A visit to Avignon, France  Map


Avignon, nicknamed "City of Popes" because it was home to seven popes from 1309 to 1377, as well as being located in an area where the Roman Empire constructed numerous buildings, arenas, and other facilities in, is an interesting place to start this trip.

But I think that it would make far more sense for me to create this trip blog in the manner in which Viking River Cruises does it - to generate a "day by day" narration of where we were, what took place, and what our thoughts were, so lets switch to that format.

As I previously described, this was our "arrival day" and as we were in the first wave of arriving passengers, we had to wait a bit for our cabins to be cleaned and prepared. Viking has what they call an "embarkation buffet" from 11AM to 3PM, so that everyone who arrives can entertain themselves with food or drink until their cabins are ready to be occupied.

Our game plan is always the same, we unpack, get a 1.5 or so hour nap, wake & shower, and then go out and hike in order to get as tired as possible (although, we generally take 1/2 of a sleep aid to insure that we get a full night's sleep) so that the first nights in Europe are not a "sleepless" event! This approach works quite well for us, as we have always had good results in jet-lag removal.

Keep in mind that this day's exploration, was really more about us getting tired and being able to walk about this ancient city, and not about "visiting" any specific Avignon sites.

 Quick Palace History Lesson 

Originally built between 1350 and 1370, Avignon’s ramparts, or protective walls, give the city its defining architectural aesthetic. Within the walls there's a wealth of museums, 17th and 18th century mansions, and botanical gardens. The ramparts were restored in the 19th century.

The above information was extracted from Wikipedia.

City of Avignon

The Palais des Papes is an historical palace located in Avignon, Southern France. It is one of the largest and most important medieval Gothic buildings in Europe. Once a fortress and palace, the papal residence was the seat of Western Christianity during the 14th century. Six papal conclaves were held in the Palais, leading to the elections of Benedict XII in 1334, Clement VI in 1342, Innocent VI in 1352, Urban V in 1362, Gregory XI in 1370 and the Anti-pope Benedict XIII in 1394.

The disagreements within the Catholic Church that led to the "Western Schism" are diverse. Pope Gregory XI actually returned the Papacy to Rome in 1377, but when he died in 1378, Church politics led to a serious dispute and the era of the "anti-popes" began. If you are interested in reading more about this time frame, please go to this Wikipedia Page to read about the history of the Western Schism.


NOTE: Image is the property of Jean-Marc Rosier via Wikipedia

Papal Palace Walls: Two Buildings

The Palais is actually two joined buildings: the old palais of Benedict XII, which sits on the impregnable rock of Doms, and the new palais of Clement VI, the most extravagant of the Avignon popes. Together they form the largest Gothic building of the Middle Ages, it is also one of the best examples of the International Gothic architectural style. The construction design was the work of two of France’s best architects, Pierre Peysson and Jean de Louvres and the lavish ornamentation was the work of two of the best students of the School of Siena (Italy), Simone Martini and Matteo Giovanetti.

Papal Palace: Size

With 15,000 square metres (160,000 sq ft) of floor space, the Palais is the largest Gothic palace in all of Europe and, due to its many architectural merits, one of the most important in the world. These merits were highlighted by Viollet-le-Duc, author of “Dictionnaire raisonné de l’architecture française du XIe au XVIe siècle” (Dictionary of French architecture from the 11th to the 16th century), who referred extensively to the Palais, including the thickness and height of its towers, the strength of its crenelated walls, the use of arcs for support on its façades and its ability to withstand heavy and drawn-out sieges.

A Pope's View of Avignon from inside the Palace

Not sure if you can see the difference, but that is hand-blown glass in an original leaded-in window. It was interesting to see the view and ponder how many Popes had looked out at the city in the same way.

Papal Palace Interior Courtyard

Pope Urban V completed the main courtyard (known as the Court d'Honneur) with further buildings enclosing it.

Papal Palace Central Courtyard

Central Courtyard at Palace of the Popes in Avignon. The fountain at left was formerly the site of Pope John XXII's Audience Chamber.

The Grand Chapel

Pope Clement VI built this 52 meter long Grand Chapel to serve as the location for papal acts of worship. The Grand Chapel is where the Pope worshipped daily, so this would be the heart of Roman Catholicism.

Papal Palace Entrance

This is the main public entrance into the Palace, incredible structure isn't it?
The Palace is a historical and architectural landmark and primarily a tourist attraction, attracting around 650,000 visitors per annum, putting it regularly in the top ten most visited attractions in France. It also houses a large convention centre and the archives of the département of Vaucluse, which include a research centre on the papacy of Avignon, organized jointly by the École française de Rome and the institut de recherche et d'histoire des textes.

Avignon City Walls

The city is surrounded by 4.3 miles of walls that were obviously built to keep people out ! Considering the age of these walls, they are in very good condition. I have no idea of what may have happened here during the 20th century world wars.

Street Artists of Avignon

There were a number of street performers in the square adjacent to the Palace, all of them competing for contributions from tourists.

Quick Review of the Day's Game Plan

I was relating some historical facts to my in-laws, and they were taking it all in. Or it may have been that we were considering heading back to the cruise ship for lunch?

Avignon Street Scene

Because this was still day one of our Viking Cruise, and probably because we were all still a bit jet lagged and tired of sitting, we did quite a bit of hiking around the city. Found an espresso shop and all of us enjoyed a good French espresso and some pastries.

Pont Saint-Bénézet

This is the Pont Saint-Bénézet, one of the original Avignon bridges (construction commenced in 1177), which used to link the Papal Palace (which is just to the right of the bridge) to the west bank of the River Rhône.
Repeated River Rhône floods tore down this bridge, and finally Avignon decided to just leave it as a partial bridge and not to keep rebuilding it.

Viking Heimdal at Dock

Meanwhile, the Viking Heimdal is moored and waiting for our return. You can't see it in this picture, but the Avignon City Walls are just to the left of the ship in this picture. Viking used (at least then they did) a mooring dock just south of the Pont Édouard Daladier.

  • The Viking Lyon & Provence Cruise Overview & Guide Our Viking River Cruise from Marseilles to Lyon, north on the Rhône River with various ports of call, click here to read more.
  • Avignon, France The first stop as we head up the Rhône River, click here to read more.
  • Arles, France The town of Arles is a community situated in the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur in the south eastern area of France. click here to read more.
  • Châteauneuf-du-Pape, France While docked in Avignon, Viking organized an afternoon tour to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine region, known in France as one of the appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) regions. click here to read more.
  • Tournon-sur-Rhône, France The Viking Heimdal cast off at 4AM to continue north on the River Rhône, to Tournon - set to arrive at 1PM. This was the longest leg of the cruise, it is approximately 150 kilometers from Avignon to Tournon. click here to read more.
  • Vienne, France Vienne is a commune in southeastern France, located 35 kilometres (22 mi) south of Lyon, on the river Rhône. It is only the fourth largest city in the Isère department, of which it is a sub-prefecture, but was a major center of the Roman Empire. click here to read more.
  • Lyon, France The ship arrives in Lyon at 3PM, and we initially tied up at the Quai Claude Bernard - the eastern side of the Rhône River. This is a very scenic location, adjacent to the Université Lumière Lyon and only 2.2 kilometers from the Place des Terreaux. click here to read more.
  • Perouges, France The optional free bus tour to Perouges departs at 2PM today, and we drive through some really beautiful countryside on the way there. The La Dombes district is where fish are raised in a series of 1,200 ponds. Click here to read more.
  • Our Thoughts on Viking River Cruises Our perspective on Viking River Cruises, plus a few pros & cons to consider. Click here to read more.

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