Avignon is a commune on the left bank of the Rhone River, which has the status of the prefecture of the eponymous district and is part of the cultural and historical region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. The city attracts tourists thanks to the International Theatre Festival and the medieval architecture, preserved from time immemorial, when the heads of the Catholic Church met here. And Avignon is a typical Provence with its refined in its simplicity cuisine, lavender farms and pastoral landscapes, in which the majestic Rhone bears its dark waters.
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Avignon’s main “city-forming” attraction is the Papal Palace, hidden behind the stone bastion that precedes the entrance to the city. By the way, behind these battlements is all the most interesting for the traveler. In almost two and a half thousand years of existence Avignon has grown considerably, having stepped beyond the ancient fort, but its historic center with architectural monuments continues to “hold” the rampart.
The old part of the city is more attractive in terms of infrastructure. Souvenir shops, restaurants, nice mini-hotels and museums – all this is the heritage of the historic center of Avignon. On the other hand, behind the walls and towers of the “papal nest” the Rhone River flows, which can offer no less pleasant views, from the picturesque surroundings to the Gothic castles and citadels. And to see all this splendor, you do not need to go far. On the opposite bank of the river is Villeneuve-les-Avignon, with its giant fort and the Cartesian Abbey of Notre-Dame-du-Vall-de-Benediccion.
The Papal Palace in Avignon
Best time to go.
Avignon is certainly not the Côte d’Azur, where the weather is entirely the sea, but all four seasons are quite distinct here. Recommended time to visit the city and rest on the banks of the Rhone – from July to September when the air is heated to +24. +28 °С. With the beginning of autumn in Avignon come heavy rains, so from late September to November the local guides rest, accumulating strength for the new tourist season. Winters in Avignon are mild, with an average temperature of +7. Avignon winters are mild, with an average temperature of +7°С and +8°С, snowy and generally favorable for excursions.
The history of the city goes back to the IV. century B.C. Then the place had the status of a trading station, and administratively it was part of the Greek colony of Massilia (present-day Marseille). Subsequently, Avignon changed hands several times, first to the Romans, then to the Gauls, then to the Arabs, until the French monarchs finally reclaimed it.
Avignon Saint-Benenezet Bridge in 1864
In the XIII century, a small city made a splash all over Europe. As a result of the conflict between King Philip the Fair and the pontiff Boniface VIII, Avignon became the papal residence for almost seventy years. Of course, the relocation of the head of the Catholic Church from Rome to the picturesque but deeply provincial Avignon was another political intrigue, presented as a forced security measure, but the city itself benefited from such innovations. It was thanks to the churchmen who settled in Provence that the construction of large-scale buildings began in Avignon: new churches appeared in the city, the building of the Papal Palace, as well as the university began its work.
After the pontiffs relocated to Rome in 1378, Avignon began to look for itself in trade, weaving and dyeing and politics. The latter was best suited to the locals, so after 1815 the city became the cradle of ultra-royalists. In the 19th century, the railroads were laid in Provence, and Avignon really came to life. In addition, the French authorities are seriously concerned with the preservation of its architectural heritage (those same papal palaces), which aroused interest in the city not only on the part of celebrities and pilgrims, but also ordinary travelers.
Avignon in 1700. Painting by Robert Bonnarte
Sights of Avignon
The city owes practically all its architectural treasures to the “captivity of the popes in Avignon” – the period when the pontiffs who temporarily left Rome built residences for themselves and the curia on the banks of the Rhone. The main man-made reminder of this historic event is the Papal Palace (cost of visit – 12 EUR). Grim stone building is included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Site and appears in encyclopedias as the largest Gothic palace in Europe, although originally it was built as a fortress – holes in the walls for pouring boiling oil on enemies. Incidentally, it was here that the great Petrarch was a clergyman when he met Laura.
The Papal Palace in Avignon
The vast majority of tourists go to Avignon to visit the papal residence and secondarily to get acquainted with the main city of the county. However, it is worth noting that the times, revolutions and wars did not pass without a trace for the palace, so despite the fact that the outside looks pompously and inaccessible, inside there is no need to count on rich decorations. In addition to the palace itself, the papal complex includes two other impressive structures – the Cathedral of Notre-Dame-de-Dame and the Avignon Saint-Benenez Bridge. The majestic church in Romanesque style was built in the XII century, and it is already a serious reason to look inside. Here you can also see the wall paintings, miraculously preserved in the whirlwind of revolutions, which remind visitors of the frailty of life (modern horror stories are a thing of the past).
