Tuesday, January 20, 2015

January 20, 2015 -- Avignon, France

As has been the case during most of this trip, the weather today was drizzling rain and chilly. Being from Phoenix, Arizona, I'm not used to rain, but I can't sit inside all day when I'm in a magical city like Avignon, so today I was out and about. In addition to doing a lot of walking around the city, I visited le Palais des Papes (the Papal Palace) and the medieval bridge le Pont d'Avignon, also known as le Pont de Saint Bénézet.

Avignon is a walled city, and the wall around it still stands to this day, although it is not very high, and it is difficult for me to believe that it was adequate to defend the city. I was able to walk along a short portion of the wall, and I got the feeling that if I were up there and had the job of defending Avignon, I would feel dangerously exposed to arrows shot from the ground. Heck, at that height, someone could probably throw a rock up from the ground and knock me off.

An arch allows a street to pass through the wall that surrounds Avignon
The main square in Avignon is called la Place de l'Herloge or Clock Square. I'm told that in decent weather it teams with life, but in this cold, damp weather there is practically no one about. It is home to the 19th-century city hall and opera house, which is the building in the center of the picture. I'm told that the clock that gave the square its name is also still there although almost hidden from view. I'll be darned if I could find it!

Place de l'Horlage, Avignon
The streets in the medieval part of the city were not designed with automobiles in mind, but believe it or not, I saw a small car navigating the street in the picture below. Only people with special permission are allowed to drive these narrow streets, and they have to carry a card that is scanned at the street entrance to drop a barricade and let them in. If you're walking one of these streets and hear a car approaching, you need to look for some little niche to duck into to let the car pass.

An extremely narrow street winds its way though the ancient buildings
Below is the front view of le Palace des Papes or Papal Palace. I remember learning about the "Babylonian Captivity" in a high school history class, but I've refreshed my memory since arriving in Avignon. In the 13th Century there was friction between the Papacy and the French crown. In 1305 a Frenchman, Clement V, was elected pope, and he moved the papacy from Rome to Avignon. A series of French popes reigned in Avignon until Pope Gregory XI moved the papacy back to Rome in 1376. The hierarchy at Avignon didn't accept the decision, however, and continued the papacy in Avignon until 1417. In other words, for a time there were two competing popes, one in Rome and another in Avignon. Each pope had his followers who considered the other pope to be illegitimate. When the Avignon papacy ceased to exist, it lost any claim to legitimacy that it might once have had, and the Roman popes came to be considered the legitimate popes of the Catholic Church.

The Papal Palace in Avignon
I almost had a private tour of the Papal Palace. There are very few tourists on the streets of Avignon, and inside the palace, I was outnumbered by the people working there. Even in the large halls, I was usually the only person there. In the halls that still had paintings on the wall, no photography was allowed, so I didn't take any pictures inside at all.

This is not my first visit to Avignon. I stumbled across the city when I was a youngster working in Germany in the winter and hitchhiking my way to Spain during the summers. On one of the trips to Spain, my ride dropped me in Avignon at about sunset, and I found the local youth hostel and spent the night.

One thing that I seem to remember is walking out on the Bridge of Avignon or Point d'Avignon shown in the picture below. In my memory, anyone could walk onto the bridge, which had not yet gained museum status. Today, however, you have to pay to access the bridge.

Le Pont d'Avignon, also known as Le Pont de Saint Bénézet
If you clicked on the picture above to enlarge it, you may have noticed that the bridge ends in the middle of the river. It once went all of the way across and connected Avignon with Villenueve-les-Avignon or the new city of Avignon. It was constructed between 1177 and 1188 but was destroyed several times, once by Louis VIII when he laid siege to Avignon and other times by flooding of the Rhône River. The last time that it was reconstructed in 1633, the Rhône promptly washed away two of its arches, and it was decided that the bridge was impossible to maintain. Today only part of it stands. The building on the bridge is a chapel to Saint Nicholas.

The photo below was take from what is left of the bridge looking back to the city gate. Just before the gate is a drawbridge that could be raised as a defense against those who would use the bridge as a means to attack the city.

View from the bridge looking back to the city gate
Below is a shot across the river of Villenueve-les-Avignon. The day after tomorrow is my last day in Avignon, and I plan to visit the new city then, because it's the only day of my visit here that rain is not forecast.

A view of Villenueve taken from across the river in Avignon

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