Papal Palace in Avignon (World Heritage)

The city on the banks of the Rhône is dominated by the fortress-like Gothic papal palace, the Romanesque cathedral and the tower-reinforced city wall. The ancient Pont d’Avignon is a landmark and much sung about. Little Avignon once made history: ten popes and counter-popes resided here between 1309 and 1423.

Papal Palace in Avignon: facts

Official title: Papal Palace with the surrounding historical ensemble in Avignon
Cultural monument: Old town surrounded by a 4.5 km long curtain wall, in the center the defiant 15,000 m² Papal Palace, as well as the Gothic Petit Palais and the Romanesque Cathédrale Notre-Dame-des-Doms
Continent: Europe
Country: France, Provence
Location: Avignon, Rhône
Appointment: 1995
Meaning: Testimony to the special role Avignon played in the Christian West of the 14th century.

Papal Palace in Avignon: history

48 BC Chr. roman colony Avenio
730 Destruction of Avenio
12th century Avignon’s first heyday, Cathédrale Notre-Dame-des-Doms
1309-77 “Century of the Popes”; Residence of seven popes
1342-52 under Clement VI. Incorporation of Avignon into the Papal States
1378-94 Clement VII elected antipope by the French cardinals
1417 End of the split in the church
1443 Beginning of the rule of the cardinal legates
1797 in the “Peace of Tolentino” Avignon ceded to France
1965 Finds from the Neolithic period discovered during excavations

The city of the Popes

Avignon, one of the few important medieval cities whose city walls are still almost completely intact, should be approached slowly. The city deserves to be circled along this four and a half kilometer long wall ring – an admittedly monotonous undertaking in places, but one that shows the size and importance of medieval Avignon. The patrons of this imposing monument were the popes residing in Avignon, whose rule is primarily reminiscent of the monumental Palais des Papes.

When Bertrand de Got, Archbishop of Bordeaux, was elected Pope as Clement V in Lyon in 1305, the new head of Christianity refused to move to Rome. Intrigue and political intrigues brought about this unusual decision. Four years after his election, the Pope, who was under the influence of Philip the Fair, settled in Avignon. He was followed by six Roman popes – all of them French – and two counter-popes who were elected after the church split and are therefore not recognized by official Catholic historiography.

For almost seven decades the heart of Christianity beat in Avignon; The Pope’s Palace, the most outstanding Gothic building in Provence, is an impressive testimony to the ambition of the ecclesiastical leaders to represent themselves, although the bare facade, furrowed by ogival niches, with its raw, steeply rising tower blocks is more reminiscent of a fortress than a palace. Instead of the magnificent entry of the cardinals and various embassies, the Court of Honor of the Papal Palace sees the opening of the »Festival d’Avignon«, one of the most important European summer festivals for theater, dance and music, founded in 1947 by the actor and director Jean Vilar.

During their »Babylonian captivity« the popes developed a brisk building activity, and numerous nobles and cardinals who sought the proximity of the Pontifex maximus had respectable city palaces, such as the Hôtel des Monnaies, built. The city’s reputation was in poor shape, however: “But this place appeared to many others from beginning to end, and especially to me, to be the worst of them all. But according to constant judgment, he did not even appear because of himself, but because of the wickedness and meanness that streamed, brought together and grown together here from all over the world, “blasphemed the famous Italian humanist and poet Francesco Petrarca in the time of Clement VI. about Avignon, which he was familiar with from childhood.

Right next to the Palais des Papes rises the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-des-Doms, the final resting place for numerous ecclesiastical dignitaries, including Popes Benedict XII. and John XXII. The structure of the cathedral, crowned by a gilded figure of Mary, is partly even older than that of the Papal Palace. Just a stone’s throw away, the Rocher des Doms, a limestone cliff transformed into a garden, offers a beautiful view of the nested rooftop landscape of the historic old town, the Rhône and the Saint-Bénézet bridge.

According to historyaah, the name of this bridge, which is world-famous thanks to the children’s song “Sur le pont d’Avignon, on y danse…”, recalls the shepherd Bénézet, who – according to legend – an angel in a dream ordered to build a bridge over the Rhône. Bénézet, supported by many helpers, did what God told him to do. The approximately 900 meter long architectural masterpiece with its 22 arches was always a thorn in the side of the river spirits. Floods and debris repeatedly caused severe damage. In the 17th century, a huge tidal wave largely destroyed the Saint-Bénézet Bridge; only four arches including a Romanesque chapel remained intact.

By the way: the text of the nursery rhyme is misleading, because once people danced under the arches of the bridge on the Île de la Barthelasse.

Papal Palace in Avignon