Saint-Benenez Bridge, or rather the four spans that are left of it, is one of the most photographed sights in Avignon. By the way, the history of the structure is no less fascinating than its appearance, so do not skimp on a good guide, who can fascinate you with the story about the construction of this impressive structure. Entrance to the bridge is paid – 5 EUR, but you can save money and take a complex ticket that gives the right to visit the Pontifical Palace and St Benedict, which will cost you about 14.5 EUR (children under 8 years old are free).
Notre Dame de Dome Saint Benesieu Bridge
Note: during the peak tourist season and the Avignon Theater Festival, tickets to the papal complex may be more expensive. For the exact cost of the tour, visit the palace’s official website: http://www.palais-des-papes.com/en.
In addition to the ornate Notre Dame de Dame, Avignon is full of simpler churches and chapels. For example, the Basilica of Saint Pierre (pure Gothic and nothing extra), the Church of Saint Agricola (one of the oldest sanctuaries in the city), the Temple of Saint Didier with frescoes by Francesco Laurent and the Celestine Church (Blessed Peter of Luxembourg is buried under the temple plates).
Not far from the city’s main cathedral, on a rocky ground, is the picturesque Rocher-de-Dom Park. Its second name is the Gardens of Rocher de Dome. Here you can abstract yourself from the formidable appearance of the pontiffs’ cloister, feed the ducks, and at the same time take a tour of the city’s surroundings. In particular, from the 30-meter-high Rocher de Dome one can clearly see the majestic Rhone and the town of Villeneuve-lez-Avignon, located on the opposite bank.
Tourist’s tip: If you’re planning a day trip to Avignon, try to choose a Sunday afternoon to make sure that François Rabelais dubbed the city “ringing” for a reason.
The residences of the Cardinals of Avignon also deserve their share of attention, for the clerics did not limit themselves in the luxury of their exteriors and interior decoration. Specifically look for the “residence” of the Holy Fathers do not have – go to any of the major city museums and 9 times out of 10 will not go wrong. For example, the building of the Petit Palais Museum is just one of these cardinal’s residences, where Botticelli’s famous “Madonna and Child” is kept today. The halls of the Calvet Museum, which has some curious paintings by Chaim Sutin, can tell you a lot about the mysteries of the Cardinal dynasty de Cambre. There are also several small gallery museums in Avignon, belonging to private collectors – Lapider, Lambert and Angladon. The expositions in them are not the most outstanding, but certainly not boring.
Petit Palais Museum Calvet Museum
The attraction that first greets tourists arriving in Avignon are the fortress walls. Of course, the massive towers and fortifications do not look exactly as they did at the time of their first builders – the Romans, but the overall atmosphere of the ancient grandeur is quite conveyed. The area of Avignon, “taken prisoner” by the stone bastion, is the Old City with its winding pedestrian streets and colorful dead ends in the “claustrophobic nightmare” style. The cultural center of old Avignon is considered the Clock Square, the perimeter of which cozily sits the Opera House, Town Hall with the Tower of Jacquemart, and countless souvenir stores and cafes.
The ramparts of Avignon
5 things to do in Avignon
- Book a tour of the lavender fields to take romantic lilac selfies and try Avignon’s signature dessert, lavender cream.
- Buy a bag of dried Provencal herbs, the scent of which permeates all the restaurants here.
- Hang out at Camili Books & Tea for a few hours and be rewarded with a cup of aromatic English tea from the owner.
- Climb to the observation deck of the Pontifical Palace and imagine yourself as a pontiff looking down on the church estates.
- Walk along the miniature canal of Rue des Teinturiers and relax on the ancient stone benches.
Holidays and festivals
Each summer, the city is consistently buzzing with an influx of critics, acting groups, and avid theatergoers who gather in the courtyard of the Pontifical Palace to take part in the Avignon Festival. This event has long been a tradition and the main highlight of the former papal residence: performances on the open-air stages have been held since 1947. The interesting thing about the festival is that the troupes that perform in front of the audience do not use the curtain, and the palace walls and other historic buildings of the city serve as natural backdrops. By the way, a similar theater festival is held in the municipality of Aix-en-Provence, but, according to reviews, it is at the Avignon festival the emphasis is not on the big names of directors, but on the relevance of the theme of the work. In 2019, the festival begins on July 4 and ends on July 28. Tickets cost from 12 EUR.
Avignon Theatre Festival
Where to stay
Avignon has not suffered from a shortage of tourists since the middle of the 20th century, so in the high season, the city’s hotels and hotels are packed to the brim. Of course it’s better not to get lucky and book in advance, but if you missed the chance don’t forget that on the other side of the Rhone you can find a small town Villeneuve-les-Avignon, where the question of accommodation is not so pressing.
