The Fête du Costume is Arles’ most prominent celebration of Provençal tradition. It is a three-day festival full of parades, bull games, and an overall exhibition of traditional clothing. Only people with at least three generations of ancestry in the city can participate. The fabrics needed to create an ensemble are expensive. Costumes range from the 18th to the 19th century.
The festival started in 1903, instigated by local writer Frédéric Mistral when he created the Festo Vierginenco (Festival of Virgins). According to Avignon & Provence, young girls were invited to wear the dress and hair ribbon to symbolize their passage into adulthood.
Up to age 15, girls wear the Mireille costume composed of a cotton skirt above the ankles, an apron, a black bodice and a simple scarf.
After that age, they wear a more sophisticated dress style that evolved in the 18th century, with the use of jewel-colored satin fabrics, a ribbon and a habit. A delicate lace bodice and shawl complete the costume, flattering the silhouette.
The queen of Arles is elected for three years after showing her knowledge of Provençal history, literature, architecture, arts, traditions, culture and language. The queen is accompanied by women called the “Maidens of Honor,” who are ambassadresses of the region’s traditions, attending local officials at cultural and traditional events. Also present at the festival are gardians, the Camargue “cowboys,” who herd the black Camargue bulls used for the course camarguaise bull games in southern France. Camargue horses galloping through water is a popular and romantic image of the region.
In 2016, after years of research and experimentation in his kitchen, Florent de Oliveira took the plunge and started Brasserie Artisanale Arlésienne (BAA), which now produces one of the most popular craft beers sold in Arles.
De Oliveira is originally from Doubs, France, where he began a petrochemical engineering career, but he wanted to get involved in a profession that combined his passions – craftsmanship, nature and of course, good beer.
He launched his microbrewery in Saint Martin de Crau, 15 miles southeast of Arles. BAA is brewed with water extracted directly from under the brewery in the Crau Plain.
Elefante Remi, whose main job is to brew and prepare the beer for transportation, is the only other employee in the company.
Remi and De Oliveira’s workdays commence around 8 a.m. and end at approximately 6 p.m. From straight malt to bottling and ready for shipment, it takes around 8 to 10 hours for the entire process to occur.
Once the brewing procedure is complete, the two men put the kegs in a warm room in their warehouse, otherwise known as a chamber. The kegs are then sent to clients, including businesses and individuals, in Arles.
BAA has four types of beer: rice beer, hibiscus and its bestsellers, classic and brown beer.
“Our classic flavor is categorized as a blonde beer because the malt isn’t ground, which gives the beer a lighter color,” Remi explains, “while our brown beer has a chocolatey color because the malt has been ground.”
The malt, wheat, rice and barley BAA uses are locally grown. De Oliveira carefully handpicks the hops and barley, selecting only the perfect ones to make his brew. De Oliveira strove for organic production, and his entire range of ingredients is certified as Organic Agriculture (AB) and European Organic Agriculture (Eurofeuille).
Remi and De Oliveira said brewing the perfect mixture demands pure water, hops for the bitterness and conservation of their beer, and malted barley, which will provide sugar that the yeast will feed on during fermentation. This combination develops into a sweet malt mixture that is then put into fermentation vats. The BAA is bottled semi-manually by its two employees and sent in cardboard boxes for shipment.
Brasserie Artisanale Arlésienne is the most popular beer sold in town. When asked why or how his beer was so popular among the Arlesian people, De Oliveira responded jokingly, “Well, that’s easy; it is made with love.”
De Oliveira pours his heart and soul into his company, making “this beer special in Arles because it is easier to drink and taste than most. I am my first customer, so why wouldn’t I want to enjoy the beer I make? This allows the public to enjoy it too.”
BAA beers are now available in almost every grocery store, liquor store restaurant and bar and at local events in Arles.
At the Manade des Baumelles in the Camargue region of the South of France, the sound of cowbells clanking breaks up the numbing noise from the cicadas, and distant exclamations can be heard coming from two employees. The hollers are tracked to two men, the older one giving instructions to the younger, who is hard at work, with irritated mosquito bites covering his legs from long days in the marshy wetlands of the region.
The men step between slim planks of wood about a foot wide, laid across a corral holding three large Camargue bulls, idolized in the region due to their importance in traditional bullfighting and bull games. The men take turns carrying large double braided ropes through the slats, leaning their bodies back in order to apply the weight needed to lead the hefty animals beneath. They explain they are trying to attach a label to the ears of the bulls as a way to recognize bulls of their herd before the main event; they will run the bulls through the region on horseback, a well known and popular tradition in the Camargue.
Since the 16th century, the Camargue has been at the roots of established traditions in the region. With 360 square miles of sprawling farm land, its primary economic function, up until about 50 years ago, was as pasture for white Camargue horses, and breeding grounds and caring for bulls for the purpose of bullfighting and bull games. Now, the jobs of the Camargue’s inhabitants have changed– in addition to herding bulls, they are also herding tourists.
