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Published: September 22nd 2018
Avignon Papal Palace front
Just a portion of the front of the Palace
Avignon, that bustling City of 95,000 is on the Rhone and one of the few remaining completely walled cities in France. It is ancient, full of history and full of life. The entire city of Avignon spreads beyond the fortress walls and has almost 95,000 residents. Of those only about 12,000 residents actually live within the walls. It is often referred to as the City of Popes because between 1309 and 1423 during a schism in the Catholic church the Pope vacated Vatican City in fear of his life and moved to Avignon for protection. The Palace du Popes was erected right in the middle of the Avignon is mammoth in size and has its own cathedral. Though the building of most cathedrals alone in Europe took up to 500 years to complete, this palace and church only took relatively few years to complete, construction began in 1252 and Pope Clement V first occupied the palace in 1309. It is incomprehensible how this massive structure was comple in such short a period of time. The palace itself could house 500 people and the guide told us among other items of food they cooked 5 whole cows every day. How
much you were allowed to eat was directly attributable to how close you were sitting to the Pope. Every wall nook and cranny was resplendent with frescos. Today, however, most of the frescos are gone, obliterated over time through neglect and war. The "golden years" at the palace were so thoroughly documented that you can rent an Ipad and as you walk through the rooms, tap your Ipad to a reader and hold the Ipad up and scan the room. You will be looking at an exact replication of what the room originally looked like. Walls coverings, frescos, furniture and flags exactly as they were when the Pope and his Cardinals roamed the grounds. It's technology at its best.
The Pope was convinced in 1423 to move back to Rome and they stripped the Palace of all the furnishings. What is left is the very well preserved palace rooms and limestone walls. There is a small portion of a fresco in one room and another in the chapel on the ceiling.
You can wander the streets Avignon for days and absolutely never tire of them. There are so many things to see here. The Popes Palace in the center of
town is, of course the crown jewel of Avignon. The second most popular attraction I would imagine is Pont d'Avignon a picturesque little bridge of St. Benezet built around 1180. It was meant to connect the walled city of Avignon to Villanueva Avignon across the Rhone which was ruled by the King of France. The bridge was first destroyed by King Louis VIII only 40 years after being built when France was laying siege on Avignon. In addition, what I didn't know is that the Rhone River is a river a powerful and after they repaired bridge it was destroyed again and again by the raging waters of the Rhone and the fierce mistral winds that occur here. After being repaired many times over the years it was ultimately was abandoned in the 17th century. Okay history lesson is over for the day. I could spend hours talking about the interesting houses that line the street across the square from the palace du Popes. and more. It must have been an amazing time to be in Avignon while the Popes were here running things.
Tom and I have been to Avignon three times before this but once again because we
Avignon preserved fresco
Imagine every portion of the blank surrounding walls equally painted. We were told that originally every portion of every walls were covered in frescos.
had a guide we had the opportunity to learn the history of buildings that prior to this visit we had just walked past multiple times never knowing the importance their residents played in the building and governing of this town. We've always had guide books that focus on the big attractions but there is nothing like having a guide who was raised behind these walls speak melodically in her microphone as we meandered that streets. Pointing out things such as the "Tax Collectors" house and the "Fabric Merchants" Villa, another wow for me.
Tomorrow is Arles, home of Van Gogh for a year. Tom and I drove through it once only stopping for a quick lunch many years ago.........I'm sure there are wonderful secrets to be discovered tomorrow.
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