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Arles (Municipality, Bouches-du-Rhône, France)

Last modified: 2012-04-21 by ivan sache
Keywords: bouches-du-rhone | arles | arles-avignon |
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[Flag of Arles]

Flag of Arles - Image by Ivan Sache, 19 November 2011


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Presentation of Arles

The municipality of Arles (52,729 inhabitants in 2008; 75,893 ha) is located 30 km east of Nîmes and 80 km west of Marseilles.
Arles is the biggest French municipality by its area, including the town of Arles proper and the villages of Albaron (260 inh.), Gageron (600 inh.), Gimeaux (1,050 inh.), Mas Thibert (1,393 inh.), Moulès (1,313 inh.), Pont-de-Crau (3,238 inh.), Raphèle (2,613 inh.), Saliers (325 inh.), Salin-de-Giraud (2,160 inh.; the most distant, located 40 km south of the town of Arles), Sambuc (530 inh.) and Villeneuve. In the past, Arles was even bigger, until the erection of Fontvieille (1790), Port-Saint-Louis-du-Rhône (1904) and Saint-Martin-de-Crau (1924) as separate municipalities.
The municipal territory of Arles is made of three main geographical units, the hills known as Alpilles (north), the Crau plain (east) and the Camargue (south). The Camargue is delimited by the two branches formed by river Rhône a few kilometers upstream of Arles, the Smaller Rhône (west) and the Greater Rhône (east, watering and sometimes flooding Arles).

Arles was first settled in the 7th century BC, as Thêlinê, by the Greek colonists who had founded Marseilles. The Greeks were succeeded in the region by the Romans; in 102 BC, the general Marius ordered the digging of the Marius' Ditch, a big canal that started downstream of Arles and headed to the Gulf of Fos, on the Mediterranean Sea, facilitating navigation. The town of Arles took the party of Caesar during the civli war against Pompey and was rewarded with territory taken to Marseilles, which had supported Pompey. Arles became one of the main Roman colonies in southern Gaul, with a flourishing port; veterans of the Roman army settled there and develop agriculture on the banks of the Rhône.
Emperor Constantine (272-337) made of Arles "the Smaller Rome in Gaul", establishing there one of his secondary residences and favoring the Christian religion; the early cathedral of Arles was probably built under his son Constantine II or one of his immediate successors. The religious importance of Arles increased when St. Cesarius, then the most famous bishop in Gaul, was appointed Bishop of Arles (502); in 512, he set up a nun's monastery on the site of the early cathedral.

In the 9th century, Arles was the capital of a short-lived Kingdom set up by Boso, a Frankish lord who took the power on a wide area covering Provence, Lyonnais and the south of Burgundy. Crowned in 879 by the Provencal bishops, Boso had to defend his kingdom against the King of France and died in 887; Boson's house ruled Provence until the death of Boso II in 968, the Kingdom, then County of Arles becoming the County of Provence. Arles was then transfered to the Roman Empire. To emphasize the German authority on Provence, Frederick I Barbarossa (1123-1190) was crowned King of Arles in 1178. In the 14th century, during the civil war that ruined Provence, Mary of Blois, the widow of Count of Provence Louis I of Anjou and mother of Count Louis II, settled in December 1385 in Arles, where she confirmed the privileges previously granted to the town. In the Middle Ages, the church of Arles was placed under the patronage of St. Trophimus, the legendary first bishop of Arles. A tradition says he was a disciple of Jesus, probably by confusion with another Trophimus. St. Gregory of Tours lists Trophimus among the seven missionaries sent from Rome in the 3rd century to evangelize Gaul. Anyway, the popularity of Trophimus made of Arles the seat of a powerful Archbishopric.

In the 16th century, the engineer Adam de Craponne (1525-1576) built the Craponne Canal, which transports water from the river Durance to Arles and the Rhône. The water allowed the irrigation of the Crau plain, still famous for the quality of the hay produced there. In 1642, the Dutch engineer Van Ens (d. 1652) was commissioned by King Louis XIII to protect Arles from the floods of the Rhône; in 1646, 4,500 ha of land located north of Arles were drained. This improved the situation but did not completely prevent floods, which still threaten Arles; centennial floods occurred in 1856 and 2003.
During the French Revolution, Pierre-Antoine d'Antonelle (1747-1817) founded in Arles the Monnaidiers party, supporting the Revolution. Elected Mayor of the town in 1790 and Secretary of the Legislative Assembly, Antonelle was very radical and anticlerical, which did not prevent him to rally the Bourbon restoration a few decades later.