The Camargue is Western Europe’s largest river delta. In it lie 150 manades or ranches, dedicated to the raising and care of Camargue bulls and horses. The Camargue has often been called the “wild west of France,” with the manadiers its ranchers and the gardians its cowboys.
When the Camargue traditions started, these modern-day heroes were no more than agricultural laborers, and many of the inhabitants of the Camargue lived in poverty. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that nobleman Marquis de Baroncelli, infatuated with the Camargue’s beautiful scenery and inspired by the gardians‘ dedication to the land, swore to elevate these men, and promote them as protectors of the land. This status remains intact today – but many aspects of these traditions have changed.
Throughout history, and up until about 50 years ago, gardians lived in the Camargue in traditional cabanes de gardian, small whitewashed homes made from materials often found in the Camargue – walls made from mud and stone, roofs made from reeds and sewn together with iron-weaved thread, and topped with limestone at the point. The homes are very small, with only one room and an open air fireplace for warmth and a small living space. Now, these homes are almost all renovated or built new, and listed as vacation rentals and Airbnbs, for upwards of $200/night in peak tourism season.
The biggest building on any manade would have housed the manadier and his family in the 19th century, and would be made of stone. Now, they primarily serve as reception areas or small hotels for tourists, who visit the Camargue to see the legendary black bulls and white horses, and learn about the origins of bull games and bull fighting.
Due to this popularity, the job descriptions have changed for the gardians and manadiers. They often give informational tours of the manade to tourists, and manadiers also become hotel managers, balancing tourist bookings with the traditional practice of raising and caring for the vital heart of the manade–the actual livestock.
The Manade des Baumelles is a renovated manade complete with a hotel and two restaurants on the property. The manade offers horseback riding, tractor tours and other Camargue excursions.
The relationship is intertwined now, and everyone who is involved in the traditions of the Camargue has been forced to adapt to these changes over time. They have found that one cannot exist without the other. Emile Astruc, an employee in the manade, said, “Without tourism there is not enough money coming in to have the Camargue or the gardians or the hotel; everything does go to the Camargue.”
Astruc believes all of the employees in the manades of the Camargue, whether they have an agricultural job or a job in hospitality, work in the manade because they are passionate about the traditions. She herself drives over an hour and a half from her home near Marseille every day at 6 a.m. to be in this position.
Faure is the sole employed gardian of the Manade des Baumelles, and has been working in the Camargue professionally for six years. As a child he devoted much of his time to volunteering, as the traditions of the land are his passion.
Similarly to Astruc, Faure says that his career is a labor of love. “We don’t think about [it as a] job. I know that I work and that makes it my job, but it’s a passion because it’s never the same, because you see a lot of different things and because it’s pleasant.”
He says he is grateful for the increase in tourism, because it is thanks to tourists that he can keep his traditions alive, even if they have changed. Through tourism, Faure can continue to educate the public on the history and traditions of the Camargue. In modern times, in the face of so much opposition to bull activities, Faure believes tourism helps spread the defense of the practices.
“It’s scary,” Faure said. “It is true that today there are people who are fighting to have all that abolished. And it’s true that likewise, if that were to be the case, we wouldn’t work anymore and there wouldn’t be any point in raising bulls.It is important to preserve working with a wild animal in the wild and to make a difference, and to perpetuate the traditions around the horse and the bull.”
Faure said his hope is for “traditions [to] continue… and to manage to make people understand that this must continue, that [bull] breeding is made to make this show and that we should not fight against [it.]
Roles have adapted to incorporate tourists, but it is through tourist dollars that the traditions are intact, and it is through educating tourists that the traditions can continue to be celebrated, said Faure.
“It’s not just a story of money,” said Faure. “No, tourism is also important to share our culture.”
Longtime Arles resident Dominique Arizmendi was sitting in the stands of an arena as bullfighters jabbed a bull in the neck several times until it couldn’t raise its head. When the matador finally killed it with his sword, the crowd cheered. But Arizmendi was disgusted. “I felt like I was on another planet,” she said.
When one considers the essence of French culture, the mind often paints a vivid picture, dominated by the iconic imagery of Paris: alleys with old architecture, freshly baked baguettes and croissants with cheese and chocolate on the side, and perhaps even fervent protesters filling the roads. In the southern region of France, however, a vibrant ambiance with distinct Mediterranean and Latin influences continues to thrive, particularly in the provincial city of Arles where the corrida, or bullfighting, season lasts from the second Sunday of March to the end of September.
