ARLES

It would seem that Arles has been an important city for over two
thousand five hundred years. History can give no authentic records of
its beginnings, but, as is generally the case with ancient towns in a
similar predicament, legend has taken in hand the task of supplying
details, and Arles has its legend, which bears on the face of it some
elements of probability. Massilia (now Marseilles) has evidence to show
that even long before the Phoceans founded their towns in Gaul,
Phœnician seamen, the pioneers of navigation, had discovered its
natural harbour, round which the town of to-day is built. Interesting
relics of these early traders are still in existence; and their
successors, the Phoceans, who undoubtedly were on the scene as early as
600 B.C., must have found on their arrival that the advantages of the
position had been fully appreciated by the earlier settlers, who had
built there a town of considerable importance, but which was then in a
declining state.

The inhabitants of Southern Gaul, a Celtic race, had even at that time
their capital at Arles, and the semi-historical legend runs that King
Nannos, or Nan, was giving a betrothal feast to which all his warriors
were invited, in order that his daughter might choose her husband from
among them–presumably the custom at this period.

When the feast was in full swing a stranger appeared upon the scene, a
handsome young Greek adventurer from Phocea. The Celtic King welcomed
him with an unsuspicious cordiality, and invited him to join the festive
board, which he did, much to the chagrin of the assembled company. The
King’s daughter fell in love with him at first sight and singled him out
for high honour, bestowing upon him her heart and hand, to the
discomfiture of the native warriors, although her father recognised in
her action the guidance of his country’s gods. The lucky Greek received
in dowry with his bride the lands lying around the spot where he first
landed.

He had not, however, a sufficient following of his countrymen with him
to populate his newly-acquired territory, so he had recourse to sending
his galleys back to his native land to gather in recruits. The
newcomers

[Illustration: THE ALYSCAMPS, ARLES.]

brought with them fire from their sacred hearths, a priestess and a
statue of Diana from Ephesus, where they called on their way, in
compliance to the commands of their oracles; and settled down in the
strange country, mixing and intermarrying freely with the native Gauls.
The colony grew and flourished; the quiet of their mercantile existence
varied occasionally by wars and skirmishes with surrounding tribes,
whose jealousy and cupidity was aroused by the rapidly growing
prosperity of the new colony.

[Illustration: THE TOWN HALL

ARLES.]

But some centuries later the Massilians were compelled to call in the
assistance of Rome to repel the increasing attacks made upon them and
their colonies by the vast hordes of Teutons, Ambrones, and other
Northern barbarians. The celebrated campaign of Marius was successful,
and gave the conquerors themselves a taste for colonising. The
flourishing state of Arles and Marseilles no doubt incited the Empire
builders to covet the favourable positions occupied by the Greek
settlers.

Cæsar, emulating and surpassing Marius in his campaigning zeal,
conquered all Gaul, and under him the first Roman colonies took a firm
hold upon the fertile regions in the valley of the Rhone. Arles became a
maritime town, which rivalled Marseilles itself. The Celtic inhabitants,
mixed strongly with the Phœnician element, were possessed of arts and
crafts almost as highly developed as those of the conquering Romans. The
city grew in importance until its population numbered 100,000. Traders
from all parts of the world flocked to its markets, everything being
brought to the city either by river-boats up and down the Rhone, or
across the lagoons on rafts, or overland on the backs of mules and
horses. The city could offer to its citizens every luxury known to the
age.

[Illustration: THE ARENA AT ARLES.]

The great amphitheatre, built or commenced during the reign of Claudius
Tiberius Nero, at the time when the power of Rome was at its zenith,
could accommodate nearly 27,000 spectators to witness the wild beast and
gladiatorial shows so popular in Rome at that period. It was constructed
in the early days of amphitheatres, and is perhaps one of the oldest
extant, and gives, together with the Arena at Nîmes, a more vivid
impression of the Empire’s strength and grandeur than any other Roman
monument in France. Although on a much smaller scale than the mighty
Coliseum at Rome (which was built at a much later date and replaced
earlier buildings in that city, could accommodate 100,000 spectators,
and was over 615 feet in length and 510 feet in width, as compared with
the Arena at Arles, 450 feet long and 351 feet wide), it gives some
notion of the important part the amphitheatre played in the life of the
Roman capital.

