01 June 2016

Arles, France: Searching for Iris and Sunflowers

updated 3 June 2016

When Street View guided me down West Montgomery Avenue in Philadelphia, one of the murals I saw was "Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles." Not long after, I visited the profiles page of one of my Google+ followers and found that the Van Gogh painting "Field with Flowers Near Arles, 1888" was posted there.

So of course, I had to go there! Arles traces its history back to the Romans, as Wikipedia explains. It was founded by Rome as a retreat for Roman soldiers. The area is host to several Roman ruins, but they are not the only tourist draw. Climate and civic atmosphere combine with history to make Arles well worth visiting (Tripadvisor).

Rick Steves' Europe: YouTube (4 min.)

Major tourist destinations can be hard for some of us to find, however. With the aid of Google Maps, I did locate two:

The Roman Arena
The Arena at Arles was constructed for the usual bloody purposes of empire by the Romans. It is thought by some who like to think about such things that perhaps local animals, such as bulls, were victimized here (along with humans) instead of more exotic beasts like lions. In any case, the entertainment bill was a never-ending succession of events that featured "amusing" barbarity.

During the Middle Ages, the Arena was fortified with towers and the arches filled in. A whole town resided inside the Arena's walls. Some of the filled arches can be seen in the upper part of the Street View above.

Meanwhile, back in Roman times, if the Arena's sporting features did not entirely fill your spare time, Roman citizens could also explore usually less violent fare at the Arles theater:

Entering Arles amphitheater
Determined ascent
As you can tell from the varied construction of the amphitheater's seats, the theater is not entirely original. The restored facility is used for outdoor concerts today and is suitably equipped with modern lighting, etc.

If you'd like, you can experience a live performance at the amphitheater via YouTube, or just leave the music playing in the background as you continue:

Concert Buena Vista Social Club @ Festival Suds a Arles (YouTube: ~1hr.)


Looking for gardens, I entered Arles on Street View from a bridge over the Rhone River. Arles prospered in its early days as a link between Rome and Spain. Bridging the Rhone (which often misbehaves) was a major accomplishment.

Whose shadow?
Google's 9 eyes play tricks on us.
Under the bridge - a glimpse of typical stonework.
Arles was heavily bombarded during World War II. Not even these noble lions could prevent the destruction of this bridge:

Bridge destroyed.
Lions caught napping!
(probably overate at the Arles Arena)
The Rhone is lined by man-made dikes to prevent (sometimes successfully) the flooding of Arles. My first thought was, "this is what NYC and other eastern US cities will look like in a few years." The dikes, however, are only effective against occasional high water caused by river flooding. Sea level rise is going to require much more extensive flood control, including pumping stations...before the inevitable mass migration to higher ground.

[Your grain of salt: Make your plans now. My take on sea level rise is based on geologic features such as the sand hills of South Carolina and the sea stack found hundreds of feet above current sea level in Acadia National Park. Jumping to conclusions and without any critical thought, my prediction is for a relatively fast sea level rise of 250 feet (~76 meters) as various continental glaciers lubricated by meltwater underneath slip into the sea. Head for the hills!]

It would appear from the height of the flood walls that the Rhone just manages to squeeze under the
bridge in the background at flood stage. 
The dike-top promenade is seven steps above street level at this point.
Flood gate which can be closed to prevent flooding.
In the meantime while waiting for the Rhone or perhaps the sea to rise, there appear to be some benefits to a flood wall:
What, me worry?
Leaving the waterfront behind, I followed Street View into the heart of the oldest part of Arles I could find....and you know what happened...again. Lost in a maze! Actually, quite happily so. My aimless explorations revealed some interesting features I might not have seen otherwise.

6 AM stroll through old Arles

The architecture in the old city is characterized by uniformity punctuated with tidbits of inspiration. Shutters with peeling paint are often closed, even on occupied buildings. Abandoned structures in this quarter are rare, though I may have missed a few because of their resemblance to occupied structures.

Google Street View self-portrait (Rue Emile Barrère): our 9 eyes host passes by
In Arles, Street View used bicycles on some of the narrow streets.
Within the old quarter of Arles, I did not find any of Van Gogh's gardens or enough sunflowers for a quilting bee. I did find lots of beauty, however.

Vines, trees, flowers (and I suppose weeds) all grow well in this sunny Mediterranean climate.
The residents of this building celebrate with a roof-top pergola in addition to all their vines.
a climate good for clothes-drying and
(upper right) "volunteer" plants in crevices 
Doorway gardening is pursued by some residents.
a restrained bouquet -- almost too much of a good thing....
Sycamore shadows
Trees have no room to grow in old Arles' narrow streets, but are found along the Rhone.
"Boston" Ivy in Arles?
Whatever it is, this window will soon be closed
either with shutters or vines!
A beginner's garden
just enough room
Finally! Google Earth found the fields around Arles,
Fields that could be filled with sunflowers or Iris
Will you be going to Arles sometime soon? Looks like someone will be on the lookout for you!

Rooftop lookout at Gare D'Arles