The capital of the Vaucluse departement, Avignon stands on the left bank of the River Rhone in the south of France. Known as 'the City of the Popes', Avignon was a major papal city. The city was chosen by Pope Clement V as his residence when Avignon was ruled by the kings of Sicily from the house of Anjou, and from 1309 until 1377 was the seat of the Papacy instead of Eternal Rome. The ramparts built by the popes are well preserved. As they were not particularly strong, the Popes relied instead on the fortifications of their palace, the Palais des Papes. It was started by the third pope of Avignon, Benedict XII, and completed by his successor, Clement VI. This Gothic building has walls up to five metres thick and was built in 1335-1364 on a natural spur of rock, rendering it all but impregnable. It is divided by the Great Court - to one side the building is austere while to the other it retains evidence of the lavish lifestyle of Clement VI.
After being expropriated following the French Revolution, the palace was used as a barracks and prison, and the fine apartments were ruthlessly adapted. It is now municipal property and houses a museum. Next to the palace stands the cathedral of Notre-Dame-des-Doms, a Romanesque building mainly constructed in the 12th century. Don't miss the gilded statue of the Virgin which sunnounts the western tower. Among the many works of art inside, the most beautiful is the mausoleum of Pope John XXII, a masterpiece of Gothic carving.
At the end of the square overlooked by the Palais des Papes is the Petit Palais, where the Pope and his entourage lived before the palace was built. This now houses the Musee Carnavalet which has an exceptional collection of Renaissance paintings of the Avignon school as well as from Italy, including Botticelli's Virgin and Child. The Calvet Museum, so named after F. Calvet, physician, who in 1810 left his collections to the town, is rich in inscriptions, bronzes, glass and other antiquities and in sculptures and paintings. From the town's low ramparts you can reach what is left of the Pont Saint-Benezet. Only four of the eighteen piles are left; on one of them stands the small Romanesque chapel of Saint-Benezet. But the bridge is best known for the famous French song 'Sur Ie Pont d'Avignon'.
WHEN TO GO
In summer for the Avignon Festival of theatre, dance, music and cinema.
Palais du Roure Museum.
Palais des Papes - an imposing Gothic palace begun in 1316 by John XXII and continued by succeeding popes until 1370.
Notre Dame des Doms - a Romanesque building housing many beautiful works of art including the stunning mausoleum of Pope John XXII, a masterpiece of Gothic carving of the 14th century.
Botticelli's Virgin and Child at the Petit Palais.
Musee Carnavalet - houses an exceptional collection of Renaissance paintings of the Avignon school.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
Avignon is also known as the City of the Popes.