The amphitheatre at Arles, unlike that of Nîmes, was, if the evidence of
the height of the wall of the Podium enclosing the Arena is trustworthy,
used for the great fights of lions, tigers, elephants, and other
animals, as well as for combats between the gladiators–elaborate and
extravagant spectacles that riveted the attention and ministered to the
enjoyment of the Roman world for a period extending over seven hundred
years. The immense arenas at Arles and Nîmes are proof of the prosperity
of these two colonies. Many of the Greek traditions of the Arlesiens
were lost sight of and contemned by the

[Illustration: ARCHES OF THE ARENA.

NIMES.]

conquerors, but the refined and intellectual amusements of the Greeks
made a slight appeal to the tastes of the warrior race, who overthrew
them, and who built a theatre in Arles, in the first century, under the
strong influence of the Greek element in the colony, an influence that
had made itself felt also in the architecture of the Arena.

Arles has preserved much of this Greek influence up to the present day;
for beauty cannot die–it influences succeeding ages and fashions all
their work, and the sculptures found in Arles are in this respect
superior to those of Nîmes and other Roman provincial towns.

The Venus of Arles, which now rests in the Louvre, compared with that of
Nîmes, gives a forcible illustration of the different characteristics of
Greco-Roman from the more purely Roman art; a subtle difference to
explain, but easily recognised when face to face with the actual work.
The Venus, that should have been one of the most cherished glories of a
city, whose womenfolk have inherited the beauty of their Phocean
ancestors, is lost to it. Discovered in 1651 by two citizens in the
courtyard of their house, built on the site of the theatre, it was sold
to the town authorities for £60, and they, anxious to curry favour with
the “Grand Monarch,” presented it to him in 1683. Louis had the statue
restored and placed among his treasures in the Palace at Versailles,
whence it was removed in the last century to where it now stands in the
Louvre.

The Amphitheatre at Arles is built upon slightly rising ground, and the
practical builders took every advantage of the rocky foundations to save
themselves any unnecessary building, so that the lower galleries of the
edifice only exist on a part of its circumference. The modern buildings
that have sprung up and surrounded it prevent as good a view of the
ensemble as is possible at Nîmes. The interior galleries have stone
lintels instead of the Roman arch as in those of the latter. The
simplicity of the mouldings and carvings of the capitals is more akin to
the Greek than to the later Roman style of architectural decoration, and
although the building is not nearly so imposing as the Nîmes Arena, or
even that vast relic of the Empire at El-Djem in Tunisia, it has many
features that are distinct from either.

From the Rue Voltaire one looks up the broad flight of steps which lead
to the north end of this mass of masonry and sees superimposed stages of
arches; the

[Illustration: ARENA.

NIMES.]

lower series divided by simple square Doric pillars, the upper by
Corinthian columns, only a few of which still possess their capitals.
They are weather-worn and greatly damaged, and it is only by picking out
more or less perfect bits, here and there, that evidence of its original
beauty can be obtained. Internally, great galleries run round the inside
walls, and lead out by flights of steps and passages on to three great
ranges of seats. The original seating arrangements have undergone much
change, but the traces of the disposition of the Cavea can easily be
made out with a little trouble.

The high wall of the Podium is cased with smooth marble, upon the face
of which there is a cornice that in former times supported an extra
gallery, when the performance was not of a character too dangerous to
the spectators. The upper galleries, reserved for the common people and
slaves, have been roughly used, for during the eighth century, when the
city was threatened by an invasion of the Saracens, a large number of
the inhabitants took up their abode within the great ellipse; the arches
were built up, and four towers erected at the north and south, east and
west, turning the place into a vast fortress. Streets were formed in all
directions by the two hundred buildings that grew up, and a marketplace
and church were erected. Right on, until about a hundred years ago, when
it was cleared by the Mayor and municipality, this town remained a
squalid blot upon the city. Two of the four towers still remain.

