Avignon – The City of Popes
For most people it is not at all obvious why Avignon and not Rome is called the City of Popes. Well, the truth is that this medieval city on a hill was for a brief time the seat of the spiritual leaders of Catholics around the world. As a result of a conflict between the French crown and the papacy, seven successive popes resided in the city between 1309 and 1378.
Today Avignon is the capital of the Vaucluse department in France, and a major tourist attraction in the country. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the very few French cities that have preserved their medieval ramparts. The great thing about it is that tourists can explore its main sights by foot in one day, as all major attractions are situated within the old city’s fortified walls.
You can start your tour with Notre-Dame des Domes, an impressive Romanesque cathedral and the seat of the Archbishop of Avignon. Even though the main building was erected in the 12th century, additions continued to appear throughout the centuries in the form of new flanks, wings and bits. The most impressive of tall is the golden statue of Virgin Mary, situated atop the western tower, which was added in the 19th century. The inside is very impressiveas well, holding the original 12th century seat of the bishop, the superb Gothic 14th century tomb of Pope John XXII, and a representation of Jesus Christ from the 16th century.
Another tourist attraction in the city is the Pont d’Avignon, also known asPont Saint-Bénzet. Tradition tells that it was built because a young pastor had three visions that urged him to create a bridge over the Rhône. He is said to have convinced merchants to sponsor the project after he supernaturally lifted a huge rock and set it as the first foundation stone for the bridge. What resulted was a 2,950 foot long stone bridge that facilitated trade in the area. It was completed in 1185, but a number of floods destroyed it and after several futile reconstructions, it was finally abandoned in 1668. Four of the old arches can still be seen today.
The bridge can also be admired from the famous Rocher des Doms Park that overlooks the city from a hill. This is a popular promenade are in Avignon, a place where adults can enjoy a good cup of coffee while their kids have fun in the area that is especially dedicated to them. A series of steps can lead you up here, from where the views are amazing over the city, Mt. Ventoux and the beautiful small chain of mountains called Dentelles de Montmirail.
And finally, we left the best for last. The world’s largest Gothic palace and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Palais des Papes is the main attraction of this lovely French city. The stately building was erected for the first pope who abandoned Rome to come here and start a new era in the history of Catholicism. It boasts vast and sumptuous rooms and impressive 14th century frescoes painted by MatteoGiovannetti.
- Take a guided tour of the Palais des Papes, and discover hidden chambers, secret towers and rooftop walkways!
- Best time to visit Avignon is from spring to autumn.
- Luxury hotels to stay at: Hotel Auberge de Cassagne& Spa, Hotel La Mirande, Hotel Le Château des Alpilles, and others.