A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
The amphitheater was built in the late first century, roughly contemporary with the amphitheater in Nîmes and the Flavian Amphitheater (better known as the Colosseum) in Rome. It is much smaller than the Colosseum, having only two full stories, crowned by an attic, instead of four stories. Each story has 60 open arcades with engaged pilasters between the arches. The attic story has disappeared. The amphitheaters in Nîmes and Arles, perhaps designed by the same architect, are very similar in scale and capacity, seating about 20,000 spectators each. (See Nîmes for description of the function of an amphitheater). When Arles was overrun by barbarians in the early Middle Ages the amphitheater was converted into a fortress known as the Château des Arènes, the arches were filled in to make solid walls, and four watchtowers were added to the facade of which three survive. Still later a complete small town and two churches were housed inside, built with materials taken from the amphitheater. Beginning in the 19th century, most of these later additions were cleared. Today, the amphitheater has returned to something like its original use as a place to watch public spectacles such as bull fights, races and folk festivals, and modern bleacher seating has been added over the original passageways that supported the ancient seats.
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