As it should be a tourist-attractive place, the prices for accommodation in Avignon are not the most attractive. For example, if you rent a room in the local “three rubles in July and August, will have to pay for it from 90 to 110 EUR (approximately – 6500-8000 rubles). Two-star hotels and one-star hotels do not differ much in this respect. The maximum amount you can save by checking into a hostel is 7-10 EUR. By the way, there are no hostels here, so if you hoped to spend a night in the largest city of Provence “for a penny” – leave this idea behind. But there is a camping (Camping du Pont d’Avignon) in Avignon, where you can rent a mobile home for 50-70 EUR for two or a company of five people.
The main eating places in Avignon are cozy family restaurants and brasserie diners. But you don’t have to worry about tedious searching for the best eateries, most are found in the most populated areas – Place des Clocks, Rue de la République, Place de Change, Place de Pie, Place de la Dorpe Saint and the Palais Popal area. If the prices in popular restaurants seem too steep, try one of the cafés on rue Tenturier, where Avignonians like to sit on their day off.
Street Café by the Pope’s Palace
The recently opened La Cuisine du Dimanche restaurant on Rue Bonetteri gathers good reviews. This place is owned by a married couple who hasn’t yet managed to get a star disease and responsibly approach not only to the process of cooking, but also to the quality of service. Grab a burger or sit down with a glass of local wine at Le Gout du Jour (rue Saint-Etienne), in the old chapel Le Potard (rue Principale) and Chez Marie (rue Louis Pasteur).
As for the local cuisine, along with Provençal specialties like ratatouille and snails in garlic sauce, in Avignon you can taste Asian soups, kebabs and sushi. Now about prices: a standard dinner for one (appetizer, main course, dessert and wine) at a medium-sized restaurant will reduce your credit card bill by about 50-60 EUR.
Shopping in Avignon is souvenir and gift plan: kitchen textiles in the Provencal style, olive soap, wine, regional spices and food – spend in the “most papal city in France” only on such small things. The center of attraction for all nonresident shopaholics is Rue de la Repubblica, where the tiny shops and boutiques are lined up. For the delicious gifts of Provence, such as cheese, seafood and smoked meats, head for the Avignon Les Halles indoor market on Place de la Paix. The market is open Tuesday to Saturday from 8:15 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. In terms of the variety of food, this marketplace is a bit like Barcelona’s Boquería – just as noisy, bustling, and mind-bogglingly tasty. You can sample the delicacies you’ve bought on the spot; there are several small eateries in the bazaar.
Those who prefer the retro atmosphere of the city’s flea markets should head across the Rhone to nearby Villeneuve-les-Avignons. This modest bazaar is one of the top five most colorful flea markets in France. And, of course, do not forget that Provence, of which Avignon is a part, is primarily the cradle of French niche perfumery. So do not pass by the shops with showcases full of bizarre bottles. Certainly, the exclusive perfume is not the most affordable purchase, but miss the opportunity to test the selective novelties for free is definitely not worth it.
Avignon at sunset
How to get there
Avignon has its own airport, located 8 km from the city, but it only takes budget airlines, so most tourists prefer to get to this part of Provence by ground transport. The closest international airport to Avignon is in Marseille, which connects with the “city of pops” regular bus routes. From Paris, Nice and Marseille you can also get to Avignon by TGV train. The trip from Nice takes about 3.5 hours, from Paris – 2 hours 40 minutes, from Marseille – 30 minutes. By the way, read the schedule and information about the route carefully, because there are two train stations in the city: one in the center of Avignon, the second is 4 km away (shuttle runs).
Avignon (France) – the most detailed information about the city with photos. The main attractions of Avignon with descriptions, guides and maps.
City of Avignon (France).
Avignon is a city in southeastern France and the center of the Vaucluse department. It is located on the left bank of the Rhône in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. Avignon is one of the most beautiful cities of Provence, which from 1309 to 1377 was the residence of the Popes. This period gave it excellent Gothic and Renaissance architecture, as well as a magnificent papal palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Avignon is known for its relaxed southern French atmosphere, quaint streets, rich history and rich cultural life. The old town is very well preserved and still has medieval walls.
Things to do (Avignon):
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Geography and climate
Avignon is located on the left bank of the Rhone in the historic region of Provence at a distance of 580 km south-east of Paris, 229 km south of Lyon and 85 km north-west of Marseille. The city is bordered on the west by the Gare department and the Bouches du Rhône. The Rhone divides Avignon into two parts. The climate is subtropical Mediterranean. Summers are relatively hot and winters are mild and fairly warm.
The Rhone River and the old city
- The population is more than 90 thousand people. Of these 12,000 live in the old town.
- Area – 64.78 km 2 .
- The language is French.
- Currency is euro.
- Visa – Schengen.
- Time – Central European UTC +1, in summer +2.
- Avignon is located on the line of high-speed trains Paris-Marseille. Regional trains stop at a station on the southern edge of the old city.
