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Published: March 28th 2019
Le Palais des Papes
The entrance to the Popes' palace
So what did I know about Avignon? I could only think of two things: “Sur le Pont D’Avignon, L’on y danse…” and the fact that the Popes moved there for almost 100 years in the 14th
century (and I had to look that up). Still, it seemed like a good idea to visit this site from Montpellier even though we would be closer when we are in Arles. As we are in Arles only a few days, we booked the train from Montpellier. The walls of Avignon
We had recently been to Carcassonne so it was going to take a lot to impress us. There have been walls in Avignon since Roman times. They periodically got torn down and rebuilt further out to increase the size of the protected area. The effectiveness of these walls was questionable. The King of France, on his way to wipe out the Albigensian heresy, took over the city after a three month siege. He had the walls torn down, filled in the moats and stated the walls could not be rebuilt for five years. This was done in the mid-1200s. The Pope decided in the mid-1300s that the walls weren’t good enough because of
This tower at the main gate is now the office of a taxi company.
the Hundred Year’s War and built even more. These are what we see today. While not as impressive as those in Carcassonne, I wouldn’t want to have to storm the ramparts with the weapons available at the time. Palais des Papes
The era of the Avignon papacy is a very complex one considering the Papacy was still very much a temporal as well as a spiritual power. The Papacy fell under the influence of the King of France and the French king “influenced” the election of a Frenchman as Pope Clement V in 1305. He refused to move to Rome and in 1309 started what would be a string of seven French Popes who lived in Avignon.
Each one added to the Avignon Palace until it was the largest and most important of medieval Gothic buildings. Because of the Popes’ involvement in temporal matters, the Palais was also a fortress.
Most of the sites we visited in France had audio guides which made our visits most enjoyable. The ones at the Palais were incredible. Everyone, including the French speakers, got a guide which was really a tablet. It sensed when you changed areas so you didn’t
14th century walls
Over 4 kilometers long
have to push a bunch of numbers to get the information relevant to what you were seeing. But the best part was that you could point the tablet at a special device in a room and, when you then pointed the tablet at a wall, it would display the room as it would have looked back in the 14th
century. The walls we see today are pretty plain and bare. The audio guide showed how colourful the rooms were at the time. As you panned the tablet round the room the display changed accordingly. Amazing.
We didn’t get into the museum which I’m sure would have been equally amazing. Pont D’Avignon
This is actually the Pont Saint-Bénézet after the shepherd boy who (according to another legend) heard the voice of Christ telling him to build a bridge. Legends aside, we learned lots about the area. The original wooden bridge was destroyed in the early 1200s during the Albigensian Crusade (this comes up a lot in this area). The later bridge in stone was built but was abandoned in the 17th
century because the arches kept falling down due to the flooding of the Rhône River. It was
One of the two main courtyards
The palace is two buildings joined together
too expensive to maintain.
The original stone bridge had 22 arches and there are only four left. When you look at the four remaining arches and how wide the river is, you have to wonder how they fit in the other 18. The course of the river has changed dramatically over the centuries. You can still see the western terminus, the Tour Philippe-le-Bel, which is way over on the other side of the Île de la Barthelasse and the western arm of the river. This island is pretty big but it wasn’t there when the original bridge was built. The original bridge also didn’t go straight across the river. It had a couple of curves in it to make use of what islands did exist.
There is also a chapel built into the bridge (what a surprise). The Saint’s relics were buried in this chapel but were later moved because of the dangers of flooding. They built a chapel on the eastern bank of the river but it was destroyed in a major flood in the 1800s. Who knows how many minor floods there were.
We also learned that people did not dance on the bridge, mainly
Plan of the palace
This diagram shows the two buildings side by side.
because it was too narrow. They did, however, dance under the bridge. Only under first arch which was still on dry land, I assume. And apparently the song was originally “Sous le Pont D’Avignon….” which would explain a lot. Still, it was fun to see the famous bridge. Walkabout
We had a city map (of course) and a couple of hours so we just wandered about off the beaten track. We found several old churches and squares that were virtually deserted. So peaceful. Even though it isn’t the height of the tourist season, it was still pretty busy at the Palais and Bridge. Squares
One of the really nice parts of travelling in the old cities is the squares. After tramping around the city, the Palais and the bridge, we were a little burned out. It was so relaxing to sit in the huge square between the Palais and the Gare and sip cappuccinos while people watching. You see some amazing sights. A lot of towns have buskers. This one had a chap making giant bubbles with soapy water. It was fun to watch people’s reaction when some of these four and five feet wide bubbles
Much of the original building is visible
would float away then burst over unsuspecting tourists. Of course, he had his hat on the ground and we were interested to see how many people put coins in it. One little girl was enchanted by the display. The bubble maker even helped her make a couple. We were so impressed with his gentleness with her that we chipped in too. What’s next?
On one hand time seems to be standing still but on the other, it is racing by. We still have to fit in a return trip to Nîmes and the Pont du Gard. Yikes. ToBeContinued!
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