Arles (ärl) [key], city (1990 pop. 52,543), Bouches-du-Rhône dept., S central France, in Provence, on the Rhône River delta. Arles is an important railroad, shipping, agriculture, and industrial center with varied manufactures. It was a flourishing Roman town (Arelate) and the metropolis of Gaul in the late Roman Empire. Constantine I convoked (314) a synod at Arles that condemned Donatism; Constantine II was born there. Arles was an archiepiscopal see from the 4th cent. until 1790 and the seat of many synods. It became (879) the capital of Provence and (933) of the kingdom of Arles (see separate article). In the 12th cent. it became a free city governed by an elected podestat, who appointed the consuls and other magistrates. Arles retained its special status until the French Revolution. Among its noteworthy attractions are a Roman arena (2d cent. A.D.), seating 26,000 and now used for bullfights; a Roman theater (1st or 2d cent. A.D.); the Aliscamps [i.e., Elysian Fields], remains of a Roman cemetery; the Church of St. Trophime (11th–15th cent.; formerly a cathedral); the town hall (17th cent.); and the Museon Arlaten, a museum of Provençal culture and folklore, installed in a 16th-century mansion by Frédéric Mistral, who was born near Arles. Arles has attracted many painters, notably Van Gogh and Gauguin.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.