The Pope's Palace (Palais des Papes), though clearly more of a fortress, Avignon, Provence, South of France.
Home to varied Popes for a hundred years Avignon is now home to a modest permanent population but shuffling, gobbling, boggling hordes during the summer season.
The city is particularly popular during the annual Festival d'Avignon in the last two weeks of July and first week of August, when the city's magnificent buildings are used as backdrops for theatrical, musical and other events.
Most performances - buskers aside - involve the French language so this is a good time for English speakers NOT to be here.
Entering the walled area of Avignon.
Avignon's superbly preserved and complete 2.5 miles (4 kms) of ramparts were actually too small to be seriously defensive but now conveniently serve to divide most of the sights of the city from the ever-expanding suburbs.
The main attraction outside the city walls is the sing-song Pont d'Avignon (picture below), though the also attractive and fortified Villeneuve-les-Avignon - where the Pope's cardinals built their splendid mansions - is just across the River Rhone, also pictured below.
Le Pont d'Avignon, more correctly known as Pont St-Bénezet, over the River Rhone, with Villeneuve-les-Avignon just visible in the photo on the right. The bridge was started in 1185 AD, reached nearly a kilometre in length and finally collapsed due to flood surges in 1660.
A favourite kid's nursery-rhyme (in the UK) is Le Pont d'Avignon and this is it, projecting into the Rhone. The bridge now has four arches but used to have 22, stretching over the island of Barthelasse (the long stretch of trees is an island in the middle of the Rhone) to the far bank.
The song goes like this..."Sur le Pont d'Avignon, L'on y danse, l'on y danse, Sur le Pont d'Avignon, L'on y danse tout en rond".
The thing is, although the bridge was originally
long, it was never wide enough to dance (medieval style) on. The current thinking is that Ile de la Barthelasse is now a summer recreation area and has always been so, particularly since it used to disappear under flood waters in the winter. So...people used to dance on the island under the bridge during medieval summers. Thus the song probably used to be..."Sous le Pont d'Avignon" etc.
Avignon's Place du Palais seen from the tourist-accessible roof of the Pope's Palace, from where the roofs look 'like a pie crust fresh from the oven' according to Lawrence Durrell. The centre of Avignon, Place de l'Horloge, is the green clump of trees on the left of the picture.
One of Avignon's many little curiosities, trompe l'oeuil windows painted by different artists and scattered around the city. Tourists, keep your eyes peeled!
The best time to be in Avignon is April to early July, late August and September (avoiding the 3 festival weeks). October and November are wet months and winter generally is made unpleasant by the random and chilling Mistral wind.
Avignon town centre map. See more Avignon Pictures.
The map shows the rough circle of Avignon's walls in maroon colour - coincidentally the colour of Avignon's native wine, Côtes du Rhône.
The lower part of the endlessly flooded island in the middle of the Rhône is Ile Piot, while the upper half is called Ile de la Barthelasse. The Pope's Palace and the ancient bridge are in the far north of the ring, also the site of the first Neolithic settlement here on Rocher des Doms.
Getting to Avignon:
- Car, not difficult via the A7 from Lyons or Marseilles, or A9 from Nîmes. Park and stay inside the walls if possible. Nîmes is 25 miles away, Aix-en-Provence 42 miles, Marseille 54 miles, St Tropez 103 miles, Cannes 113 miles, Nice 123 miles.
- Train: TGV (high speed train) or regular trains arrive at different stations; the latter is nearer to the city.
- Fly, Marseilles is the nearest large airport.
- Get a boat up or downriver, from/to Arles or Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but book well in advance.
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