Friday, July 25, 2003

Moving down the Rhone

I had a lovely couple of days in Avignon, at least partly due to having unexpectedly arrived in the middle of France's biggest Arts festival. (I'm still amazed I found somewhere to stay). I have now moved down the Rhone a little to Arles, which is most famous as the place where Vincent Van Gogh painted many of his most famous works (and also where he severed his ear). Unsurprisingly, it is a bit of a tourist trap, full of shops selling postcards of paintings mostly by van Gogh but also by other artists. However, most interesting are the Roman ruins, which are quite significant, given the importance of the town. In the first century BC Marseilles took the side of Pompey over Julius Ceasar, and Arles took the side of Ceasar. Ceasar then had Marseilles razed, and Arles became the principal port in that section of the Roman Empire. Arles was therefore the major port for a number of centuries. However, the mouth of the Rhone river silted up, Arles ceased to be a port, and the traffic went back to Marseilles, which is today the second city of France. If the mouth of the Rhone had not silted up, one presumes that Arles would today be a large city, but instead it is only a small (somewhat shabby looking) town containing a large Roman amphitheatre (today used for bullfighting), Roman theatre (still used as a theatre, but in less good repair), and the ruins of baths. Such is the effects of silting up on the importance of cities, in the past at least. I would now write a piece on how the invention of container shipping in the last 50 years has changed all this and this is possibly one of the most important issues with respect to the structure of cities in the last 2000 years, but I don't have time.

No comments:

Blog Archive