[Illustration: ARLES]

After the removal of the “town” from the heart of the arena, it was
utilised again for the amusements of the people. The first step towards
re-establishing spectacles was the annual ceremony of branding the
bulls, which was half in the nature of a “bullfight”; and later in the
last century bullfights, very much after the fashion of those of
Portugal, were staged both here and at Nîmes–the bull being played with
in a harmless way without being killed or tortured as in Spain. But this
has not proved sufficiently exciting for the Southern blood, and to-day
tauromachy in its most aggravated forms obtains in the arenas of
Provence: horses and bulls pour out the red heart-blood upon the sanded
arena, as did the gladiators, martyrs, and savage beasts of old; and if
the Greeks have transmitted their beauty to the womenfolk of Arles, the
Romans have been no less successful in implanting in their ancient
colony some of their characteristic love of what, to put it mildly,
might be called exciting pastimes.

The world of to-day looks back with horror on the Roman holidays, which
strangely enough grew out of a religious celebration in honour of the
dead. The despised barbarians of the old world burnt victims on the
funeral pyre; the proud Romans, exulting in their superiority over the
untutored savages, outdid them in barbarity.

The rapid development of the show of dying agony went on from the
earliest times, when slaves were first immolated upon the tombs of the
illustrious dead, until the time when the Gothic King Theodoric took
Arles–one long record of the wanton pouring out of human blood. From an
offering to appease the gods, it grew to be a slaughter for the
gratification of an insatiable lust for bloodshed in the body politic.

The first gladiatorial fighters appear upon the scene about two hundred
years before the Christian era, and the strange funeral custom became so
fashionable that it was a common thing for a son to celebrate his
father’s funeral with a fight in which hundreds of forced combatants
took part and fought to the death. Julius Cæsar gave such encouragement
to the “sport” that peaceful citizens and political opponents grew
alarmed at the rapid growth of the gladiatorial fraternity, who were a
standing menace to their city. But, in spite of the endeavours of the
more enlightened emperors, the passion for the arena increased, as
hundreds of records show. Slaves, prisoners of war, fair-haired Saxons
and tattooed Britons, swarthy Moors and Oriental Turks, criminals and
Christians, were exhibited and put to death by one another in front of
thousands of spectators, who never tired of these holocausts of blood.

To-day in Spain, and in her now lost colonies, similar appetite exists
for the blood of bulls and horses, and all attempts to put down these
gory spectacles meet with violent opposition. The great bullrings in
Spain and Mexico still preserve something of the atmosphere, attentuated
perhaps, that pervaded the arenas of old, and, mild as the exhibitions
are by comparison with the

[Illustration: ARCADE OF ARENA AT NIMES.]

ancient pastimes, they have enough horror to sicken the strong nerves of
Northern people.

One cannot wander about the great corridors, or up and down the giant
stairways of seats of the Arenas at Arles and Nîmes, without being
haunted by the ghosts of the distant past. Here, on the front seats once
reserved for magistrates, senators, and patricians, one can picture the
richly-robed crowds who patronised the ring. There sat the guilds and
corporations whose names were inscribed upon the places reserved for
them, as can still be seen upon the Arena at Nîmes. Higher up were the
plebeians, the common people, the hundred and one unclassed folk who
followed lowly occupations; highest of all, standing outlined against
the sky, the dense crowd of slaves, with straining eyes, stretched
necks, and bated breath, gazed down upon the combatants, who looked like
specks in the distant oval.

A more pleasant train of thought is set in motion by the ruined Theatre
which lies quite near. Dating from about the same time, it betrays even
more of the Grecian influence than does the Arena. It is only, however,
by a close attention to the fragments that lie in a small railed
enclosure at the foot of the Tower of St. Roland, that one can form any
just estimate of the beauty which this example of Greek architecture
possessed. The theatre is in ruins, and the two columns of African and
Carrara marble which still stand amidst the beautiful fragments of
bruised masonry have an interest which, in the light of historical
knowledge, is of pathetic loveliness. The ruins are enclosed by houses
on three sides, the fourth being bounded by the gardens of the town. The
authorities have men at work, keeping the relic from suffering more
damage by the continual wearing of the elements, and the Cavea, or
auditorium, is being renovated, so that, when the restorations in hand
are completed, this part of the construction will regain somewhat of its
former appearance.

