The remains of a Roman necropolis lie just outside the old town of Arles. Roman graves were positioned along the Aurelian Way to the east of the Roman city. What remains for viewing now is but a small version of the original.
Known as Alyscamps, Provençal for Champs Elysées, it was Arles’ main burial ground for nearly 1,500 years. The St. Honorat Priory was added to the site in the eleventh century, making it a more prestigious place to be buried. It became a top choice for burial across Europe, with filled coffins arriving along the Rhône.
The Alyscamps continued to be used well into medieval times, although the removal in 1152 of Saint Trophime’s relics to the new cathedral, named after him, reduced its prestige. The necropolis suffered further over time, with looting and pillaging. Burial stones were taken for building material and city councillors donated sarcophagi to distinguished visitors. Further damage came in the form of a railway and a canal in the 19th century.
In late 1888 the site received some new and well-remembered attention. Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin chose the Alyscamps as the first site for their painting side by side project.
Alyscamps has now been somewhat restored and is a good place for a quiet wander away from hordes of tourists.
Practical: a short walk from town; full price ticket €3.50, or buy a pass for 4 monuments and 1 museum for €11.00 (2016 prices)
Copyright Debbie Smyth, 2 November 2016
Part of Thursday Special