During our recent house sit in Provence, France we were fortunate to visit the UNESCO World Heritage site of Avignon. A spectacularly preserved medieval town on the Rhone River surrounded by it’s original fortified city walls.
Our visit was enhanced by the fact that we were able to visit with our French friend Pierre whom we house sat for near Algeciras in Spain last year.
We first visited the Pont d’Avignon (locally known as the Pont Saint-Bénézet). This famous medieval bridge was the inspiration for the song Sur le pont d’Avignon and Pierre enjoyed teaching us the words of this song that all French people know. We then rang his wife and gave her a poor rendition of the tune over the phone!
According to Wikipedia the bridge “was built between 1177 and 1185. This early bridge was destroyed forty years later during the Albigensian Crusade when Louis VIII of France laid siege to Avignon. The bridge was rebuilt with 22 stone arches. It was very costly to maintain as the arches tended to collapse when the Rhône flooded. Eventually in the middle of the 17th century the bridge was abandoned. The four surviving arches on the bank of the Rhône are believed to have been built in around 1345 by Pope Clement VI during the Avignon Papacy.”
The 12th century Chapel of Saint Nicholas sits on the second pier in the middle of the bridge and was the site of devotion for the Rhone boatmen.
Next stop was the Place du Palais (Palace Square) and the magnificent Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes). Avignon was the seat of papal power in the 14th century (from 1309 – 1377) when Pope Clement V deserted Rome to escape the violent disorder following his election. The Palace is enormous and comprises an ‘old palace’ and a ‘new palace’. The largest Gothic palace in all of Europe, its immense scale shows the medieval might of the Roman Catholic church. Even though the interior is nowhere near as grand as it would have been in it’s heyday it is definitely worth the admission price to have a look.
The popes left Avignon in 1377, returning to Rome, but this prompted a period called the the Papal Schism during which time there were popes in Rome and antipopes in Avignon. The antipopes stayed on in Avignon until 1403 when antipapal forces besieged the palace and removed the antipopes but was returned to the authority of the church in 1433.
More info on the subsequent history of the palace can be found in Wikipedia.
Our afternoon in Avignon all too soon came to an end and on the way back to the car we admired the centuries old walls. It was a lovely day out….