[Illustration: The Roman Theatre Arles]

The theatre at Arles is essentially different from that at Orange: the
latter being entirely Roman in style and construction, and adapted for
the performances which, under the Romans, degenerated into such
demoralising obscenities. So degrading did the spectacles become even in
Greek Arles that, during a wave of religious enthusiasm, which swept
over the town in the first Christian centuries, a band of the
townspeople nearly demolished the theatre, breaking up the statues,
altars, columns, and leaving it unfit for further performances.

The theatres of the Greeks, which played an important part in the life
of the people, had developed from simple wooden constructions, liable to
damage by fire, into places highly embellished with sculpture and marble
columns, carefully studied so as to render the acoustic properties
nearly perfect. The arrangement universally adopted throughout the
Ionian Isles and Asia Minor is well exemplified in the Arles theatre.
The large orchestra, floored with beautiful marble, parts of which still
remain, was not intended for the audience. This huge semicircle, which
corresponds to the stalls and pit of the modern theatre, was reserved
entirely for the musicians and chorus, two parallel flights of steps
leading up from it to the narrow stage, making communication easy
between the two divisions of the stage.

This theatre differs from the native Greek theatre in regard to the site
chosen. It was the invariable custom to select a sloping hillside upon
which the Cavea could be easily constructed, but here, at Arles, the
Roman practice has been adopted with a Greek theatre, and the great
semicircular seats of the auditorium are built up on an arcade which
rises up from the level ground. At Orange, oddly enough, the position is
reversed, and a purely Roman theatre is built upon a site such as the
Greeks would have considered perfect. Round the outside of the Cavea of
the theatre at Arles there was a beautifully chiselled frieze, fragments
of which are collected together on the site. It is doubtful if the
theatre had a colonnade behind the top row of seats, as was customary in
the native Greek theatre, but the evidences of the large orchestra, the
narrow stage, the beautiful proscenium, the refined designs of the
mouldings and carvings, are sufficient to stamp this building as Greek.

The persistence of Greek traditions throughout centuries, at Arles, is
curious, but shows how strong the element must have been in the city.
Its position upon the rocky eminence, surrounded by the miasmatic
lagoons, tended, doubtless, to preserve its insularity and the
provincialism which it still enjoys. Even the “tour de Roland,” which
was erected on the southern side of the theatre during the Middle Ages,
has not escaped the classic influence, for the engaged flat columns on
its face have a restraint which would seem to have been engendered by
the graceful beauty of its surroundings.

[Illustration: GREEK TYPE ARLES]

In the early seventeenth-century Church of St. Anne, which stands at the
northwest corner of the Place de la République, or Place Royale as it is
now called, there are gathered together many beautiful fragments of the
sculptured statues, busts, heads, and tombs that have been found in and
around the town. The tombs, both Pagan and early Christian, are of
exceptional historic interest, not only to the townsfolk, but to the
world at large, for by their curious inscriptions much may be gathered
of the occupations followed, and the lives led, by the early inhabitants
of the town. To go through them all would require a work devoted to the
subject alone, but they are varied enough to show that Arles enjoyed a
wide celebrity as a burial-ground.

The Pagan and Christian tombs found in the Alyscamps (Elysian Fields)
have been an inexhaustible mine of wealth, not only to collectors and
museums, but to the inhabitants of the town and surrounding country. The
massive monolithic stone coffins have been turned to use, and in the
district one finds them converted into water-troughs, benches, washtubs,
and even pig-troughs. The dust of the dead of twenty centuries amounts
to very little, and the natives evidently thought it a work of
supererogation to carve, with much labour, the limestone rocks into
articles of daily use when they had such quantities lying ready to their
hands.

