The Arles Museum of Antiquity

IMG_7729fThe Arles Museum of Antiquity (also called Musee de l’Arles et de la Provence antique) features ancient artifacts discovered in the local area, some from as early as the stone age but most are from the Roman era. It gave me a fascinating look into the past, at the incredible lasting influence that Rome has had on the region.

Its scope is narrower, in time and space, than a grand museum like the Louvre, which has items from all over the world, from nearly all periods of history. Its location in the smaller town of Arles and its distance from the popular Parisian tourist scene means that you will not be overwhelmed by crowds that would descend on the more famous Louvre.

You will find that your experience here is relaxing and enjoyable, for you will have as much time as you want to explore, think, and ponder while observing the items in the museum. This is what museums are for. There are no crowds to dodge, no pickpockets to fear, no pressure to get to the next exhibit.

The narrower focus means that you can really immerse yourself into the past of Arles and of the Roman period in southern France, and not need hurry to catch a glimpse of a famous sculpture or painting. All in all, you cannot miss this museum if you happen to be in the area.

There are exhibits on nearly all aspects of the ancient city: commerce, urban monumental construction, entertainment in the arena, theatre, and circus, religion, funeral rites/sarcophagi, and the importance of Roman engineering in the transportation of water. There is almost everything an enthusiast of ancient Rome would want to see–except English, for most of the explanations are in French.

Only the newer exhibits on a recently discovered portrait of Julius Caesar and an enormous trading vessel raised up from the bed of the Rhone River have English translations. Just as well, for these are some of the more interesting discoveries.

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This is believed by some scholars to be a portrait of Julius Caesar, though this is not uncontroversial. If so, it may represent the extent to which Caesar was especially important to this town, for it was an official colony for his loyal veterans, a reward for their support against Pompey. He enjoyed incredible success in developing this town into a full-fledged Roman colony. Beyond his political power, he also possessed a deep and more emotional level of popularity from his supporters.

Here is the impressive barge from around 50 AD, recovered from the Rhone River just a few years ago, which represents the scale of naval commerce during the Roman era. It is astonishingly intact with much of its cargo still remaining. It, along with other items dredged from the river, shows just how essential the town of Arles was in facilitating trade between the Mediterranean and northern parts of the Roman province Gaul.

I quite enjoyed these mosaics as well: there is not much to say, except that these are beautiful works of art, which fans of Roman artwork should take at least a moment to observe and appreciate.

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Enthusiasts of Roman engineering will love this model of a complex structure at nearby Barbegal: a section of an aqueduct that moves downhill, allowing the flowing water to power a massive series of mills. This is one of the greatest known examples of Roman engineering.

Other areas of interest include the wonderfully detailed models of various Roman buildings and structures, such as the bathhouse, the arena, the theatre, the forum, and the circus, as well as this odd boat-bridge. There is an extensive collection of sarcophagi, which I do not have many images of, unfortunately.

Overall, there is much to see within this museum, and I am sure that everyone who visits will be able to discover something that they find intriguing.

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