Alyscamps Necropolis

Arles, France

The Alyscamps is a large Roman necropolis, one of the most famous necropolises of the ancient world. Roman cities traditionally forbade burials within the city limits. It was therefore common for the roads immediately outside a city to be lined with tombs and mausoleums; the Appian Way outside Rome provides a good example. The Alyscamps was Arles' main burial ground for nearly 1,500 years. It was the final segment of the Aurelian Way leading up to the city gates and was used as a burial ground for well-off citizens, whose memorials ranged from simple sarcophagi to elaborate monuments.

The Alyscamps continued to be used after the city was Christianised in the 4th century. Saint Genesius, a Roman civil servant beheaded in 303 for refusing to follow orders to persecute Christians, was buried there and rapidly became the focus of a cult. Saint Trophimus, possibly the first bishop of Arles, was buried there soon afterwards. It was claimed that Christ himself attended the ceremony, leaving the imprint of his knee on a sarcophagus lid.

The area became a highly desirable place to be buried and tombs soon multiplied. As early as the 4th century there were already several thousand tombs, necessitating the stacking of sarcophagi three layers deep. Burial in the Alyscamps became so desirable that bodies were shipped there from all over Europe, with the Rhône boatmen making a healthy profit from the transportation of coffins to Arles.

The Alyscamps continued to be used well into medieval times, although the removal of Saint Trophimus' relics to the cathedral in 1152 reduced its prestige. During the Renaissance the necropolis was systematically looted, with city councillors giving sarcophagi as gifts to distinguished visitors and local people using funerary stones as building material. It was further damaged by the arrival of the railway and a canal in the 19th century, both of which sliced across the site.

In 1981, the Alyscamps was classified a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as part of the Arles, Roman and Romanesque Monuments group.

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Details

Founded: 300-400 AD
Category: Prehistoric and archaeological sites in France
Historical period: Roman Gaul (France)

Rating

4.1/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Craig (21 months ago)
A good visit
Phillip Spencer (2 years ago)
An unusual and interesting place to visit, part of the old Roman cemetery with the remains of several more modern (medieval or later) religious structures. A long and thin layout, it is worth walking to the end just to soak up the atmosphere and see the number and variety of sarcophagi lining the path. Walking under the trees, you could be hundreds of years away from modern Arles!
Stephen Bennett (2 years ago)
Worth a visit but watch out for the very basic toilets!
Ana Stasia (2 years ago)
Beautiful and mysteryous place. Perfect to make a horror movie
Bruno Pasquali (2 years ago)
Quite empty but suggestive Ruins
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