We brought visitors from the US on a whirlwind trip to France where we to see as much as possible in a weekend. The first day, we saw Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Orange. On the second day, we saw the Pont d’Avignon, the Palais des Papes and the nearby Pont du Gard before returning home. It was a full weekend, but worth it. Francophiles, don’t worry, this is the first of more trips to the south of France. We’re actually headed back tomorrow. On our whirlwind tour of Provence, we managed a quick stroll through Avignon. It is a charming town. While it is best known for the Papal Palace, it’s backstreets are worth a stroll.
The Place de l’Horloge, one of Avignon’s main squares is exactly how you’d imagine a square in the south of France. The only thing I didn’t see was the petanque (boules/bocce ball) court. It had grand buildings, a ferris wheel and was lined with outdoor cafes. Avignon has many squares, but part of its charm is that it is old enough to have narrow alleys leading off of them.
Signs of Avignon past as a religious center are everywhere.
The riverfront (of the Rhone River), parks and gardens of the Palais des Papes, provide welcome open and green space.
Oh yeah, the enormous city walls and ramparts are pretty cool too. Just make sure to avoid falling stones. The sign below translates to “Pedestrians do not walk along the ramparts risk of falling rocks.”
History time folks. In the 14th century, Pope Clement V and his court fled political turmoil in Rome, escaping to Avignon. Clement V was French and well, where else would he go? From 1309 to 1377 there were seven French-born popes and the papacy was not in Rome, but in Avignon. Yep, the place with the bridge into the river, the Pont du Gard.
The Popes spent a fortune building palaces, decorating them and outfitting them with accouterments. You can still see some of it today (and learn a little bit about the history) by touring the papal palaces.
Needless to say, the Italians weren’t huge fans of the move and continually lobbied to get them back to Rome. There was the Great Schism (which you may remember reading about in high school). When Pope Gregory XI left Avignon and died, Rome and Avignon both elected their own popes. These popes both excommunicated the other and tried to gain control of the church (with the accompanying revenues). When all sides finally found a pope acceptable to all, Martin V, he established himself in Rome, ending Avignon’s time in the spotlight.
In addition to the pope pens, it is licensed sell alcohol.