Arles was established during the era of classical Greece as Theline, but was captured by the Celts and renamed Arelate. The Romans took over in 123BC and constructed a canal to the Mediterranean Sea. Though Arles grew in importance under Roman rule, Marseille held greater prominence until the war between Julius Caesar and Pompey. Arelate then became a major trading port as well as a cultural center. Several entertainment venues and monuments were erected, some of which survive to this day as World Heritage sites and common tourist attractions.

The city also gained prominence as a religious center. Arles was one of the first Christian cities in Gaul and home to several saints between the 200s and 400s. After that, the Roman Empire fell apart and Arles was invaded by the Saracens and Franks. After several centuries of battle, the Franks made the city capital of their new Kingdom of Arles (modern-day Burgundy and Provence). The kingdom was later incorporated into France.

Arles under French rule regained much economic power as a key trading city on the Rhône River, though it was again eclipsed by the Mediterranean port of Marseille. River traffic was an important part of the city’s economy until the establishment of the railroad in the late 1800s, when Arles faded into relative obscurity and turned to farming. Today, Arles is well known for some of its agricultural products such as rice and olive oil.