Through the ages

© Droits réservés

Ancient period:

  • End of 1st century BC: construction of the Roman Theatre of Arles. First traces of the Alyscamps necropolis.
  • 80-90 AD: building of the Arles Amphitheatre.
  • Beginning of 4th century AD: construction of the baths of Constantine.

Medieval period:

  • 6th century: founding of the Saint-Césaire enclosure.
  • 948: founding of the Montmajour abbey.
  • 12th century: construction of Saint-Trophime cloister and cathedral.

"(...) It is the city of Arles, a city admirably placed by nature, or rather for which nature has, so to speak, made its place (...) " - Alphonse de Lamartine to the French National Assembly on 30 April 1842

1842: the deputy and writer Alphonse de Lamartine supports the routing of the Paris-Lyon-Marseille railway line via Arles in the National Assembly. A first development phase for the site of the Arlesian railway workshops is then commenced (1845-1856).

Construction includes a workshop for the manufacture and repair of machinery, a carriage workshop, a wagon workshop and a machinery warehouse.

1848: the Avignon-Marseille section is inaugurated in Arles. This marks a period of economic boom for the city. The workshops become the city’s main employers, employing up to 1,800 people in 1920.

1868: creation of the Réattu Museum.

1888–1889: Vincent van Gogh moves to Arles, where he will roam its landscapes and discover a light that nourishes his inspiration. Paul Gauguin joins him a few months before van Gogh begins to experience health problems, which leads to him leaving the region in May 1890.

1896: founding of the Museon Arlaten by Occitan writer Frédéric Mistral.

1904: Nobel Prize in Literature awarded to Frédéric Mistral for his work Mirèio (Mireille).

1937: France’s various railway companies merge to become the SNCF. Technological progress gradually replaces the steam train, and with it the Ateliers d’Arles that specialised in its construction.

1954: founding of the biological research institute for the conservation of Mediterranean wetlands (Tour du Valat) by Luc Hoffmann.

1961: creation of WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature). Luc Hoffmann becomes vice-president of the organisation.

1969: creation of the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie festival by Michel Tournier, Jean-Maurice Rouquette and Lucien Clergue.

1978: founding of Actes Sud publishing house by Hubert Nyssen.

1981: founding of the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie (National School of Photography).

Despite several modernisation phases, the Parc des Ateliers undergoes progressive de-industrialisation and closes its doors in 1984 following a long decline in its activity. Abandoned, this wasteland in the centre of the city is gradually invaded by vegetation. Its buildings deteriorate and are sporadically used for storage, photography exhibitions or concerts.

1989: opening of the Médiathèque d’Arles (Arles media library).

1995: opening of the Departmental Museum of Ancient Arles.

From the mid-1990s, the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur region considers a number of rehabilitation projects to revitalise the site. The huge Grande Halle building is renovated and inaugurated in 2007.

2002: Maja Hoffmann, patron of the Rencontres d’Arles, and François Hébel, then director of the photography festival, create the Prix Découverte (Discovery Prize) in order to broaden the festival’s outreach and support emerging photographers.

2004: creation of the Luma Foundation to support and produce experimental projects led by artists and cultural institutions.

2006: release of Sketches of Frank Gehry, a documentary film directed by Sydney Pollack about the architect’s work, produced by Maja Hoffmann.

2006: the City of Arles approves the creation of the ZAC des Ateliers for the development and equipment of the former SNCF workshops (17 July 2006)

2007: the City and the AREA PACA sign the concession agreement of the ZAC des Ateliers to implement the development operation (12 June  2007)

With Frank Gehry, Maja Hoffmann starts reflecting on the way art centres, creative spaces and exhibition spaces have developed in the world. She brings together a core group of curators, artists, architects and thinkers: Hans Ulrich Obrist, Philippe Parreno, Beatrix Ruf, Liam Gillick and Tom Eccles. Together, they are working to create a new cultural centre for the 21st century.

© Hervé Hôte

2008: the Luma Foundation co-signs with the City of Arles, the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region and the Rencontres d’Arles an agreement for the development of the Parc des Ateliers project.

2010: in order to support Arles’s emergent cultural vitality, the Ministry of Culture announces the National School of Photography will be granted a new building in the Parc des Ateliers.

Maja Hoffmann invites landscape architect Bas Smets to work on the landscaping project at the Parc des Ateliers, as well as architect Annabelle Selldorf for the renovation of the site’s buildings.
In association with the Rencontres d’Arles, the Luma Foundation begins an experimental phase of artistic programming in Arles, with events taking place at the Parc des Ateliers as well as other places around the city: its arenas, Alyscamps necropolis and Place de la République (Republic Square).
2010: How Soon Is Now? - A study of contemporary photography and a series of symposia. 2011: The Human Snapshot symposium.
2012: To the Moon via the Beach - a group exhibition.
2013: Neue Welt, an exhibition by Wolfgang Tillmans.

5 April 2014: following several years of research for the project, construction officially begins with a ceremony organised for the laying of the first stone of Luma Arles.
Maja Hoffmann wants the site to remain accessible to the public during the construction of the Arts Resource Centre (designed by Frank Gehry) and the rehabilitation of existing buildings. The Parc des Ateliers thus plays host to an artistic and cultural programme prefiguring its future activities as well as events linked to the Rencontres d’Arles.
From 2014 onwards, Les Forges building is renovated. Made available to the Rencontres d’Arles festival, the space allows for museum-quality exhibitions, and co-productions with various international institutions and collections.

2016: La Mécanique Générale building is completed, with a contemporary extension. The building is immediately opened to the public.

2017: the Luma Foundation celebrates the 10th anniversary of the renovation of the Grande Halle with a full interdisciplinary programme. The foundation launches the Living Archives programme with an exhibition dedicated to Annie Leibovitz and an installation by artist duo Fischli / Weiss.
A reception area, restaurant (Le Réfectoire), bookshop, and information and ticketing space are also created.

Spring 2018: opening of La Formation building, dedicated to the performing arts. It welcomes dance company L.A. Dance Project for its third year in residence at Luma Arles.

Autumn 2018: construction work begins on the public park designed by Bas Smets.
In a state of perpetual motion, Luma Arles continues to develop the Parc des Ateliers. A platform for authentically interdisciplinary cultural production, the site encompasses a whole of different spaces with a variety of purposes, sizes, qualities and equipment ranging from raw industrial to “white cube”. By turns, these each become spaces for exhibitions and events very varied in format.
A production workshop, a collection of living archives, an artist residency programme, a school, etc.: so many tools enabling the programme that will be animating this 7-hectare site.
Each of these activities crosses its expertise with themes related to art, the environment, human rights and education.

Luma Arles consists of six former industrial buildings:

  • Les Forges, the first building renovated and rehabilitated by Annabelle Selldorf, opened in July 2014.
  • La Mécanique Générale, completed in 2016.
  • La Formation, completed in 2018.
  • Le Médico-Social, scheduled to open in 2020.
  • The Arts Resource Centre (designed by Frank Gehry). Works planned from 2014 to 2021.


Creation of the Luma Foundation.


The Luma Foundation co-signs an agreement for the development of the Parc des Ateliers project.


5 April 2014
Laying of the first stone of Luma Arles.


The Luma Foundation celebrates the 10th anniversary of the renovation of the Grande Halle with a full interdisciplinary programme.