My third day in Avignon brought about the famous Avignon Bridge, or Pont de Avignon, or Pont Saint Bénézet. There’s an old song written about it that my aunt used to sing in elementary school. The song talks about the people dancing on the bridge. Unfortunately history says that never happened. The bridge was not wide enough to dance on and half the year it had an icy terrain. Only part of the bridge still exists. There were 22 arches around the year 1234. The bridge crosses the Rhone River. The Rhone is a powerful river and would floods its banks every year making the arches collapse. It was too expensive to maintain and was abandoned in the mid 17th century. Only 4 arches and the gatehouse survived.
After crossing the bridge, taking in the spectacular views and all the dogs that were allowed on the bridge, I went into the little museum they have set up in the Gate House. They had information about how the bridge would have been originally built. They showed the tools they would have used and even had a little movie on a loop to show how they would create the bridge in running water.
Next stop was the Palais des Papes. You can buy a ticket for both the bridge and the Palais together and save money. I bought mine at the Bridge but you can also get it at the tourist office. The Palais des Papes is two building that are connected to create the largest Gothic building of the Middle ages. Six Popes were elected here. This Palais became home to the popes in 1309 when a French man was elected pope and he was unwilling to face the violent chaos of Rome after his election. At this time there was only what is now called the “Old Palais”.
In 1377 the popes decided to move back to Rome, but not everyone agreed that Rome was the rightful home for the popes and a “Papal Schism” occurred. There were 2 antipopes that continued to claim they were the real popes and continued to live in Avignon.
During the French Revolution the site was used as a place of massacre for counter revolutionaries, and eventually taken over by the Napoleon State and became a military barracks and prison. It became a museum in 1906 and has been under renovation ever since.
The Palais is huge so I got the audio tour. I love a good audio tour. I had gotten it for the bridge as well. This time this audio tour was on an iPad. It had a map, a tour of the Palais and even a “find it” game. In the first room of the tour the iPad tells you to find a black cube and point the camera of the iPad at it. This allows the iPad to give you the history of the room and other information. While it tells you the information it also transforms the room in front of you into how it would have looked when the room was in use during the time of the popes. As you move the iPad around the room the scene will change and allow you to click on things for more info or to “look” out the window into what would have been a garden or into a closet that would have been for servants. Also on the ipad there’s a place where you can take a picture of yourself and have your face put into a picture of the pope, a Palais guard or an old painting.
While walking through the Palais keep your eyes open for painted walls and ceilings. It is really amazing what has survived.
There was a temporary art exhibit in one of the great halls of the palace. It was great to see a collection of what the different museums of Avignon had to offer all in one place.
There is a cafe at the very top of the Palais. Its small but has great views and it’s a great place to sit for a break, have a snack and take in the view.
The last room of the Palais is another great hall. This one though has some frescos on the back wall up closer to the ceiling. On the ceiling itself there are some painted porticos and even a left over SPQR in the center of an arch.
The exit is of course through a gift shop where they sell Pope tea as well as other typical gift shop items.
Find out how many museums can be seen in one day in the next post.