The Alyscamps

Arles - Monument

In Antiquity, cemeteries were always outside the walls of the town and were often located along major roads. At the start of the Empire, cremation graves, sarcophogi and mausolea were dotted along the side of the Via Aurelia, creating a vast necropolis.
However, the cemetery became extremely significant during the Paleo-Christian era, with the inhumation of the martyr Saint Genest and the burial of the first Bishops of Arles, who were placed in a chapel later surrounded by a large number of tombs grouped together in several rows.
A priory known as Saint Honorat was constructed circa 1040; it depended on Saint-Victor Abbey in Marseille. The necropolis became an important stop-off point on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and the 'chansons de gestes' (songs of heroic deeds) located Charlemagne's battles against the Saracens there, to explain the large numbers of tombs. Dante immortalised this site in his poem 'Inferno'.
The Allée des Alyscamps, which still exists today, was created by the Minimes monks in the 18th century. In 1888, Van Gogh and Gaugin came to paint in these romantic 'Champs Elysées' of Arles. In Antiquity, cemeteries were always outside the boundaries of the town and were often located along major roads. At the start of the Empire, cremation graves, sarcophogi and mausolea were dotted along the side of the Via Aurelia, creating a vast necropolis.
However, the cemetery became extremely significant during the Paleo-Christian era, with the inhumation of the martyr Saint Genest and the burial of the first Bishops of Arles, who were placed in a chapel later surrounded by a large number of tombs grouped together in several rows.
A priory known as Saint Honorat was constructed circa 1040; it depended on Saint-Victor Abbey in Marseille. The necropolis became an important stop-off point on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and the 'chansons de gestes' (songs of heroic deeds) located Charlemagne's battles against the Saracens there, to explain the large numbers of tombs. Dante immortalised this site in his poem 'Inferno'.
The Allée des Alyscamps, which still exists today, was created by the Minimes monks in the 18th century. In 1888, Van Gogh and Gaugin came to paint in these romantic 'Champs Elysées' of Arles. The site consists of an alignment of tombs and an excavated section of the Paleo-Christian necropolis. The path runs along the sarcophogi, which are made of local limestone and generally fairly simple in style, with no decoration apart from a kind of adze or ascia (bent iron axe with a cutting edge perpendicular to the handle) and a corner block with lead piping. Some sarcophogi have a funereal inscription on a cartouche in the centre. Many of these texts are now illegible.
The Allée then continues to the remains of the Paleo-Christian necropolis, in front of the church of Saint Honorat Abbey (12th century). All the Abbey's convent buildings were destroyed after the Revolution. Excavations carried out in the 1930s-1950s unearthed piles of sarcophogi with no décor or epigraphs, placed in funeral enclosures. Shards of ceramics and coins led to them being dated to the 4th and 5th centuries.
In the Middle Ages, this site contained a number of vaults, chapels and funeral monuments. Few vestiges of these constructions remain. Saint Accurse Chapel was built in 1520 at the entrance to the site, next to Saint-Césaire-le-Vieux Church, of which only the Romanesque porch remains. It was built in expiation of the death of Accurse de la Tour, who was killed in a duel by another Arles nobleman. An imposing monument is located further to the right. This is a monument to the consuls, erected in the 18th century in honour of the municipal councillors who died during the 1721 plague. Slightly further on, to the left, is the funeral chapel of the Porcelet family, constructed in the 16th century.
Now isolated between the SNCF workshops and the Route de la Crau is the 16th century La Genouillade Chapel, also once known as the Chapel of the Smallholders, who had their base there.

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Information provided by OT Arles

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