Now Arles, a provincial city in the South of France, finds itself at a crossroads. With anti-corrida protests echoing through the streets and a growing majority in favor of banning the age-old tradition, Arles has become a battleground for conflicting opinions on the ethics and future of bullfighting. As the spotlight shines on this vibrant Mediterranean city, the clash between passionate advocates and fervent opponents reveals a deeply divided society grappling with the moral complexities surrounding this controversial spectacle.
While the true history and origins of bullfighting is blurred as it has been influenced by many different cultures spanning a long period of time, historians can trace an idea of how modern bullfighting appeared in Spain. During the Moorish rule of Spain (8th to 15th century), bullfighting in its early form emerged as a combination of pre-existing traditions. Moors created contests involving bull-leaping and bull-dodging, which were eventually blended with local customs.
Controversies rose from the ethical concerns of bullfighting. Queen Isabella I, for example, opposed bullfighting, and the practice went underground in the 15th century. In 1567, Pope Pius V issued a complete ban on bullfighting, excommunicating Christian nobles who supported such spectacles. But by the 18th century, bullfighting was back and had transformed into a highly stylized and formalized spectacle in Spain. Key elements such as the three-stage structure (tercio), the use of specific tools (such as the cape and sword), and the involvement of bullfighters (toreros) began to take shape.
Bullfighting faced a challenge in 2012 when an animal rights organization sent a request for a ban to France’s Constitutional Council. The request, however, was shot down under the premise that the practice is not unconstitutional, and is traditional to the South of France. Defenders of bullfighting also point out the significant economic impact the sport has, as the practice greatly attracts tourists.
Although France’s Constitutional Council rejected the plea for bullfighting to be banned and despite the enduring presence of bullfighting as a cultural tradition, recent statistics reveal that a majority of French people leans toward the anti-corrida stance. According to survey data collected by IFOP (The Institut français d’opinion publique), a staggering 74% of French citizens are in favor of banning bullfighting. These findings and the anti-corrida protests each year in Arles highlight the strong opposition to bullfighting in France, reflecting a significant clash in societal attitude towards the ethics and morality surrounding this controversial spectacle.
“I can’t stand having animals tortured to death,” Arizmendi said.
According to Arizmendi, the primary ethical concerns associated with bullfighting are rooted in the inherent cruelty of the practice.
“It’s hard for me to understand how people can do this,” she said. “It’s not to eat. It’s not a slaughterhouse to get meat. It’s a show for fun, so I don’t understand how people can have fun watching an animal be tortured and put to death.”
To actively participate in the anti-corrida movement and advocate for its cause, Arizmendi and her group, named No Corrida, organize protests in the streets and gather signatures for petitions in hopes that these efforts will help change the law.
Arizmendi differentiates the course camarguaise, a traditional form of French bullfighting that still currently takes place in the Camargue region, from corrida. “People don’t hurt, torture, or kill the bull.” She explains that the corrida is Spanish bullfighting, whereas the course camarguaise is a French tradition that has existed for a long time.
Arizmendi also rebuts the worry that a corrida ban would have negative implications for the economy and tourism. The feria, the fair in which the bullfighting course camarguaise takes place, is what brings in the money.
“All the people who come for the feria do not go to the corrida,” she said, explaining that the majority of the bulls raised are destined for the slaughterhouse, not for the arena.
Arizmendi acknowledges the financial support provided to bull breeders and organizers through taxes, but says, “We don’t want that anymore because these are taxes from French people, and most French people don’t know it. The corrida absolutely does not have any economic consequence for the country, the cities, or the regions. On the contrary, it costs money. It does not create revenue.”
While opponents of bullfighting condemn the practice, claiming it to be cruel and inhumane, the outlook from the other side tells a completely different story. The bull holds a special place in their hearts.
“We love the bull more than anything,” said Charlie Laloe, a retired bullfighter. To them, the corrida represents something wholly unique. “They are not in cages like a meat breed.”
For some, bullfighting symbolizes a fierce battle, while for others, it is an artistic expression, akin to a captivating dance. Thomas Joubert, a bullfighter and founder of ASSPA, an inclusive sports organization, says, “The first thing I take with me when I go to my practice…is my music. This part is what I like.”
However, Joubert acknowledges the solemnity of the final act, stating, “The moment we kill the bull, I think for most of the bullfighters, is the moment we don’t really like…even more when we spend time with the bull.”
Frédéric Poudevigne, the head veterinary inspector for the Ministry of Agriculture, also emphasizes the profound significance bullfighting has for the practitioners.
“A bullfighter, as soon as he gets a little bit of money, even if he kills (bulls) every day, will buy some cows and buy some mothers and have his own breed, which he will visit every day, and show to all his friends,” Poudevigne said. “If we stop the fight with the animal, we disappear.”
Yves Lebas, president of a bullfighting school in Arles called L’ecole Taurine D’Arles, claims that, in some ways, the anti-corrida movement has brought more violence than corrida itself. He said some activists reportedly sent envelopes with razor blades to the training school for bullfighting.
