Sunday, January 5, 2020

Avignon, City of Popes and Summer Festivals...Definitely Worth a Visit!

Avignon is 40 km southwest of Sablet, snuggled inside ancient walls along the Rhône River. The largest town in the Vaucluse, Avignon is very old, full of history, art, music and activity. I can spend hours wandering the narrow streets inside the fortified walls without getting bored.

We come to Avignon to shop for kids clothes and recently to visit the Nespresso Boutique, near Place de l'Horloge, to buy espresso capsules to take back to California, and meet up with cousins for lunch at one of the town's many restaurants. On our last visit, Shirley headed off to shop, she prefers to shop by herself, so she can do so at her leisure, and I went off to visit and take pictures.

Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church located next to the Palais des Papes in Avignon. The cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Avignon. It is a Romanesque building, constructed primarily in the second half of the 12th century. The bell tower collapsed in 1405 and was rebuilt in 1425.

From 1670 to 1672, the apse (where the alter is located) was rebuilt and extended. The building was abandoned and allowed to deteriorate during the French revolution, but it was reconsecrated in 1822 and restored by Archbishop Célestin Dupont between 1835 and 1842. The most prominent feature of the cathedral is a gilded statue of the Virgin Mary atop the bell tower which was erected in 1859

Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral and Palace of the Popes

The interior of the cathedral contains many works of art and the elaborate tombs of Pope John XXII and Benoît XII.

Interior of Notre Dame des Doms

The Popes' Palace is one of the largest medieval Gothic buildings in Europe. One time fortress and palace, the papal palace was the seat of Western Christianity during the 14th century. Six conclaves were held in the Palace and 6 French popes were elected, Benedict XII in 1334, Clement VI in 1342, Innocent VI in 1352, Urban V in 1362, Gregory XI in 1370 and anti-pope Benedict XIII in 1394.

It all began in the 13th century from a conflict between the papacy and the French crown, culminating with Philip IV of France's killing Pope Boniface VIII, and after the death of Pope Benedict XI, forcing a deadlocked conclave to elect the French Clement V, as Pope in 1305. Clement V declined to move to Rome, remaining in France, and in 1309, he moved his court to Avignon, where it remained for the next 67 years.

Palais des Papes (Pope's Palace)

The park known as Jardin des Doms sits next to Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral and can be reached via Palace Square. The park overlooks the Rhône river, the Pont d'Avignon (Avignon Bridge) and Avignon city streets. It’s a small climb but its worth it for the incredible views, manicured gardens, rock formations and sculptures.

The Monument aux Morts d'Avignon (War Memorial to Avignon) of World War 1 shown in the photograph below sits at the entrance to the walk-up to the Jardin des Doms. The monument was designed and sculpted by Louis Bottinelly from Carrara marble from Tuscany. It was completed in the fall of 1924 and inaugurated in November of that year.

War Memorial at Entrance to Jardin des Doms

View across Rhone River to Fort Saint-André in Villeneuve-lez-Avignon from Jardin des Doms

View across Rhone River to Villeneuve-lez-Avignon from Jardin des Doms

The Ramparts (defensive walls) were built by the popes in the 14th century and still encircle Avignon. They are one of the finest examples of medieval fortification in existence. The walls are surmounted by machicolated battlements flanked at intervals by 39 massive towers (see picture below) and pierced by several gateways, three of which date from the 14th century.

A Defensive Tower that is part of the historical ramparts of Avignon

View down the Rhone River to Pont Saint Bénézet, also known as the Pont d'Avignon

View of Notre Dame des Doms from the Jardin des Doms

Place du Palais (Palace Square)

The Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) is located on Place de l'Horloge, a short distance from the Pope's Palace. Construction began in 1845 and was inaugurated by the Mayor and Napoleon III in September 1856.

Hotel de Ville, Avignon

Avignon is well known for its Festival d'Avignon, the annual festival of dance, music and theater founded in 1947. There are really two festivals that take place: the more formal "Festival In", which presents plays inside the Palace of the Popes and the more Bohemian "Festival Off", known for its presentation of largely undiscovered plays and street performances.

Avignon Festival (photograph shot in July)

Avignon Street Musicians (photograph shot in July)

Saint John's Tower shown in the photograph below is the only vestige of the houses belonging to the Knights of Saint-John of Jerusalem. The other buildings were destroyed in 1898. It has 4 floors, but in the past had more. They restored the Tower and razed the houses which were massed for ages when the city fathers laid out Place Pie (Pie Square) in 1861.

St. John's Tower at Place Pie in Avignon

Saint Bénézet Bridge shown in the photograph below, better known as Pont d'Avignon, is a medieval bridge in Avignon over the Rhône River. A wooden bridge spanning the Rhône River between Villeneuve-lès-Avignon and Avignon was built between 1177 and 1185. This early bridge was destroyed forty years later during the Albigensian Crusade when Louis VIII of France laid siege to Avignon.

Beginning in 1234 the bridge was rebuilt with 22 stone arches. It was abandoned in the mid-17th century as the arches tended to collapse each time the river flooded. Four arches and the gatehouse at the Avignon end of the bridge have survived. The Chapel of Saint Nicholas sits on the second pier of the bridge. It was constructed in the second half of 12th century but has since been substantially altered.

Pont Saint Bénézet, also known as the Pont d'Avignon

When we met up for lunch, Shirley mentioned to me, "I think they increased the prices on the Nespresso capsules. It cost me a lot more this time". I asked her what they cost per capsule and I said that doesn't sound more expensive, how many did you buy? She responded "900". I said wow, that explains it, you only bought 590 last time. I guess it really goes without saying that we really like Nespresso coffee. The capsules are recyclable and that makes them perfect.

Avignon is a little confusing to navigate through and around in a car. We suggest you park at the Mercure Hotel parking lot if there is availability. From there you can easily walk around the town. If you have comments or questions about Avignon or elsewhere in Provence, please leave your comments below or send me an email at my address below.

If you are thinking about a trip to the South of France including spending time in Provence, we invite you to visit our website. Our house is available for rent by the week or more. You can reach us for further information by sending an email to


  1. Thank you for this post! We love Avignon! After a day's walk in the surrounding area, we headed back to Avignon, collected the goodies we'd purchased at markets that day, bought a bottle of wine and a pastry (the box of which the merchant thoughtfully added forks and napkins when we told her our plan), then headed up the hill to the Jardin des Doms for a picnic. The view was gorgeous, and that picnic is one of our favorite memories of Avignon!

    1. Thanks so much for reading my post about Avignon and for sharing your memories about Avignon and especially your picnic in the Jardin des Doms. There is no shortage of spots in the Jardin for setting up a tasty picnic. I hope you will keep checking in on the stories and experiences I share about Provence.