We first glimpsed Tarascon, France through the early morning mist on the Rhône river. As the castle came into view, we knew that day 2 of our river cruise promised to be at least as delightful as the first. Our ship docked at this small town of 13,000 inhabitants, 11 miles (18 km) north of Arles. Tarascon would have to wait until later in the day, however, because we were scheduled for a walking tour of Arles that morning.
But first, a good breakfast was in order to fuel our explorations. We were offered an outstanding array on the buffet or we could order from the menu or both.
Following breakfast, our motor coach waited to transport us to Arles, pop. 50,000. Arles was settled by the Greeks as early as the 6th century, BC, and the city was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its Roman monuments dating from the 1st century, BC, and Romanesque monuments from the 11th and 12th centuries.
As we walked through the city, I was charmed by almost everything I saw.
The Roman Amphitheater, still in use today for bullfights and other events, was built in the 1st century AD to accommodate 21,000 spectators.
The nearby Roman Theater, built in the 1st century BC, was not as well-preserved as the amphitheater but it, too, is still used today for outdoor performances, accommodating audiences of 8,000.
As we continued our stroll toward the Place de la Republique, I captured a few views along the way.
The Place de la Republique, where the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) is located, is the center of the historic district. The ancient Egyptian obelisk was moved here from the amphitheater in 1676.
Facing the Place de la Republique is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Church and Cloister of St. Trophime, named for an early bishop of Arles. The facade of the Romanesque church features sculptured scenes of the Last Judgement including Christ in Majesty surrounded by symbols of the four Evangelists above the doorway, the righteous being delivered to the saints on the left, and the chain-bound souls being delivered to hell on the right.
Incidentally, the Church of St. Trophime is a stop along one of the pilgrimage routes of the Camino de Santiago. We didn’t see any pilgrims while we were there, however.
Vincent Van Gogh arrived in Arles in 1888 at age 34 and spent 15 months here producing 300 paintings including some of his most famous. It was here that he cut off his ear and was hospitalized at the old Arles Hospital where he painted Le Jardin de la Maison de Santé a Arles. Today this hospital is a cultural center featuring many of Van Gogh’s works. Sadly, the artist died young in 1890.
We saw one more ancient Roman monument on our walking tour, the Baths of Constantine, dating from the 4th century.
Before boarding our bus to return to Tarascon, I took a few photos of The Bridge of Lions. The bridge was destroyed in a WWII bombing but the lions have been restored and stand regally on guard on the embankment of the River Rhône.
Upon our return to our ship, the Viking Buri, we were greeted by staff with a welcome aboard drink for us.
Check back for a tour of Tarascon Castle.
Based on events from October 2016.