For 68 years during the 1300s, Avignon was the center of the Catholic world. Seven popes reigned from this Provencal location, nearly 600 miles from Rome…and they were French, not Italian. The Palais des Papes, papal palace, still stands as a glorious fortress in the old town of the large city.
Next to the papal palace is another impressive sight, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms d’Avignon. The structure was built in the 1100s and has been the home of the archbishop of the Avignon diocese/archdiocese since then.
A gilded statue of the Virgin Mary stands atop the bell tower of the cathedral.
Avignon’s papal palace is now part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the old town itself and the Avignon Bridge.
The interior of the palace shows not opulence, but immense size. The Grand Tinel was used for receptions. Popes were elected in this space.
In 1378, the papacy returned to Rome. But in the 39 years now known as the Great Schism, Catholic leaders in both Avignon and Rome claimed to be popes. By 1417, the schism was ended with the excommunication of the reigning Avignon pope. Later the Avignon leaders during the schism were declared as antipopes.
Avignon now has a population of over 90,000 people, making it one of the largest communes in Provence.
From the garden near the palace is a perfect view of the Pont d’Avignon or Pont Saint-Bénézet. The story of this bridge is that a young shepherd, Bénézet, received instructions from Christ to build a bridge across the Rhone River. The original bridge was completed in the late 12th century. Bénézet was granted sainthood for performing not three, but eighteen miracles, one of which being the lifting of the first very heavy stone to start the building of the bridge. The bridge was rebuilt once after flooding destroyed parts of its 22 arches. When it was partially destroyed again, the western side was abandoned.
With the ancient buildings and history as a backdrop, Avignon is a great place to simply relax and enjoy Provencal sun.