Monday – Tuesday was a long, long day: bus to DIA, plane to O’Hare, layover, plane to DeGaulle, long layover, train to Avignon, car to flat. Since French planes and trains are still on strike, there was a great deal of itinerary mucking about, which plumb tuckered Matt out.
Our home-from-home for the 9 days we will be in Provence is a 3rd floor walkup inside the city walls, right in the heart of the old city.
Navigating the streets of old Avignon turned out to be a perilous exercise, especially since the rental car “upgraded” us to a larger car – not a plus in these medieval passageways.
Avignon’s origins go back to pre-Roman times. It was an important market center during the Roman occupation of Gaul. The town declined (like most urban centers) during the early Middle Ages (due to plagues, invasions and loss of social systems). Avignon’s position on the Rhone guaranteed a comeback as populations grew and trade increased.
The community claimed independent city-state status in the 11th century – to the displeasure of French kings and various baronial magnates who kept knocking down its walls.
However, Avignon is best known as the capital of the Roman Catholic Church c. 1334-1438. For reasons political (Roman politics becoming too cut -throat to manage) and personal (election of a French pope, Clement V), the papal entourage transferred itself to tough little Avignon. Of course, leaving Rome meant leaving behind all those splendiferous Vatican buildings, so the Palais de Papes was built to provide a suitable setting for all that papal grandeur.
The Popes went back to Rome in 1417, and the French Revolution stripped the Palais of its grandeur (furnishings, wall decorations and art). But we were able to travel back in time to see the room interiors reconstructed in all their glory, thanks to the wonders of modern technology. Very cool app – there were even ghostly popes and cardinals sitting in their seats.
A few-bits and bobs of the originals remain, some displayed in the Petit Palais (the Pope’s little home) down the block.
The Petit Palais now serves as a museum space, housing overflow from the Louvre that mostly look like this.
The Cathedral Notre-Dame des Dom sits between the two Palais, built on a hill to avoid being overshadowed by the Papal domains. A reconstruction of the original Our Lady stands atop the bell tower.
The first inhabitants of Avignon lived atop the cliff into which the Cathedral and Palais de Papes are built. Today, it’s a family-friendly park. The super-sized wall plaque lists the names of every Jew who was shipped out of Avignon to Nazi death camps.
Avignon has many, many churches. Here are glimpses of three: St.Didier, St. Pierre and St. Martial.
Rue des Teinturers follows an ancient canal with many waterwheels used by the cloth dyers for whom the street is named.
France has lots of odd bits of carving lying around. Some wonderful pieces now serve as benches besinde the canal.
On Avignon’s lighter side…
Anyone planning their next bridge vacation (ahem DomQ)?
Here’s a quick clip of the Avignon carousel in action