Avignon’s Palais Des Papes

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.

The Papal palace was built between 1335 and 1364.

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.

 

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Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rocked Us…Literally

Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a historic town in France’s Rhone Valley, near Avignon in the Provence region. It is known for its history and for its rich, full-bodied, spicy red wines.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape translates into ‘New Castle of the Pope‘.  When the French popes moved to Avignon during a turbulent period for Rome, they wanted to source their fine wines locally (they were already huge fans of the wines produced by monks in the Burugundy Region). Chateauneuf-du-Pape (near Avignon) was a perfect place for the Pope’s court in the early 14th century and vineyards.

After the popes left Avignon, winemaking continued despite the loss of an illustrious, monied local patron.  Believe it or not, around a hundred years ago the bulk of Châteauneuf-du-Pape was sold to Burgundy to add to their local wines to boost the strength and alcohol levels. In 1923, it got its own Appellation Contrôlée (AOC).  These regulations set the minimum alcohol level of the wines and set limits on yields as well as which types of grapes could be grown in which area.

We drive through Chateauneuf-du-Pape with a few farmers.  They were astonished to see the soil filled with rocks, pebbles and sand.  Locals explained poor farmland is usually good for something else, like growing grapes.

At a tasting, the leader explained that grapes like people, are not interesting if they are not challenged.  In Chateauneuf-du-Pape, like Burgundy, the grapes are challenged.  Not only is the soil lacking in organic matter, the climate is hot, dry and windy.  Irrigation is forbidden.  Viticulturalists must apply for special permission from the French government to water.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape’s local rocks (galets roulés), retain the sun’s heat and release it at night.  Locals believe that this permits the grapes t ripen more quickly and work as a mulch to prevent too much evaporation from the soil.  The strong winds (the mistral) carry away moisture, intensifying the grape’s flavor.

There are different ways of pruning plants.  Before leaving the US, I left very specific instructions on how I wanted my Crepe Myrtles pruned.  Winemakers are equally fussy about pruning.  Bushvines are common even though yields are limited.

We learned that in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, they often use cement tanks instead of barrels.  Their main grape is Grenache, which is prone to oxidation.  Wood barrels allow more oxidation and so these grapes often sit in cement tanks while their Pinot friends from the next row over get to age in wood barrels.

Grenache is the most common variety; it produces a sweet juice. It is frequently mixed with Syrah or Mourvèdre. I had a picture of Grenache labels at the end of rows of vines, but this one came out better.  Although the town is known for its reds, this is one of the varieties of grape that is used in making whites.

 

The Swiss Guard In Revolutionary France

As you know from yesterday’s post, Switzerland was well know for sending mercenaries abroad.  Popes weren’t the only people who hired them.  France‘s King Louis the 11th started a group to protect him called the Hundred Swiss (Cent Suisses) in 1480.  Swiss worked for the kings of France on up to the revolution.

When the French Revolution started, about nine hundred Swiss Guards were protecting the Tuileries Palace.   They didn’t fare well; they ran low on ammunition and were overwhelmed by the larger opposition.

  • Approximately 600 of them were killed during fighting or after the surrender
  • 60 were taken to city hall and killed in front of the crowd there
  • Around 160 died in prison of their wounds in prison or in further revolutionary violence

Their bravery is commemorated by Bertel Thorvaldsen’s Lion Monument in Lucerne.*  The lion is shown collapsing on the symbols of the French monarchy.

* Lucerne is one of the highlights of any trip to Switzerland and one of the most beautiful places in the world.

 

The Swiss Guard

The Papal Swiss Guard is actually Swiss.  They are mostly from Zurich, Luzern and St. Gallen.  The Swiss Guard has been responsible for the Pope‘s security and the protection of the Vatican for around 500 years.  Back then, Switzerland was a poor country whose citizens worked as mercenaries all over Europe as there weren’t sufficient jobs at home.
The Papal Swiss Guard’s first and deadliest engagement was on May 6, 1527 fighting the forces of Charles V during the sack of Rome.  Their efforts enabled Pope Clement VII to escape the Vatican.

To be a Papal Swiss Guard, you must:

  • Be Swiss
  • Be Catholic
  • Be a man (they aren’t opening it up to women anytime soon)
  • Be at least 185 cm (5 ft 8.5 inches) tall
  • Be between 17 and 30
  • Have a high school diploma or professional degree
  • Have completed basic training in the Swiss army
  • Apply
  • As you can see from the first photo above, you must also be able to rock a uniform