In the 19th century, Arles rediscovered its Gallo-Roman and Romanesque past. The Baron de Chartrouse (1722-1843), elected Mayor in 1826, released the Roman amphitheater from the 250 houses that had been built upon. He set up an archeology commission that organized the excavation of the other Roman monuments of the town and funded their restoration. The works would last all along the 19th century, making of Arles one of the most visited places in France. In 1981, the historical downtown (65 ha) was registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The main monuments in Arles are the theatre (late 1st century; 10,000 seats); the amphitheater (90 AD; 20,000 seats, therefore one of the biggest in the Roman world); the underground, U-shaped galleries known as cryptoporticus, serving as the foundations of the Roman town; the very limited remains of the Alyscamps necropolis, painted by Van Gogh and Gauguin; the Constantine thermae (4th century); and the Romanesque St. Trophime church and its cloisters.

At the end of the 19th century, Arles was made the capital of the Provencal traditions. The poet Frédéric Mistral (1830-1914), whose main works (Le Rhône, Mireille) are situated in Arles and the neighboring Crau, founded in 1899 the Museon Arlatan (website) as a repository for the Provencal language, culture and traditions. He also promoted big folkloric festivals such as the Pegoulado.
In 1909, the Marquis Folco de Baroncelli (1869-1943) "invented" Camargue, with Arles as its capital; he founded the Nacioun Gardian movement as a tribute to the Félibrige poets and to the taurine tradition (the gardians are the local bull keepers) and promoted yet another set of folkloric events.
Mostly a masculine universe, bull breeding also has its heroines. Fanfonne Guillerme (1895-1989) founded in 1920 the Guillerme manade (bull farm) and ruled it until her death, being as respected, if not more, than the other manadiers, who were all men. In 1960, Angèle Vernet (1910-1998), a gardian's daughter, was elected the first Queen of Arles by the Arles Festival Committee; for the next 17 years, she "reigned" as a main ambassador of the local traditions.

Arles is also a main center of modern culture. Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) settled in Arles in 1888; during his short stay (15 months), he produced more than 600 paintings portraying the town. Fond of taurine sports, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) offered in 1971 to the town a series of 57 drawings he had made during his stays.
In 1983, the Belgian-borne writer and poet Hubert Nyssen (1925-2011) founded the Actes Sud publishing house (website, a "cultural exception" with no link to the big houses of Paris that dominated the market. Refusing the "regional" label, Nyssen published writers less-known in France, being first very successful with the "discovery" of Nina Berberova. Other writers published by Actes Sud are Paul Auster, Henry Bauchau, Don DeLillo, Hella Haasse, Thorkild Hansen, Nancy Huston, Imre Kertész (Nobel Prize, 2002), Stieg Larsson (Millenium), Torgny Lindgren, Besnik Mustafaj, Cees Nooteboom, Göran Tunström and Tarjei Vesaas. Actes Sud eventually established its repute in 2004, when the Goncourt Prize was awarded to Laurent Gaudé (Le soleil des Scorta).
Arles is the site of the Photography National School and of an international photo festival (Rencontres d'Arles, website), founded in 1970 by the local photographer Lucien Clergue, the writer Michel Tournier and the historian Jean-Maurice Rouquette; in 2011, the festival welcomed more than 80,000 visitors.

The most famous inhabitants of Arles are two women who hardly left the town. Jeanne Calment (1875-1997), who died aged 122, was awarded in 1995 the title of "oldest person ever". Her fame started in 1988 during the celebration of Van Gogh's centenary: she remembered having met him 100 years before in her parents' shop (and having not been impressed at all!, video). Famous for her humor, she said: "God himself must have forgotten me" and "I am engaged in a competition with Methuselah". Her last years were spoiled by excessive commercial exploitation of her image, including a shameful "music" record.
Maybe even more famous, the Arlésienne is the French prototype of the "unseen character". The writer Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897), who had purchased the Fontvieille windmill, published in 1869 a famous series of short stories entitled Lettres de mon moulin (Letters from my Mill); in 1873, he transformed one of the stories, L'Arlésienne, into a theater play. L'Arlésienne (that is, a young woman from Arles), in spite of being the central character of the play, never appears on stage. Daudet was probably inspired by the statue known as the Arles Venus, whose fragments were found in Arles in 1651; the statue, once attributed to Praxiteles, and considered as the archetype of the beautiful women of Arles, was celebrated by Frédéric Mistral and another main félibre, Théodore Aubanel. Mistral campaigned, to no avail, for the return of the Venus from the Louvre Museum to Arles, a request that was reiterated in 2007 by Occitan nationalists, without success either. Daudet's play was a total failure but the incidental music (Suite pour orchestre) composed by Georges Bizet (1838-1875) is still a great success. Inspired by Provencal traditional music, the score peaks with the famous "March of the Kings", a Christmas carol. In 1941, Marc Allégret shot a movie entitled L'Arlésienne, mostly forgotten, using Bizet's incidental music (extract). More recently, the "March of the Kings" was "modernized" by the Occitan ragamuffin band Massilia Sound System, replacing the kings by supporters of the Olympique de Marseille football club "marching" against Paris. Today, jouer / faire l'arlésienne is used in common French to mock someone (for instance a politician or a sportsman) expected to show up but remaining hidden.

