UNESCO World Heritage-listed Arles is often called the ‘soul of Provence’, a photogenic city with a history stretching back 2,500 years and crammed with Roman remains; their extent indicate the importance of the city in Roman times – thanks to its position on the navigable River Rhône – and include an arena, theater and bath complexes. Arles fell from importance around 480 AD but by medieval times was once more a power to be reckoned with, as is proven by the city’s Romanesque masterpiece church of St-Trophime. The priceless collection of Roman artifacts discovered in the region are housed in the sleek, cobalt-blue triangular Arles Museum of Antiquity (Musée Départemental Arles Antique), designed by Henri Ciriani and opened in 1995.
Among its treasures, the museum displays a large collection of antiquities, including monumental Roman sculptures, pagan and Christian art and several stunning mosaics. Center stage goes to the model of the water mills that operated in Roman times at Barbegal, thought to be the most complex in ancient times; and the 2,000-year-old barge Arles-Rhône 3, found in the River Rhône and accompanied by a video about its painstaking restoration.