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Palace of the Popes - medieval stronghold
South of France - Avignon - Department: Vaucluse (84)
In Provence, but right on the border
689 km (428 miles) by road .
98 km Lyon
Montpellier: 93 km
: Avignon ville and Avignon TGV
access from Paris
directly from Paris in 2h40
train via Lille or Paris. Direct service seasonal.
old city, ramparts and river
Avignon - papal city
For most of the last 1500 years, the Catholic church has had at its
head a pope, and the pope has been the Bishop of Rome. Yet the first
thousand years of the Papacy included centuries of strife and turmoil,
during which the popes, as well as being the spiritual leaders of the
Catholic church, were also temporal rulers, major players in the
geopolitics of Europe; they were princes with their own states and
their own lands, even their own armies.
power was like that of kings, if not greater. The medieval Papacy
ruled directly over the Papal states in central Italy, and was a highly
influential player in the affairs of European states in general.
In the year 1271, Alphonse of Poitiers bequeathed to Pope Gregory X a
domain in the south of France, on the eastern side of the River Rhone,
known as the Comtat Venaissin, the County of Venaissin. Avignon, in the
south of the zone, was not actually part of the Comtat, but was the
most strategically important city in the area, on account of its bridge
over the river Rhone - the famous "Pont d'Avignon".
Seventy-seven years later, in 1348, countess Jeanne de Provence sold
the city of Avignon to the Papacy, who thus became the rulers of both
the Comtat and the principal city. This area remained Papal
territory until the French Revolution, when it was incorporated into
The Papacy had already established a
presence in Avignon before it became a Papal city. In 1305
Clement V, who was French, decided to establish his Papal court at
Poitiers in France; but in 1309 he moved it to Avignon where it was to
remain for the next 68 years, under seven different popes, until Pope
Gregory XI moved it back to Rome. It was during this period that the
great fortified Papal Palace of Avignon was built, set up as a proud
symbol not just of spiritual but also of military importance, standing
as it does in a highly strategic position beside what was the only bridge over
the Rhone between Lyon and the Mediterranean sea.
In 1316, Pope John XXII started the process of rebuilding and
enlarging the Bishop's Palace in Avignon, and converting it into a
fortified palace. The main part of the building that stands in Avignon
to this day was built under Popes Benedict XII (Benoît XII),
and Innocent VI from 1335 to 1362.
In 1377, Pope Gregory XI brought the
to an end, by returning with the Papal court to Rome; but Avignon
remained a Papal city, and Gregory's departure was not the end of
Avignon papacies. The following year, the Roman
church was split in two when the Cardinals refused to follow the newly
appointed Pope Urban VI. Instead, they elected Robert de
Genève as a
rival Pope, and returned to Avignon. Thus from 1378 to 1403, during a
period known as the Western Schism, Avignon was the seat of a rival
Papacy, its Popes referred to by the official church in Rome as
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The older part of the Palace of the Popes, built under
Benedict XII a
former Cistercian monk, is known as the Palais Vieux; it is the part on
the left when seen from the square in front of the palace, and is
essentially an austere fortress set round an interior cloister.
When Clement VI succeeded him as Pope in 1342, he set about
expanding Benedict's palace with a far more lavish and decorated
extention, known as the New Palace or Palais Neuf. It was Clement who
commissioned the Italian painter Matteo Giovannetti to take charge of
the decoration of the interior of the Palace. Unfortunately, a large
proportion of the paintings that once decorated the walls of the palace
have been lost in the course of time, but several of them remain,
including notably the ceiling frescoes of the prophets in the Grand
Audience room, the hunting scenes in the Pope's chambers, and the
decoration of St. John's and St. Martial's chapel, which survive as
masterpieces of late medieval wall
to the sites
: save time and buy your Avignon attraction tickets
in advance from Tiquets.
Select individual sites or combo tickets.
things to see in Avignon
- The Avignon Bridge -
known worldwide thanks to the classic song "Sur le Pont d'Avignon" -
was built in the 12th century and for a long time was the only bridge
the Rhone south of Lyon. A large part of the bridge was swept away in
the 17th century, and has not been rebuilt since.
Buy your tickets online
in a smaller palace next to the Palace of the Popes. Substantial
collection of Italian Renaissance and early Renaissance art, including
works by Botticelli, Cima de Conegliano and Giovanni di Paolo
ramparts. Old Avignon is still largely surrounded by 14th
du Rocher des Doms.
Just next to the Palace of the Popes, this park is on top of the rocky
outcrop overlooking the river. Merits a visit on account of the views
over the river and over the rooftops of old Avignon.
The significant Roman
remains at Orange,
plus the Roman aqueduct known as the Pont du Gard
wetlands, famous for their pink flamingos and white horses. The old
city of Les Baux de
. The site of the Fontaine de Vaucluse
where the river Sorgue emerges from the foot of a cliff. Ile sur la Sorgue
famous for its antiques shops and antique fairs.