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Boasting a beautifully-preserved historic centre, the city of Arles is home to one of Europe's best collections of Roman ruins - which have been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. Initially a Celtic city colonised by the Greeks, Arles became Roman after Julius Caesar distributed the land among some of his most faithful soldiers in 46 BC. This was the first golden age of the city, which then came to be known as "Little Rome in Gaul".

Having become a major religious centre during the early Christian period, the sought-after city was passed to the Kingdom of Burgundy in the 9th century. In 1032 it passed to the Holy Roman Empire, before becoming a part of France in 1481. Much of Arles city centre's street plan dates from about this time, as does a significant amount of the surviving architecture. Arles is still known as a major port on the Rhône, though nowadays visitors flock to the area to see the town's impressive Roman remains.

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Ancient activities

Among the many highlights celebrating Arles' rich history is the mighty Roman Arena, which would have seated about 20,000 people. It was partly converted into a castle in the Middle Ages but is still remarkably intact.

Van Gogh

The Dutch post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh lived in Arles in 1888-1889 and produced over 300 paintings and drawings during his time here. Today the Van Gogh Foundation is situated opposite the vast arena.