On the Bridge of Avignon; We Dance There!
Avignon, Past and Present
Avignon is considered one of the most ancient towns in Europe. Artifacts from the Cardial period (3000 BC) attest to it's ancient past. Since the Neolithic period (2000 BC) large groups have lived at Avignon's current location. Amongst the remarkable pieces are the steles with human characteristics, part of the Megalithic current (e.g. small, human-faced Stonehenges). Also remarkable are the little engraved suns that reflect the already growing artist aspirations of Avignon.
From this period on, Avignon becomes
one of the main cities of Europe; one of the 80 cities of the Roman
Empire with its own money.
Of course, it is still a long way from being the modern city which it is now. Today's visitors might come to Avignon to attend the popular theatre festival, but this region has a history which is quite different from the modern day experience. During the 2nd century AD, the city is officially
promoted to title of "Roman city" with 27,000 inhabitants. Then from the Barbarian invasions which accompanied the fall of the
Roman Empire, Avignon becomes a city of divisions, wars, and sieges.
Starting in the XII century, Avignon sees a resurgence of it's glories. The famous Avignon bridge is built, and completed in 1185. This bridge is the origin of the famous children's song "Sur le pont d’Avignon". The Cathedral (i.e. the Dome, the only complete Romanesque structure) is erected.
Fleeing insecurity in Rome, Pope Clement V settles in the city in 1309. This event triggers a prestigious period that will evenutually include nine papacies in Avignon. During this time, the city is one of the most recognized and flourishing cities of Medieval Europe. Construction on the Pope's Palace begins. Many gothic structures are built. Ramparts are erected to protect them. These ramparts are still conserved, and delimit the second largest city in France (after Paris). Recognized by UNESCO, the Historic Centre of Avignon is the largest and the most beautiful ensemble of Gothic art in Europe. From this period until now, Avignon continues to be one of the most glorious cites of Provence.
Avignon today is a very enjoyable medium sized city (89,500 inhabitants with the neighboring cities housing 160,000) and should be part of any tour of the Provence region. It does not have the same 'village feel' Arles offers, but some might prefer its size and location, utilizing it as a 'home base' for exploring the entire region. By itself, Avignon can take a few days to visit. Because it is a larger city, Avignon offers many amenities which could make it an excellent central point from which to visit all other tourist destinations in the area (Pont du Gard, Nîmes, Arles, the Camargue, Lubéron and Ventoux, Baux de Provence, St Remy and the Alpilles, etc.). It's a question of preference. Some might prefer to stay one or two days in each city. Others might prefer staying in a larger city, then making day trips to explore the Provence region.
What to See in Avignon
- Pope's Palace (former residence of all Popes who lived in Avignon) the famous St Bénezet bridge (Avignon bridge), the ramparts and the entire historic center of Avignon, all of which have the UNESCO seal.
- Calvet museum: With a wide range of items, (28000 items ranging from archaeology to art).
- Archeology museum Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek, Roman and Gallo-Roman sculptures and objects.
- The Lapidaire museum at the Jesuits Chapel. It conserves Egyptian, Gallo-Roman, early Christian and medieval sculptures, vases, antic glassware. Many of the Avignon vestiges are this museum.
- Petit Palais museum, in the church Saint-Didier (UNESCO grade)
- Cathedral Notre-Dame des Doms with the grave of the Pope Jean XXII besides an important collection of art.
- Garden of Rocher des Doms (prehistoric origin of the city)
- The Ceccano library built around 1340 for cardinal, today is a very well restored public library.
- Saint-Didier church typical Provencal gothic architecture rebuilt around 1356 and 1359
- Saint-Pierre church with its flamboyant façade was built during the first quarter of the VXIth; it is the most beautiful church of Avignon
- The Angladon-Dubrujeaud museum with 19th and 20th century masterpieces (Degas, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Picasso, Modigliani…) and more...
- 40 min. city tour by train
- Wine Cellar at the Palace of the Popes
- Boat tours or cruise on the Rhône river
- Regional bus excursions
- Villeneuve lez Avignon, medieval and royal city across the Rhône river
- Guided city tours in English
- Shopping and Markets
Partial list of attractions around Avignon
- Guided visit (written translation for foreign visitors) of Bramabiau Chasm and the underground river
- Château des Baux
- Pont du Gard (UNESCO site)
- Canoes adventure, Plane tours, birds of pry with falconers, old steam train ride, zoo, go-karts, quad
- Perrier factory, lavander farm, Haribo candy factory, Fine faience ware from Apt, The Farmers' Market in Graveson, Artisan chocolate shop (Chocolaterie Castelain), chocolate factory in Provence (Croquettes Aujoras), olive oil production (Moulin du Calanquet)
- Family wine estate (Château Pesquié), wine estate Domaine de Beaurenard, The Pavillon des Vins, “Maison des vins”, Domaine de Beauvalcinte, Museum of wine (Cave Brotte)
- Festival d'Avignon major yearly event (In 2006, the 60th edition will take place from July 6th to July 27th). Very artsy festival for everything relating to theater.