Friday, April 5, 2013

Arles - The Necropolis

Among the many Roman remnants that makes Arles a Unesco World Heritage Site, are the remnants of a Roman necropolis, Les Alyscamps.  Les Alyscamps, by the way, means 'Elysian Fields' in Occitan, the old Provençal language. In modern French it's Champs Élysées.  Signs we read there said it had continued to be used for a thousand or more years after the Romans left.  It was famous (according to the signs) in the middle ages and rich people used to send their bodies from a long way off, down the Rhone, to be buried there. There are still some family chapels from that period.  It was so famous that it's mentioned in Dante's Inferno. If I read the French correctly, it was so full at one time, that the sarcophagi were stacked three or four high.

Today, it's smaller. Just a few blocks walk from the central square, along a canal, in dappled shade with birds, bees and flowers  doing their Spring things all around. Not unpleasant.  In structure, it's a long avenue lined with carved stone sarcophagi (now empty). There is a somewhat ruined medieval church at the end which is the beginning of the Arlesian pilgrimage route to Santiago in Spain, so there are clamshells along the way.

Right now you are probably asking yourself  - why does the Arlesian route of  Compostelle de St. Jacques start here?  Well, I have the answer -- Saints.  Toward the end of the Roman era Genesius, an accountant or notary or legal civil servant of some kind, refused to write down the names of Christians who were to be persecuted. For this, he was beheaded and, thus, became a saint. Even though he wasn't even a Christian. And he was buried in Les Alyscamps.  So was St. Trophime before his church was built and he was relocated.

{I'm pausing here in my own world, to reflect on what the French labor unions of today would do if one of their members were beheaded for refusing to make a list.  Pretty amusing to speculate}

I somehow didn't take any pictures there, though the COG took plenty.  Here are some from the internet.

And a closer view of sarcophagi.

and the church.


Kate said...

I loved the Alyscamp! We were caught in the rain and took shelter in the church with only the cooing pigeons for company. Good insight about the New Orleans- style graveyard. Hard to imagine any other explanation after seeing the French/Roman ones.

The Bride said...

It was magic in the sunshine of early Spring. This was That One Spring day when all the trees suddenly start to turn green, except the ones that are turning pink or white from blossom.

However, I can imagine that in the rain it would have been lovely, too. The dusty, empty church at the end was full of pigeons when we were there, but it seemed less like a shelter than a chilly, very elaborate, garden shed. The rain would have changed that.