Avignon

Avignon is one of the major cities of Provence, in Southern France. It is the main city of the département of Vaucluse, and is on the banks of the Rhône river. Avignon was one of the European Cities of Culture in 2000 and its historical centre has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Understand

The Papal Palace and the cathedral

Avignon is famous as the city to which the Popes fled when leaving the corruption of Rome in the 14th century. Le Palais des Papes (Palace of Popes) which was built then is the world's largest Gothic building. It was largely emptied over the centuries, and its vast stone rooms are filled with little more than old frescos, but it is still an imposing building. The Ramparts themselves were erected to keep the plague and invaders out during the turbulent Middle Ages, when Avignon belonged to the papacy and not the French crown.

Its early history is much older than the popes, however. Avignon occupies a strategic location for several reasons - it is at the confluence of two once-mighty rivers: the Rhône, still one of the biggest rivers in France, and the now largely-dammed Durance. Both were important routes of trade and communication even in prehistoric times. In addition, there is a long island in the Rhone that made it possible to ferry people and goods across, and later bridge the river, more easily than in other places.

It is estimated that about 200,000 people live in Avignon, 16,000 of which live 'intra-muros,' or within the ramparts built in the 14th century.

The city is now sprinkled with buildings and monuments ranging from the new to the old, the very old, and the ageless.

History

Avignon has been continuously inhabited since the stone age, when inhabitations were built in caves in the “Rocher des Doms”, a massive outcropping of rock rising over the banks of the Rhône. Today, a public park with benches, views over the surrounding countryside, a café and playground is on top of the Rocher.

The Romans had a presence in Avignon, though the walls they built lie buried somewhere under the modern streets. Vestiges of the forum can still be seen, lying unassumingly near the Rue Racine and the Rue Saint-Étienne, to the west of the city.

Then, in medieval times, the town grew to an important center of communication and trade. The stone bridge spanning the Rhone was one of only three between the Mediterranean and Lyon. It was undoubtedly for its strategic location and ease of travel that it was chosen by the papacy as home within the then kingdom of Provence. The presence of the papacy made Avignon into a city of great political and economic activity. The old city wall, now visible only as a street that circles the very center of the town (changing names 5 times in the process!) was much too small and a larger wall, still visible today, was necessary to protect its bulging population. Wealthy Cardinals built extravagant palaces known as livrées both within Avignon and across the river, in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon.

The city teemed with activity and building as architects, builders, artists flocked to the town. At that time, within the city walls there were over 100 churches and chapels - many of which have been transformed since then into everything from shops to a movie theater! The wealth and activity generated by the presence of the papacy spilled out into the region, so that even small villages nearby boast a rich architectural past.

Get in

By plane

By train

By bus

Avignon is connected to most other European cities with Eurolines. For regional travelers, following your common source, you can take: the Vaucluse département cars circulating in the appelation "TransVaucluse Network"; departmental cars Bouches-du-Rhône, whose schedules are available on Lepilote; departmental cars du Gard, working under the name of "Edgar". All lines to the terminal bus station Avignon, itself located near the train station and the walls surrounding the city center.

By boat

While there is no regular boat line in Avignon, you can arrive by boat in Avignon via river cruises.

By car

From Paris or Lyon, you can reach Avignon by the Autoroute du Soleil and take the Avignon-Nord exit and follow the N107 then the D225 towards AVIGNON Centre. This urban road leads straight to the famous Avignon bridge just before where you have a large pay car park (car park the Palais des Papes), which leads directly onto the Place du Palais des Papes in the heart of the city.

Other parking solutions, the municipality has set up 2 ' relay ' parking + free shuttle " ' , with one bus every 10 minutes from 10:00 to 22:00. The first "Parking Italians" , accessible the D225 road which runs. Circuit the shuttle drops users directly in the intramural centre , near the Town Hall Square ; the second is located on the Ile de la Barthelasse ( head Villeneuve lès Avignon and follow the signs). The shuttle drops users to Gate Oulle , about 200m from the bridge of Avignon (Saint Bénézet bridge).

From Montpellier or Nîmes, exit on the A9 (exit Roquemaure, the first after the junction with the A7), then follow the direction Avignon.

Get around

A Vélopop station

The old city centre is not very big and can be easily explored on foot. An automatic bike sharing scheme called Vélopop' allows you to ride along . Smartcard needed.

See

The decoration of a window inside the Papal Palace

The legend of the bridge's building is that a local shepherd, Benezet (a dialect form of Benedict) was inspired by angels to build a bridge. When his appeals to the town authorities proved fruitless, he picked up a vast block of stone and hurled it into the river, to be the bridge's foundation stone. Convinced by this demonstration of divine will, the bridge was swiftly built. The poor shepherd boy was canonised, and his chapel remains on the surviving portion of the bridge.

If the bridge was divinely inspired, the Deity must have quickly changed his mind, because before long the bridge became unsafe and, following numerous floods, mostly derelict.

Originally, the bridge had 22 arches, reaching across to the tower of Philippe le Bel via the mid-stream île de la Barthelasse. Only 4 of the 22 arches now remain. A multilingual audio tour of the bridge explains some of the local history.

A well-known song Sur Le Pont D'Avignon (on the bridge at Avignon) refers to the bridge. The bridge itself is far too narrow for dancing or festivals - the original text of the song was "Sous (under) le pont d'Avignon", referring to the festivals and entertainments staged on the île de la Barthelasse. The current version was popularised by a 19th-century operetta, whose librettist clearly assumed that 'sous le pont d'Avignon' would have meant in the river.


Other popular tourist destinations include: the   Place du Palais, just next to the   Place de L'horloge, though someone may find these places shockingly expensive, and overcrowded in season. Within a short distance in just about any direction are some smaller squares frequented by the locals, and much lower prices. Like   Place Pie, with its covered market (open 6AM to 1PM everyday) which sells fresh produce, cheeses, wines, and produits du pays.

Museums

Avignon has its share of museums, ranging from Modern Art Museums to museums housing artifacts from the Roman and pre-Roman days.

Do

If you are confident about biking, there are a lot of places to bike to.

Events

Buy

Eat

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

Sleep

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay healthy

Go next

The surrounding region is full of interesting sites, There are three sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List

Other notable sites nearby are:

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Tuesday, October 27, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.