Space Van Gogh
Arles - Cultural place
Garden open and can be accessed freely during the day
Former Hôtel-Dieu, also called Hôtel-Dieu-Saint-Esprit.
Built in the 16th and 17th centuries, the vast quadrilateral of the Hôtel-Dieu has a two-fold context: a period of prosperity and modernisation by the town on the one hand, and a well affirmed tradition as a local hospital on the other hand. Three wings were raised in 1835 to open up new rooms following a serious cholera epidemic. At the end of the 19th century, the hospital received a remarkable guest, Vincent Van Gogh, who depicted the building in several of his paintings. The establishment was open until the 1970s-1980s. The disused hospital then underwent major renovation work to turn it into a broad-ranging cultural and academic site. During this time, excavations in the basement unearthed extremely interesting remains which added to the knowledge of the town all the way back to protohistory.
The buildings form a quadrilateral around a garden. The ground floor opens onto outside via arches which border a gallery walkway which is also present on the second floor. The façades are severe, with small openings, in keeping with the model for hospitals at the time; hospitals were closed places which must not transmit dangerous 'miasmas' to the outside world. The entire building was topped with wooden timbers (pieces fitted together to support the roof) and trusses (horizontal beams which support the oblique beams on the sides of the roof). The ground floor of the west building housed the ancillary services, including the kitchen fitted with a huge fireplace, the laundry, the linen room and other utilitarian areas. The main entrance to the hospital was on what is now rue Dulau. The solid wood door, rebuilt in 1587 by Antoine Pons, was made of pitch-pine (blend of pine species from North America). It is surrounded by two fluted Doric columns and topped with a triangular fronton. Above it, an inscription commemorates the date on which the building was constructed. This portal is listed as a Historic Monument.
In 1542, the Archbishop of Arles decided to close the town's 32 charitable establishments and bring them together into just one establishment in the town centre. This initial project remained on hold when the Prelate died. A land recovery policy was implemented, partly on the vast Trinitaires site. The first stone was laid in 1573. The construction of the Hôtel-Dieu spanned two centuries, the 16th century for the north and west wings and the 17th for the other two (work of Jacques Peytret). The work of the new establishment (welcome all sick people, abandoned children and orphans) could be carried out principally thanks to generous sponsors, tax revenue from the hospital and aid from the town. The staff consisted of laymen and monks, doctors, administrative and domestic staff and artisans. Two priests assisted the dying. From 1664, the care of the sick was entrusted to the Hospital Sisters of the Order of Saint Augustine. Vincent Van Gogh stayed there briefly in 1888 and 1889 and was treated by Doctor Félix Rey, before being interned in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Major changes were made to the building in the early 20th century, when it was made to comply with sanitary standards. The Hôtel-Dieu continued to operate until 1974, replaced by Joseph-Imbert Hospital. In 1986, the last medical services left the site, which was then turned into a cultural centre.
In 1986, work began to strip the hospital and transform it into a vast cultural centre intended to house a media centre, the communal archives, the International College of Literary Translators (CITL), a university outpost, a vast exhibition room and a few shops. Following a competition, Denis Froidevaux and Jean-Louis Tétrel were appointed to carry out the renovation work. The two architects used their archive research and the discoveries of a pre-site to adapt their project to the history and original structure of the building. In addition to this structure and the site's mediaeval past, extremely productive excavations uncovered, among other things, a large Roman esplanade (confirming an unknown fact in the town's ancient urban fabric) and a protohistoric necropolis. During this vast operation, the door on rue Dulau was also restored by Férignac in 1988.
Information provided by OT Arles
Espace Van Gogh
Place Du Docteur Félix Rey
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Where to stay
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