by Brenda W. Clough
One of the most beautiful sites in France, surely, is the great arena at Arles. Everything the Romans built here is made of the local stone, a lovely golden color and cheaply available. As you can see from the volume and size of their projects, convenient is essential.
And the modern caretakers are using a slightly different philosophy of management here. In the second shot you can see that they are, prudently, reinforcing the arches with new masonry. A good idea, as the tourists pour in and out under the arch, you will agree! But behind the arch, in the shadow, you can compare the new masonry with the old. And, with that in mind, look at the first picture. The lighter new stone? It is quarried from the same site that they used in whatever it was BC (chemical analysis and radiography allows them ti identify where every rock came from). In time, perhaps in a hundred years, the arena will look essentially new — every old stone replaced by an identical new one, Jason’s ship the Argo, the same ship but every piece of wood new.
Another grand site in town is the Baths of Constantine. The Romans were crazy about bathing, and this is all that is left of a complex that combined the shopping mall with the massage therapist. And here too the works of the ancients have been happily appropriated. See the modern window cut into the ancient wall? Someone built a house on the other side and simply hacked a nice hole and inserted the window framing. Best of all, in the gap between the one house and the other, is the TV antenna.
The theater in Arles, like the one in Orange is still in use. A wonderful tribute to the ancient space, to use it the way the builders would have liked! Orange has the major opera and music festivals; lacking the back sound wall the one at Arles is less spectacular. But here is a photo of the boat — discovered at the bottom of the Loire some years ago, painstakingly raised and preserved, and now proudly on display — the oldest historical vessel, just about, that we have. An amazing and thrilling sight!