The Church of St. Anne forms a very fitting museum for many of the
interesting tombs that have been rescued from the hands of ruthless
utilitarians, and there they can be studied in peaceful and solemn
surroundings. Many of the more imposing of these ancient funeral
monuments are now used as altars in the churches of Provence, as in the
Church of St. Trophimus, immediately opposite the Museum.

The inscriptions on these tombs form an abbreviated biography of the
former occupants of the town. They tell of “Nautæ Arlatenses,” or
boatmen, who plied the craft that carried the merchandise up and down
the Rhone; the “Fabrii navales,” or naval builders, a body that were
held in high esteem by the most exalted in the city; and the naval
architects, a grade higher still, professional gentlemen who mixed with
intimacy with the “Upper Ten”; the “Utriculare,” a separate body of
watermen who plied large rafts, supported by air bladders made of
sheep-and-goat skins, over the shallow lagoons to outlying islands and
to the port of Fos. From this source we learn of the oil merchants and
sail or tarpaulin manufacturers, as well as of the students and scholars
who flourished in the Gallic-Greco-Roman city.

One of the most interesting biographical tombs removed from the
Alyscamps is that of Julia Tyrannia. It records not only the highly
appreciated virtues and accomplishments of this young lady, whose life
was cut short at the

[Illustration: IN A CAFE ARLES.]

age of twenty, but on two panels on one side the musical instruments on
which she performed are cut in deep relief: a lyre, a guitar, very much
like a modern mandoline, a water-organ with nine pipes, one of the
earliest representations of this instrument (there is a similar one
carved in the fourth century on the tomb of Theodosius at
Constantinople), and a syrinx, or panpipes, in a box. Underneath this
latter there is a lamb, which might either typify the gentle
disposition of the occupant or that she was of the Christian faith.

There is often great difficulty in distinguishing between the Pagan and
Christian tombs, owing to the similarity of the symbols used; but in
some cases the newer faith expresses hopes that are lacking in the Pagan
inscriptions, as a comparison of these two free translations clearly
shows:

“Oh grief! how many tears have been shed upon this tomb
Of Julia Lucina, who in life was very dear to her mother:
Cut off in the flower of youth, she lies buried beneath this stone.
Would that she could return!
Were it only to know how great is my sorrow.
She lived twenty years ten months and thirteen days.
Julia Parthenope, her unhappy mother, raised this monument to her.”

And this on the tomb of Concordius, a Christian priest of the fourth
century:

“Irreproachable and pious, pure in life and body,
Concordius, here entombed, lived for eternity.
In his youth he occupied the office of a deacon,
He was afterwards chosen as a priest by the Divine Law.
He had scarcely completed his fiftieth year when
He was transported prematurely into the starry hall of the Almighty,
Where his loving mother and brother aspire to find him.”

The inscriptions on most of the tombs evince that the departed were held
in tender regard by their bereft relatives and friends. Some of them
are quite touching human documents, manifesting the deep attachment that
parents had for their children. Many elaborately carved tombs, with
short stumpy figures, lacking entirely any æsthetic beauty, but full of
ingenuity to express symbolically the Christian story and traditions,
have been found; and one of the latest additions to the Museum is an
early Pagan tomb of great excellence of workmanship, evidently belonging
to the first century of the Christian era. The figures carved round it
have an entirely different character from those on the Christian tombs
of a later date. This was found in La Camargue when the railway to Les
Maries was in course of construction.

The Alyscamps, the vast cemetery, where most of these tombs were found,
lies to the south of the town on the farther side of the broad “Avenue
Victor Hugo.” The antiquity of this burial-ground is indisputable. When
it was consecrated for Christian burial by St. Trophimus may well be a
matter for dispute, for it is a little uncertain who St. Trophimus
really was. He is the apostle of Arles, and legend makes him one of the
companions of St. Paul who accompanied him on his travels; but this
claim was not put forward until the twelfth century, and after the time
when the saint’s bones were transferred from the Alyscamps to the Church
of St. Etienne, now famous as the Church of St. Trophimus. Whoever the
St. Trophimus may have been, there is very little doubt that the Church
of St. Honorat was built by St. Virgil, who probably utilised the site
of an ancient Pagan or early Christian temple.

