Thursday, October 18, 2012

sur le pont d'avignon...


le Palais des Papes

This is approximately five months overdue, but the overseas adventures with my mom are still fresh in mind! And with this changing weather, I'm dreaming more and more of the sun and warm breeze of Southern France that I left behind...all of which is prompting me to revisit via blog.

The third destination on our Tour de France was Avignon. After a gloomy (though only temperature-wise) start to the trip, we were finally blown into delightfully warm weather by the Mediterranean winds. The majority of this trip was planned, very much intentionally on my part, around historically important sites and cities in Southern France. Avignon is certainly no exception. Though this is a beautiful Southern city, not too far from the sea, and known for its lavender fields and estival theater festival, Avignon boasts an incredible history deeply rooted in the Church (even if it may be ridden with confusion and dispute...).

Hundreds of years ago, in the early 14th century, disputes over papal succession and authority broke out in the wake of the death of Benedict XI. In Rome, French and Italian cardinals would not agree on a successor, each nationality insistent on electing their own countryman as pope. When the stalemate was finally breached a year later, Pope Clement V, a Frenchman, was elected with a particular request--he wanted to remain in France and move the papal conclave from Rome to his home country. For almost a century, Avignon became the new Rome, the new capital of the Church. Seven popes officiated from this French city until Pope Gregory XI, with the influence of St. Catherine of Siena, moved the papacy back to Rome. The years of the Avignon Papacy saw confusion, conflict, and power struggles but the historical significance of this period in Church history is still deeply embedded in the city.

One of the most impressive and well-visited sites in Avignon is the Palais des Papes, or the Papal Palace. This chateau has been turned into a museum to display the 14th century papal residence and educate tourists, and it is quite impressive. Cavernous banquet halls, quarters for the popes, secret treasuries and meeting rooms all comprise the beautiful palace.

hidden money cellars underneath the huge stone flooring slabs

outdoor walkway

interior courtyard

Besides the Palais des Papes, Avignon is also known for its large bridge to nowhere. The Pont Saint-Bénezet was built in the 12th century, and originally crossed the whole river with 22 arches to connect both banks of the Rhône. Only four of those arches remain, however, as poor upkeep caused the others to crumble and fall. What is left of this bridge is open to the public, who can visit its two chapels and enjoy the beautiful view of Avignon, the river, and the vast valleys and vineyards surrounding both. There is even a classic children's song about the bridge! It is quite charming.

the bridge's two chapels lit up at night

Ours was a quick trip, simply overnight, before we headed back to Paris. We saw what I had desired to, but that was certainly not everything there was to see. Avignon offers much more than the Palais des Papes and a bridge. There were neighborhoods, restaurants, vineyards, and chapels to see that we did not have the time to get to. Now I will just have to plan for my return...

pax christi.

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