree of excellence at so early a period. This portal
dates from the 12th century, and may perhaps be a little
later than the church behind it. The composition shows the hand of a consummate
artist. (..) In the tympanum our Lord
is seated within a vesica (aka mandorla), between the four apocalyptic
beasts, and angels in pairs fill the flat soffit of the including arch. Below on the lintel are the 12 apostles,
forming a frieze which is carried out right and left to the
extremity of the portal, and is occupied on the proper
right by the happy blessed, and on the left by the
The Twelve Apostles can be seen also in portals at Toulouse, Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges and Le Mans.
The tympanum over the door is occupied by the figure of the Saviour (..) and the sculptured frieze below represents in the centre the 12 Apostles and on the sides the Last Judgment, the Good being on the l of the spectator, the Bad bound by a rope and dragged by devils on the rt. (..) The interior is modernised and less interesting; it contains 3 antique sculptured sarcophagi, one of which serves as a font. Murray
Saint-Trophime: details of the portal: (left) The Original Sin; (right-above) the Magi portrayed as medieval kings; (right-below) an angel giving the soul of a blessed in the form of a child to a patriarch beneath whom the souls are coming out of their tombs; see some other Romanesque reliefs in the Abbey Church of Saint-Gilles near Arles in the introductory page
On the middle stage
the artist has lavished the utmost resources of his art, with
the happiest effect, and it forms a magnificent band of
decoration from side to side between the two plainer stages above and below it. Jackson
In 314 Arles was the site of a council which is considered a forerunner of that of Nicaea; in the Vth century it became an Archdiocese and in the early XIIIth century its Archbishops played a major role in the fight against the Cathar heresy. The last Archbishop died in a prison of Paris in 1792. At that time Saint-Trophime was turned into a Temple for the Cult of Reason, yet, unlike what occurred in most cathedrals of France (e.g. at Lyon), the statues and the reliefs of the portal were not smashed.
Saint-Trophime: cloister: plate from "Alexandre de Laborde - The Monuments of France Chronologically Classified - 1816-1836"
The cloisters on the S side are very curious; two of the sides have round arches and two pointed resting on double shafts or square piers. (..) The capitals of the pillars are very curiously, but rudely sculptured in part with Scripture groups. Murray
Laborde's inclusion of this cloister and other coeval buildings among the finest monuments of France led to their preservation. He did so at a time when medieval art was despised by art historians. In 1846 the cloister was included in the list of French monuments warranting protection.
Saint-Trophime: cloister: Romanesque sides
French Romanesque Cloisters. The best of them is perhaps that of S. Trophime at Aries, which owing to the declivity of the site stands high above the church floor and is reached by a considerable flight of stairs. The north and east walks are Romanesque, of the 12th century, and the other two sides have been re-built in late Gothic times. (..) The sides of the Romanesque cloister are divided by massive piers into three bays each, and the bay is subdivided into four arches, resting on coupled columns, set one behind the other to take the thickness of the wall above. Jackson
Saint-Trophime: cloister: reliefs: (left) Saint Trophimus between two Apostles (see a similar pillar at Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges); (centre) Lapidation of St. Stephen (see some scenes of his martyrdom at Laon); (right) Flight to Egypt
The great piers dividing the bays, and those at the angles of the cloister are enriched with figure sculpture, and the capitals throughout are delicately carved, either with foliage, mixed in some cases with animals and human heads, or with figure subjects from the Old or New Testament of which the series is continued in the later capitals of the two Gothic sides of the quadrangle. (..) The large figures on the piers, with the straight columnar folds of their drapery, and their rigid conventional pose, are more Byzantine than Roman. These figures of Old or New Testament worthies serve like the Persians or Caryatides of classic architecture to support the load of the superstructure. Jackson
Saint-Trophime: bell tower
The tower is a fine piece of sturdy Romanesque work rising with three storeys above the roof, each stage set back considerably within that below, and marked by a cornice of little arches on corbels. The top storey has in the centre of each face a flat pilaster with a Corinthianizing capital, and there is a similar pilaster returned round each angle of the tower. A row of small openings and a corbelled cornice finishes the design at the eaves of a low pyramidal tiled roof, which may not be the covering originally intended, but has a very satisfactory effect. Jackson
(above) Chapelle Saint-Accurse and Arc Saint-Césaire-le-Vieux at the entrance to the Alyscamps; (below) details of the decoration of the Arch
Alyscamps, a corruption of Elysian Fields, is a vast Roman necropolis outside the walls of Arles. During the Middle Ages part of the site belonged to the Abbey of Saint-Césaire and a church with a Romanesque porch was built at the entrance of the necropolis. The remaining arch of the porch could be easily taken for a Roman one, were it not for some small heads of beasts which are evidence of its medieval making.