In response to the animosity directed toward bullfighting, Joubert emphasizes the importance of mutual respect. “I have to respect your idea, you have to respect mine.”
When I heard there was going to be a bullfighting event at a ranch on the outskirts of Arles, I jumped at the opportunity to photograph it. I had been to rodeos before, but I’d never attended a bullfight.
“La Corrida” is a centuries-old tradition for the people of Spain and Southern France. Bullfighters wear traditional outfits –- short jackets, knee-length trousers and boots — and dance with the bulls as spectators watch. It ends in the death of the bulls, one sword to the body and another to the head. To many people in this region, it is an act of honor.
I thought I was going to a practice session where the animals would not be killed. Marie-Anne Devaux, my guide for the day, introduced me to three of the matadors who were to be performing that day. Everyone there was incredibly charming and kind. They really made me feel welcome, and I was excited to shoot photographs of the bullfight.
Lalo de Maria was the matador up first, and it was fascinating to see him work. Lalo threw a red cape in front of the bull, and the animal charged towards him. Then a man on a horse provoked the bull to check its bravery. It was at that moment when Devaux turned to me and said, “Oh, they’re gonna kill the bull; you can tell because he has his sword in his hand.”
In this moment I felt conflicted; I didn’t come to this event to see a bull die. It was against my very nature to want to see something like this. However, I also knew that as a journalist it’s not my job to decide what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s not my right to go to a country I’ve never been to before, with a language I don’t speak, with customs I don’t understand and say that what they’re doing is wrong.
Photographing the bull as it’s dying, blood leaking from its mouth, its eyes starting to fade away, was the most important thing I could do in that moment.
As I put the camera to my eye, I thought of a photograph I had studied in school.
On July 22, 1975, in Boston, Massachusetts, 19-year-old Diana Bryant and her 2-year-old goddaughter were on a fire escape during an apartment fire, waiting for firefighters to rescue them. But the platform they were on broke and the two of them fell to the ground. Bryant died; her goddaughter survived.
A few feet away, Stanley Forman, a photographer for the Boston Herald American, was shooting the entire incident. He took a series of heartbreaking photographs, capturing the two bodies as they fell through the air. The photographs sparked a lot of outrage, and the press was charged with invasion of privacy. However, the photographs led to change; within 24 hours, the city of Boston altered its policies on the regulation and maintenance of fire escapes and other cities around the U.S. also passed new legislation, inspired by Forman’s photographs.
As I looked at the bull through my viewfinder, lying there, its life slowly leaving its body, I realized the power we photographers have in capturing death as well as life. Whether or not I support the practice of corrida, it’s my job to photograph this and show it to the world.
This is a personal reflection and does not necessarily express the opinion of The Arles Project or program sponsors ieiMedia or Arlesàlacarte.
The streets of Arles transformed into music halls on June 21 as the town joined in the annual French celebration of Fête de la Musique. Some of the musicians and their audience shared stories with our reporters.
Photo and interview by Sophie Wyckoff
Janis and Jacques Lemay are Canadian tourists who traveled to Arles, France, for their third time to feel the words, rhymes, and beats of la Fête de la Musique. They intended to listen to only La Chorale Coeur Escandihando at 3 p.m. but stayed and listened to a Latin-American choir until 6:30 p.m. Janis explained how the pianist was so theatrical that she “stood up screaming and cheering” once the conductor signed for the end of the song. The couple is already planning to travel to Arles for the fourth year in a row.
Photo and interview by Sam Guzman
Juan San Juan, 79 and retired, has lived in Arles for 24 years. He goes to Fête de la Musique sporadically. “I’m alone, all of my friends are in Spai, so I just occasionally come to enjoy. Look around, it’s Wednesday night and there are people from everywhere, on every street.”
Photo and interview by Destene Savariau
Wissem Agagg of Arles performed at the festival with other rappers. “It’s a party. Friends, music and lit vibes.”
Photo and interview by Louis Denson
Lous Martial has traveled far and wide over the last 50 years. He lived in France from 1970 through 1993 before traveling from New York to Vermont, India, and Morocco. Returning to Port-Saint-Louis-du-Rhône five years ago, he has made yearly trips to Arles to enjoy and participate in La Fête de la musique. Martial plays blues and electric music with a friend who plays the bass. Rather than performing cover music or their own composed pieces, the duo prefer to jam and let the music take them where it leads. “It could go for hours.”
Photo and interview by Ella Ehlers
Sebastian Denez is a member of a band in Arles and he plays the drums. The band plays a lot of old music and they play Spanish songs a lot too. ”Sharing energy is what I like to do and the drums allow me to do so.”
An international reporting project co-sponsored by ieiMedia and Arles à la carte.