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Unveiling the Rich Tapestry of History: The Arles Archaeological Museum

Nestled in the charming town of Arles in Provence, France, the Arles Archaeological Museum stands as a testament to the ancient civilizations that once thrived in this region. With a collection spanning from the Neolithic period to the end of Late Antiquity, this museum offers a captivating journey into the past. Discover how this prestigious institution came to be and explore its remarkable collections that continue to fascinate visitors from around the world.

History of the museum

The origins of the Arles Archaeological Museum can be traced back to the 16th century when Lantelme de Romieu, a collector, published a groundbreaking book titled "The History of the Antiquities of Arles". This publication ignited a newfound interest in the ancient city, and various collections of coins, statuettes, vases, inscriptions, and other curious artifacts began to emerge. Over time, the city acquired these treasures, and spaces such as the Town Hall and the Archbishops Palace served as exhibition venues.

The real impetus for a public museum dedicated to antiquities came from the Minimes religious order in 1784. They established the first museum in the nave of the Saint-Honorat church, housing the most significant collection of artifacts. Sadly, the collection suffered neglect and looting during the French Revolution. However, in the early 19th century, efforts were made to preserve the heritage of Arles by redistributing the most remarkable pieces between the Louvre Museum in Paris and the History Museum in Marseille.

In 1805, Pierre Vran, an Arlesian, managed to secure the lease of Sainte-Anne Church, followed by a decree in 1808 that facilitated the transfer of collections to the church. This pivotal moment prevented the dispersion of the city's cultural heritage, ensuring its preservation. As excavations continued around the city, including the iconic amphitheater and antique theater, numerous objects enriched the collections, outgrowing the capacity of Sainte-Anne Church.

Recognizing the need for a new museum befitting the grandeur of Arles' antiquities, plans were put in motion in the 1960s. After years of careful deliberation and the search for an ideal location, the ancient Roman circus emerged as the chosen site. The construction of the Arles Archaeological Museum commenced in 1988, a culmination of two decades of effort and determination.

Renowned architect Henri Ciriani was tasked with designing a building that would seamlessly blend with the ancient artifacts. The result is a triangular floor plan, with a rich interplay of colors and natural light. The central space, encircled by a red-coded scientific wing and an all-white cultural wing, showcases the permanent collections. The museum's exterior is adorned with blue enamelled glass, paying homage to the radiant Arlesian sky. Henri Ciriani's concept of a museum city invites visitors to explore the exhibits at their own pace, as if strolling through a vibrant ancient city.

2013 marked a significant milestone in the museum's evolution with a dedicated extension. This new space was specifically designed to house the Arles-Rhône 3, a Gallo-Roman barge discovered in the Rhône River. Delicately excavated and painstakingly restored, this exceptional artifact now takes its place alongside other renowned museum displays worldwide. Its presence not only highlights the scientific importance of the find but also offers visitors a rare glimpse into the maritime history of this ancient trading hub.

About the Collections

The Arles Archaeological Museum is a treasure trove of ancient artifacts that give insight into the rich history of Arles, France. It is home to an extensive collection that spans from the Neolithic period to Late Antiquity. The museum boasts an impressive collection of finely crafted pottery, intricate bronze and iron objects, and other artifacts that tell stories of commerce, culture, and daily life in ancient Arles.

Visitors to the Arles Archaeological Museum can immerse themselves in the rich tapestry of Arles' history. The museum has excavations around the city, including the bustling Alyscamps necropolis and various points within the city. These excavations have yielded countless artifacts that provide insights into the lives of those who once called this region home.

One of the highlights of the museum is the Gallo-Roman barge, Arles-Rhône 3, which was discovered in the Rhône River. This large sea-river port collection displays archaeological artifacts, including amphoras ceramic and bronze tableware, metal ingots and bars, reflecting the intensity of commercial trade between the port of Arles, Northern Europe, and the rest of the Mediterranean world during the Roman era.

Another section of the museum is dedicated to the daily life of the inhabitants of Arles during the Roman era. The exhibits provide visitors with a glimpse of the context and different aspects of daily life of Romans, from ancient baths of Constantine to public and imperial hygiene, art, religion, and luxury.

The Hortus Garden is a thematic garden that organizes routes between relaxation and rest areas and, ancient model-based play areas inspired by the text written 2000 years ago by Pliny the Younger, that evokes the garden of a luxurious villa. This is both an allusion to the text and a way of recalling the presence of this significant building that has disappeared since the inception of Late Antiquity.

The Arles Archaeological Museum stands as a testament to the rich history and remarkable archaeological finds of Arles and its surroundings. With its modern and innovative design, the museum effortlessly combines ancient artifacts and contemporary architecture, creating an immersive and enlightening experience for visitors. As the collections continue to grow, future discoveries promise to shed even more light on this vibrant and captivating corner of the ancient world. Embark on a journey through time at the Arles Archaeological Museum and uncover the secrets of Provence's fascinating past.

Discover the Treasures of Arles: Alliance Française Silicon Valley Presents a Live-Guided Tour

Experience the spectacular wonders of the Arles Archaeological Museum without ever leaving the Bay Area, thanks to Alliance Française Silicon Valley. Join us on March 3, 2023, at Emerson Montessori School, Palo Alto, as we broadcast a Live-Guided Tour directly from the Arles Archaeological Museum located in Provence, France. Our expert guide will take you on a journey to dive deep into the ancient history of Arles, exploring navigation and the life of the port through the latest scientific research of the museum's underwater archaeologists.

After the tour, indulge in a stimulating Q&A session where you can ask questions to learn more about the history of the museum and its artifacts. Enhance your experience with light refreshments and delicious food, as we savor the authentic flavors of the region.

Be sure to secure your tickets today here because seating for this exclusive event is limited. Don't miss out on this rare opportunity to embark on a virtual journey through time and discover the rich cultural heritage of Arles at the Arles Archaeological Museum.

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