(left) Saint-Honorat; (right) lantern tower, designed after the architecture of the Amphitheatre
The adjoining church
belonging to the Minimes, is full of ancient
sarcophagi, funeral inscriptions, and figures. Swinburne
Several chapels were erected within the area of this vast churchyard: the most remarkable is that of St Honorat now falling to ruin. It is surmounted by an elegant octagonal tower of two stories having two circular headed windows in each face; the interior except the crypt is not older than the 14th century. Murray
You may wish to see other Romanesque churches of Provence at Le Thor and Pernes-les-Fontaines.
(left) Chapelle des Porcelet (XVth century); (right) Chapelle d'Oraison at Saint-Honorat (1629)
The noble families of Arles had funerary chapels inside Saint-Honorat or in detached buildings, which maybe incorporated walls of ancient mausoleums. The Porcelet chapel is a rare example of clear Gothic style at Arles.
Montmajour Abbey seen from Arles
A little on the l of the road about 2 m from Arles a singular isolated rock rises like an island above a marshy pond, crowned with the ruins of the once celebrated abbey of Montmajeur, founded in the 10th century and continued down to the 18th. Of the latter period are the vast palatial constructions of Italian architecture which formed the convent, now rapidly falling to pieces. (..) Attached to the church is a ruined cloister in which two mutilated monumental effigies remain of princes of the house of Anjou. Murray
Tour de l'Ecorchoir near the site of the Circus (XIVth century)
The people of Arles asserted their independence about the year 1220, and chose annual
podestats to govern them. At the end of
thirty years this infant and ill-established
commonwealth was obliged to submit to the
authority of Charles, the first earl of Provence, of the house of Anjou, too formidable
an antagonist to be resisted with any reasonable hopes of success. Swinburne.
The tower was built after a fight for the possession of the town between the supporters of Louis I of Anjou and those of Charles of Durazzo in 1368. Arles was part of the County of Provence until 1481 when the latter was bequeathed to the King of France.
(left) Tour des Mourgues (Nuns); (right) Tower near (lost) Porte de la Cavalerie aka Porte de Tarascon
Tour des Mourgues was built approximately at the same time as Tour de l'Ecorchoir on the site of an ancient Roman round tower. After the annexation to the Kingdom of France, Arles bore the brunt of the French Religious Wars which devastated the country in the second half of the XVIth century. In particular in 1591-1595 Arles was torn apart by a local religious conflict. During this period a state-of-the-art section of the walls was built to protect the access to the town from Tarascon. The fortifications included a deep moat.
Saint-Trophime: exhibits in the Capitular Hall: XVIIth century D'Aubusson Tapestry: Birth of Mary
Its circumference is not great, nor the present population numerous. The streets are narrow, but
the houses in general are well built; it
abounds in rich clergy and poor nobility:
trade seems at a low ebb. Swinburne
The French clergy could rely on substantial revenues until the 1789 Revolution. Dioceses and abbeys owned large estates and in addition they were paid a special land tax, which initially was meant for the support of parish churches. The Archdiocese of Arles was a very prestigious one and its archbishops were chosen among members of the noblest families of France who had a personal fortune. They could afford to buy expensive items to embellish their palace and the Cathedral.
(left) Grand Prieuré of Malta: courtyard; (right) assumed portrait of Great Master Manoel Pinto de Fonseca
Provence was one of the seven Langues (Tongues) of the Order of the Knights of Rhodes (later on of Malta). The Priory of Provence, the body in charge of the administration of the properties of the Order in Provence was located at Saint-Gilles, the port from which many Crusaders sailed for the Holy Land. In 1621 it was moved to a newly refurbished palace of Arles. Similar to the Archbishops, the Priors came from the highest ranks of the local nobility (e.g. from the Baroncelli-Javon and the De Sade).
The construction of a large Town Hall in 1673-1676 was a local attempt to imitate the initiatives taken by King Louis XIV to embellish Paris and Versailles. The most peculiar feature of the building is the vault of its entrance which is not supported by pillars and columns, but uniquely by the way its stones were juxtaposed. This technique was developed in France in the XVIth century and it can be noticed also in some palaces of Vieux-Lyon (e.g. in the vaults supporting the Delorme Gallery).
Hotel-Dieu (hospital - XVIth-XVIIth centuries): courtyard; (inset) as painted by Vincent Van Gogh in 1889, prior to his recovery to the Asylum of Saint-Rémy de Provence
Plan of this section:
Environs of Arles: Saint-Gilles, Aigues-Mortes and Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
Carpentras (Carpentaracte), Cavaillon (Cabellio) and Pernes-les-Fontaines
Fontaine-de-Vaucluse and Le Thor
Narbonne (Narbo Martius)
Pont-du-Gard and Uzès
Saint-Bertrand-des-Comminges (Lugdunum Convenarum)