Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Avignon and the Pope

Having probably bored you with too much information about the Romans in Provence, we now jump forward over a thousand years to 1309. In that year the  Pope decided to set up a French version of the Papal seat in Rome. (This is not the first time that the papacy was installed outside of Rome. A few popes prior to this, the papacy was seated in Naples.) 

In 1309 Avignon was a small village on the Rhone river. When the first Catholic Pope from France, Clement V, was installed, it was decided that Rome was too dangerous. The finest gothic building in Provence, and the largest gothic structure in Europe, was the Palace of the Popes, constructed between 1334 and 1364, during the brief period from 1309 to 1377 when Avignon was the seat of the papal curia. It was one of the largest and most important buildings in Europe. Construction was begun by Pope Clement V, who was born in Aquitaine, and continued by his successors. The construction of the 10-acre, heavily fortified palace consumed most of the income of the papacy during this period. It served as the residence of two popes  Clement VII and Benedict XIII, before the papacy returned permanently to Rome.

While the outside of the palace looked like a fortress, the inside was lavishly decorated with tapestries, sculptures, and decorated wooden ceilings. 

At a much later date it was used as a prison. When we visited they were still working on restoration to the original, Papal, configuration, 

getting rid of sections that had been walled up while it was a prison and repairing and restoring damaged areas, including old frescoes. 

The Pope enjoyed fine wine and established vineyards near Avignon. The land immediately became Papal property, hence not taxable. Eventually the French in the area started to get tired of losing good taxable land, so they built a fort across the river to discourage the Pope from crossing and annexing those lands.

In the evening of the second day we were in Avignon, they had the last of the light shows of the season at the Palace du Papes, so we were able to walk the couple of blocks from our hotel to the plaza in front of the Palace and enjoy the palace lit with pink lights and watch the crowds of young people waiting to get inside for the light show. The music inside was going and too loud for us even standing quite a distance away from the palace. Guess we are old folks alright.

We really enjoyed Avignon. It had a relaxed pace, some great places to eat and people watch, nice shops and old streets and buildings, but it felt more comfortable than touristy. Our hotel, Hotel de l'Horloge, was excellent, comfortable, spacious, had an elevator, served a generous buffet breakfast as part of our reasonable lodging fee,

had a quiet and comfy lounge on each floor in case you wanted to just sit and relax but not in your room,

had a very helpful reception staff and was just steps from the main plaza.

The first evening we took the recommendation of one of the front desk staff and ate at a nice restaurant on the way to the plaza by the Palace du Papes. The food was excellent. Sweetie had some wonderful escargot. I had forgotten to bring my bookmark explaining my dairy allergy, so I ended up not eating my salad since we couldn't find out if the dressing had dairy.

The tables had wonderful artwork under the glass. Ours looked like a Moulin Rouge knockoff.

It had been a long day, what with the drive from St. Saturnin-les-Apt with all the roundabouts, finding our way to the hotel, getting settled in and exploring the town, and then having a late dinner. More in the next post!

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