Anyone watching the news today notices strife around the globe between civil and religious groups each fighting for power and control. When you consider the history of Avignon you can simply apply our current political/religious situation back to the 1300’s.
King Francis IV of France was convinced Pope Boniface VIII and Benedict XI were reaching for far too much power in the civil matters of the world. He felt their realm should be a spiritual one, and intended to keep them in check.
After the untimely death of Benedict XI (some Italian supporters of Frances IV are said to have either poisoned the Pope or beaten him so severely he died days later) Francis IV used his considerable influence within the Papacy to elect a French Pope in 1305, known today as Clement V.
Clement V was living in France at the time, and decided it was in his best interest to remain there. He moved the Papacy to Avignon, and there it remained until 1377. Clement V and Francis IV had a profound impact on the Jews and the Knights Templar, more about that in the Vienne article soon to come.
The Papal Palace at Avignon sits high on the hill “Rocher des Doms” and is surrounded by 3 miles of defensive medieval walls that remain intact and intimidating to this day.
If you are expecting your tour of the Papal Palace at Avignon to be similar to the tour of the Papal Palace in Rome you’re going to be disappointed. When Pope Gregory XI was elected he moved back to Rome (1377) and took everything inside the palace along with him.
Having said that, I found the Papal Palace at Avignon to be very impressive. The architecture and interior décor are interesting examples of medieval practices, and the differences and advances between the newest and oldest construction at the Palace is quite apparent.
The interior chambers are enormous and our local guide did an excellent job of painting a picture of what life was like inside the Palace during its reign.
Avignon is known for more than the Papal Palace. In fact there’s a broken bridge there that is renowned around the world. The St Benezet Bridge has been crossing the Rhine at Avignon since 1185 but the continual flooding of the Rhine caused the arched bridge to collapse so many times repairs were finally abandoned. Every French child knows the nursery song “On the Bridge at Avignon” and to this day people sing it while standing on the remaining structure.
Avignon was another Provencal area that artists have been attracted to. The Musee’ Angladon displays works by Manet, Degas, Cezanne, Van Gogh and Modigliani.
Avignon’s most important painter, Joseph Vernet (1714-89) has many gorgeous paintings in the Musee Calvet, which is also home to a wide variety of sculpture and is one of the best loved museums in France.
Avignon is another area that would be an ideal “hub” for a tour of southern France. It’s also a wonderful stop along the river cruise route on the Rhine, and many escorted tours of the Provencal area of France include it in their itinerary.
The Papal Palace at Avignon has been on my bucket list for years. I’m delighted to have spent a day in this delightful city and enjoyed so much more than just the Papal Palace. If you’re planning to give the south of France some vacation time, I encourage you to include Avignon in your itinerary.
Joy Gawf-Crutchfield owns and operates The Joy of Travel. Contact Joy at 918-339-4805