[Illustration: TOMBS IN THE “ALYSCAMPS” AT ARLES]

The Alyscamps was well supplied with churches and chapels, at one time
possessing as many as nineteen. Even the early Church of St. Honorat,
when it was rebuilt, had chapels added to it by the pious, and still
more by the aristocratic families of the seventeenth century. The nave
of the church is in ruins, although other parts are in tolerable repair.
The pillars, which support the roof and separate the nave from the
aisles, are enormous columns about thirty feet in circumference. The
additions of later times have made the interior plan of the church
rather confusing, and the ruinous state of the exterior gives one the
impression that a bombardment or an earthquake shock have rendered some
assistance in tumbling walls and ceilings to the ground.

All through the Middle Ages the Alyscamps was in high favour as a
burial-ground, and bodies from distant parts were brought to it for
interment, but its popularity declined somewhat after the removal of the
remains of St. Trophimus. At intervals there seemed to be a slight
revival, for we find that chapels were added to the original collection
of buildings as late as the seventeenth century, although before this
period the collector had been busy among the tombs, and Charles IX. (the
same monarch who consented to the massacre of St. Bartholomew’s day)
gave away many of the more beautiful of the sarcophagi to his friends
and intimates.

The vast field of tombs rapidly fell a prey to the vandal hands of
collectors, and one can readily understand that

[Illustration: ROMAN THEATRE, ARLES.]

[Illustration: S^{T}. HONORAT ARLES]

the large trade in stone coffins would make folk timid of patronising a
graveyard that was subject to such unholy raids. Much ground of the
Alyscamps has been turned over to the plough, and the railway company
has erected large repairing shops upon a portion of it near the Church
of St. Honorat. A number of the great massive tombs have, however, been
collected and placed at the foot of the tall poplars that line either
side of the avenue that leads from the ruined gateway of the cemetery to
the ancient church. Here and there other monuments and larger vaults
break the monotonous regularity of the long series of stone mausoleums,
but nothing can rob the Alyscamps of the mournful pathos of its history.

The Cathedral of St. Trophimus, which stands opposite the Museum, was
built in the twelfth century, and has a distinguished west portal. The
absolute plainness of the surrounding walls enhances the rich effect of
the deeply recessed arch which springs from the curious sculptured
frieze that forms the lintel of the door. On this porch the
characteristic ornamentations of the Greeks, Romans, and Gauls have all
been pressed into service without injury to one another, although the
spirit that animates the whole is mainly concerned in giving expression
to the Christian story.

The interior of the Cathedral is plain and simple after the elaborate
work of the porch. The nave is separated from the narrow aisles by
clustered pillars, which rise gracefully into lofty ogival vaults. The
effect is a trifle gloomy and severe, but age adds its charm to this
church, as it does to all the ancient buildings of Provence. The
cloisters of St. Trophimus are justly famous, and like those at
Montmajour and St. Paul’s at St. Remy, portions of them date from the
eleventh century. The capitals of the double columns supporting the
arcade in the cloisters at Arles are carved with religious subjects, so
that even in the hours of relaxation, when they were taking exercise,
the brothers had before their eyes, written in the stone, the story of
their faith–right up to date too, for the monster “Tarasque” which St.
Martha slew has not been overlooked, and on one of the capitals the
sculptor has done his best to perpetuate its terrible visage.

Arles has a past unique in the annals of France. Every great movement
that has taken place in the civilised world for the last two and a half
thousand years helped to mould and shape the town one sees to-day. Its
history of traditions reflects something of every period. The greatest,
perhaps, was its connection with the Emperor Constantine, who lived for
a period at the Palace, now ruined, which bears his name. His influence
and tolerance combined to unite, at Arles, Pagan and Christian arts and
religions. Everywhere one sees evidences of the fusion of the Greek and
Gaul, the Gallic-Greek with the Roman, and still more the grafting of
the new faith on to the old Pagan forms.

