Cité des Papes (City of Popes)
Vaucluse (84000) Population: 90,194 Altitude: 23 m
Avignon is definitely not a town to stay in if you're interested in sightseeing the surrounding countryside and don't have much time. Once in Avignon, you won't want to leave, and the town is too interesting to let you go.
Avignon is ancient, full of history, life, youth, art, music and activity. Just to "see" the town itself, you could wander the narrow streets inside the fortified walls for days without tiring of them. Avignon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Market day Daily, Sat, Sun.
Avignon has a great shopping area, with pedestrian streets without automobiles (not always the case in France), and loads of shops of all kinds. Southeast of the Place de l'Horloge: rue des Marchands, rue Rouge and adjoining streets are full of clothing and other shops.
Book market on the Cours Jean Jaures, just inside the wall in front of the train station.
There are a lot of old and picturesque squared dotted throughout the old town of Avignon. These range from the wide and open Place de l'Horloge and Place du Palais to small, isolated squares, some just a short, tree-lined street.
Place de l'Horloge
This is the long square in front of the Hotel de Ville, with terrace cafés along both sides and the "Belle Epoque" carrousel at the top end. During the summer this square is packed with people and activity. Both of the streets at the top end of the Place d'Horloge lead to the Place du Palais and the Palace of the Popes.
The first public clock was built on the town hall's clocktower in 1471, with a Clockwork Jacquemard at the top to ring the bell. The original jacquemards are on display in the Calvet Museum (Avignon Museums).
The Place de l'Horloge was the Forum of Avenio, the early Roman town in the 1st century BC. This was also the center of Medieval Avignon, and narrow streets radiated out from here to the different 12th and 13th century portes in the town fortifications.
Place du Palais
During the 14th century this square was much smaller, with the houses pressing up close to the Popes' Palace. In 1404, Benoit XIII had the houses razed and the twisty little streets cleared out, fearing a second siege of his palace and wanting a clear field of fire.
Place de la Pignotte
This is actually a shady, tree-lined street, an eastern extension of Rue Saint Jean le Vieux. At the end of the street is the 17th-century Baroque Chapelle de la Visitation, built in 1631-1638.
The place is named after La Pignotte, a building founded in 1316 by Pope Jean XXII to furnish food and clothing for the needy. At number 5 is the Hotel Achard, a hotel particulier built in 1760.
The famous Pont d'Avignon is the picturesque bridge spanning half the river towards the Ile de Piot west of the town. This bridge began as the Pont Saint-Bénézet around 1180 to connect Avignon with the town of Villeneuve-les-Avignon on the west side of the Rhône (where the land was ruled by the Kings of France).
The Pont Saint-Bénézet was destroyed about 40 years later, when King Louix VIII was laying seige to Avignon during the Albigensian Crusade. Following the war, the bridge was rebuilt, with 22 stone arches. Unfortunately the arches tended to collapse during the periodic flooding of the Rhône, and the bridge was abandoned in the 17th century.
The remaining part of the bridge is a four-arch span that's survived since the 14th century. The small Chapel Saint Nicholas on the bridge's second pier was built in the 12th century, but extensively renovated since that time.
The current Pont d'Avignon is part of a World Heritage Site, along with Avignon's Palais des Papes and the Cathedrale Notre-Dame des Doms.
The festival of Dance, Music and Theatre was founded in 1947 by the actor and director Jean Vilar. (The 1996 festival was the 50th.)
The events occur all over town, often staged at historical monuments and in the streets, and with close audience rapport. This is now an international festival, with people from all over France, Europe and the rest of the world arranging vacations around the festival dates.
Festival catalog and information - tel: (33) 490 27 66 50; fax: (33) 490 27 66 83
In brief, as of April 2018, all of the Avignon municipal museums are free. The municipal museums include: Calvet museum, Lapidaire museum, Petit Palais museum, Requien museum, and Palais du Roure.
Sites Nearby Avignon
Villeneuve-lès-Avignon is a medieval village just across the river from Avignon, its crenelated hilltop fortress visible from the Rocher des Doma beside the Pope's Palace.
It's about a half-hour walk from the center of Avignon to Villeneuve-les-Avignon, crossing the bridge over the Rhône, with a lovely view back towards Avignon.
The sites to visit in Villeneuve-les-Avignon include: fortress Fort Saint-André, which houses a 14th-century Abbey; in the village center is the magnificent 14th-century Chartreuse Cal de Bénédiction. Also in the center is the Notre-Dame collegial church with its cloister; the ancient Philippe-le-Bel Tower is a short walk west from the center of town.