Source: Arles heritage website

Ivan Sache, 19 November 2011


Flag of Arles

The flag of Arles, hoisted over the town hall for specific events (photo, photo), is vertically divided blue-yellow.

The colors of the flag are taken from the municipal arms, "Azure a lion sejeant gardant his tail between his legs holding in his dexter paw a flag or charged with the letters 'CIV.AREL' sable ensigned by the monogram chi rho of the second".

Louis de Bresc (Armorial des communes de Provence [bjs94]), shows the arms of Arles as registered with the Armorial Général (II, 72; drawing, I, 336; registration fee, 100 pounds), with the lion only. The arms of Arles have been known since the 11th century; Bresc says that Arles must be one of the French towns with the oldest known symbols, but rejects the claims on earlier symbols made by Achard (1751-1809; "the Provencal encyclopedist") in his dictionary (1787-1788). Achard writes, without the least evidence, that goddess Minerva was portrayed on the first arms of Arles, superseded in the Roman times by Mars' shield charged with the letters "S.P.Q.R.", and eventually replaced by a "fallen genie" after the conquest of the town by the Frankish king Childebert I in 535. In the first history of Provence ever written, César de Nostradamus (1553-1629) reports a seal of Arles appended to an old chart kept in the town's archives, featuring on one side a lion contourned and one the other side a three-towered castle. In Iconographie des sceaux et bulles des archives des Bouches-du- Rhône (1860), Louis Blancard shows different seals of a similar design (dated 1210, 1221, 1235, 1251). The tradition says that Arles bore "Or a fortified town sable" under the Kings of Arles; later on, Arles became a republic and set up an alliance with Venice, borrowing St. Mark's lion from the arms of Venice.
On 3 February 1813, the Municipal Council required the adoption of "Azure a lion sejeant or holding in his dexter paw a labarum (standard) of the same captioned 'CIVITAS ARELATENSIS' [Latin, Town of Arles] the canton of the towns of second rank". On 17 August 1816, King Louis XVIII granted new arms to the town, "Azure a lion or his dexter paw raised a fleur-de-lis of the same captioned 'AB IRA LEONIS' [Latin, sort of, Beware the lion's wrath] ". Bresc ends the history of the arms of Arles with the restoration in July 1830 of the arms registered in the Armorial Général, "not changed since then".
This means that the arms in use today were adopted subsequently, reestablishing the arms from the Napoleonic period, excluding the canton.
The labarum and the chi rho monogram recalls Emperor Constantine the Great, the benefactor of the town.

Ivan Sache, 19 November 2011


AC Arles-Avignon

Athlétic Club Arles-Avignon (AC Arles-Avignon, ACAA) was founded on 19 December 1912 as Athlétic Club Arlésien, merging three local clubs, Pédale joyeuse, Arles Auto-Vélo and Arles Sports. The club played in the Second League in 1970-1973 and 1977-1979. In 2007, the club joined the National (Third League) championship. In 2009, the club joined the Second League and was renamed Arles-Avignon; since the Arles stadium was too obsolete to be used in Second League, the municipality of Avignon proposed to revamp its own stadium, provided the team would change its name, but there was no merging with any club from Avignon.
Arles-Avignon progressively emerged as one of the best clubs of the League; during the last match, Arles-Avignon defeated Metz (2-1) at the last second and won a ticket for the First League.

The first appearance of Arles-Avignon in the First League started in a deleterious atmosphere, with a change in the club's president and coach. From the very beginning of the season, it appeared that the club would not be able to stay in the First League. After two matches, the club ranked 20th and last, a rank it would keep until the end of the season. The club ended the season with only 20 points, that is 15 points less than the 19th, RC Lens, and three wins.

The supporters of Arles-Avignon use flags with the club's colors, that is blue and yellow, although the municipal colors of Arles, arranged in different patterns, for instance:

[Flag of Arles-Avignon]

Arles-Avignon supporter's flag - Image by Ivan Sache, 19 November 2011

- horizontally divided blue-yellow (Arles-Avignon-Brest, 3 September 2009, photo);

[Flag of Arles-Avignon]

Arles-Avignon supporter's flag - Image by Ivan Sache, 19 November 2011

- horizontally divided yellow-blue (Sochaux-Arles-Avignon, August 2010, photo);

[Flag of Arles-Avignon]

Arles-Avignon supporter's flag - Image by Ivan Sache, 19 November 2011

- horizontally divided light blue-yellow, 1:2:1 (Nancy-Arles-Avignon, April 2011, photo).

Ivan Sache, 19 November 2011