[Illustration: CONSTANTINE’S PALACE. ARLES]

The city, proud of its traditions, may not be as happy in its relations
with modern life and commerce as it was in the past with contemporary
activities. Marseilles has left it centuries behind in the march of
progress, and the great clumsy river-boats of the Rhone, that lie moored
to the banks at Arles, contrast unfavourably with the ocean liners that
crowd the harbours of the great seaport town. The Greek theatre and the
Roman amphitheatre, built during the Empire’s greatest prosperity, are
surrounded

[Illustration: DOORWAY. AT ARLES.]

with the earliest buildings and primitive arts of the revolutionary
Christianity.

Everywhere in the town one comes across bits of ancient carvings and
sculptures built into modern walls. Even the once palatial residence of
the first Christian Emperor, to whom the town owed much of its
prosperity, is to-day surrounded by humble buildings that thrust
themselves against it with irreverent familiarity.

In the Place Royale there stands a curious obelisk found in the ancient
Roman circus–a link with a still older civilisation. This Egyptian
column was discovered towards the end of the seventeenth century, but
was not placed in its present position till 1829.

It is only natural that Arles, which was probably the first town of any
importance in Gaul to receive the Gospel, should be rich in Christian
traditions and relics, and, if one can give credence to the legends of
the city, it was, in the first century, about thirty years at most after
the Crucifixion, closely in touch with the holy men and women, who are
reputed to have landed at the point where the desolate little village of
Les Saintes Maries still stands. This little town lies not more than
twenty miles from Arles, and although most coastlines alter their
contour and position in very short periods, geologists and scientists
have asserted that the regions of the Camargue have not sensibly changed
for twenty centuries. This fact, together with the recent discovery on
the Camargue of a tomb of the first century, and the inscription found
on the site of the Church of Les Maries, has somewhat revived belief in
the ancient legend that King René popularised when he altered the name
of the Church of St. Marie of the Boats, which dated from the sixth
century, to Les Maries.

The interest that attaches to Christian Arles is deepened when we dip
into the ancient traditions of the town. These old legends of the Saints
period and the stones of Arles all speak of them, and keep alive many
customs that a too prosaic common sense would soon allow to die.

Its population has diminished sadly since the Roman ramparts hemmed in
and fortified the town, but the narrow streets and tightly packed houses
seem hardly enough for the present population, which is barely one-third
of what it was in its palmy days. Its curious twisting streets form a
maze that is puzzling to the stranger, and the four principal places are
replete with bewildering entrances and exits. The Place du Forum is
small and almost modern, squeezed into the very heart of the town.

[Illustration: ARLES]

All that remains of the ancient forum are two pillars supporting a small
entablature, so damaged and shorn of detail as to suggest the art of
Egypt. In front of it stands the statue of Mistral, the poet of
Provence, who

[Illustration: A WELL AT ARLES.]

loved his country, its natural beauty, art, and legends with a passion
that only a native can understand. His patriotism swelled so within him
that he gave the Nobel prize of £4,000, awarded to him in 1904, to the
Museum founded by him in Arles. He sang his country’s praises in
hundreds of poems and verses, and many of them in the Provençal dialect.
He was an enthusiast, whose ardour increased with advancing years. His
statue stands in the busiest, or at least the most characteristic, part
of the ancient town.

What there is of life centres in the Forum, noisy with the stamping of
the fly-tormented cab horses, who stand round the little square waiting
to be hired. Two hotels, four or five cafés and bars, two hairdresser’s
shops, two newspaper and book shops, and one devoted to the sale of
antique curios, make up the Place du Forum. Although the traffic in the
town is small, it creates a deafening noise as it passes over the
cobble-stoned streets.

So familiar are the inhabitants with classic beauty, daily before their
eyes in dying monuments and living womenfolk, that they see no
incongruity in the statuettes of the “Venus of Arles” or other classic
figures being used by shopkeepers to illustrate the application of belts
and surgical appliances and even modern clothing. Extremes meet in
Arles; beauty and decay exist side by side; art and dirt ever did go
hand in hand; and the loveliest women in the whole of France, perhaps in
the world to-day, reek of the most obnoxious odour the nostril ever
encountered, the pungent smell of garlic.

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