- A flea market is held every Sunday at the Place des Carmes.
- Since Avignon is located in Provence, you can buy a variety of lavender products here.
- Do not sign any petitions outside the papal palace. They are crooks. They can demand money afterwards.
Avignon was founded by Phocian Greeks in the 6th century BC as a trading faction of a Greek city on the site of Marseilles. It later became the capital of the Gallic tribe of the Cavarians. Around 120 BC, the area was conquered by Rome. Under Emperor Hadrian the settlement was given the status of a Roman colony.
In the early Middle Ages, Avignon belonged first to the Burgundians, then to the Ostgoths and the Franks. In 736 the city was even briefly conquered by the Arabs. Though two years later it was destroyed by Charles Martel in the process of its liberation. In 932, Provence and Upper Burgundy reunited to form the Kingdom of Arles. Avignon joined the new state and became one of its most important cities.
The streets of the old city
In 1032 Avignon became part of the Holy Roman Empire, although in fact it was under the rule of the Counts of Provence and the rulers of Toulouse. At the end of the 12th century, Avignon declared itself an independent republic, but in 1226 it capitulated to the French troops. After that, the city was forced to tear down the fortifications and backfill the moat. Since the end of the 13th century Avignon was under the rule of the Counts of Provence.
In 1309, Pope Clement V chose the city as his residence for the period of the Council of Vienna. During this period, Avignon begins to flourish, as the popes were forced to stay here until 1378. The city becomes one of the centers of the Catholic world. A magnificent papal palace was built here, numerous temples and the university was founded. Avignon was also surrounded by walls, which are perfectly preserved to this day. After the return of the popes to Rome, they ruled the city until the French Revolution.
In 1791 Avignon was occupied by revolutionary troops. And in 1797 the popes renounced their claim to the city and ceded it to France. In the 19th century Avignon became a major commercial center. The old town was subjected to rebuilding, in the course of which some of the historic buildings were demolished.
The Papal Palace is the main attraction of Avignon and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a grand building that is considered to be the largest structure of the Gothic period. The palace was built between 1335 and 1352 and looks like a giant castle. More than 20 rooms and chapels with beautiful frescoes are now open to the public. The furniture and decorations of the papal palace disappeared during the French Revolution.
The old city of Avignon, on the orders of the popes, was surrounded by strong walls. These medieval fortifications are perfectly preserved to this day.
Place du Palais
The Piazza dei Palais is a wide space in front of the palace, created by demolishing the adjacent streets on the orders of Pope Benedict XII. From here you have a great view of the papal palace. You can also see the Romanesque cathedral and the old mint.
A few minutes from the Papal Palace is Rocher des Doms, a rocky promontory with a great panoramic view of Avignon.
The Musée du Petit Palais is an art museum with excellent collections including masterpieces of Italian painting from the 13th to the 15th century (works by Botticelli, Louis Brea and others). The museum building is on the square in front of the papal palace and is a Gothic fort with a crenellated exterior wall and typical elements of Medieval architecture. This was the residence of the popes before the construction of the modern palace.
One of the symbols of Avignon and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Pont Saint-Benenezay is a dilapidated bridge over the Rhone. This structure was built between 1177 and 1185, that is, in just 8 years. The construction of the bridge is associated with an interesting legend. The shepherd Benoit, who later became known as Saint Benezet, received instructions from the angels to build a bridge across the Rhone River. The people of Avignon ridiculed the idea. But when the little boy picked up the huge stone, they thought it was a divine omen.
After its construction, the Saint-Benenez Bridge was an elegant structure consisting of 22 arches with a total length of more than 900 meters. In the Middle Ages, this engineering structure was an important crossing over the Rhone. The bridge was destroyed by floods in the 17th century and was never rebuilt. Four arches and the small Romanesque-Gothic Chapel of St. Nicholas are extant.
Notre-Dame-de-Dame is a beautiful 12th-century medieval church that gets a little lost next to the papal palace. The building has a Romanesque interior, and the tower is crowned by a magnificent gilded statue of the Virgin Mary. Interesting features of the church include a 12th-century white marble bishop’s chair, a Romanesque altar in the first chapel, a late Gothic monument in the fourth chapel on the south side, and beautiful frescoes.
Church of Saint-Didier
The Church of Saint-Didier is a medieval church in the style of Romanesque architecture of Provence, built between 1356 and 1359. The building has thick stone walls and a large nave. Interesting features include one of the earliest works of Renaissance art in France by the Italian painter Francesco Laurana, remarkable 14th-century paintings, and a late Gothic pulpit.
The Piazza de l’Horloge is a charming town square surrounded by shady plane trees. The square has a theater and a town hall on its west side. The town hall was built in the 19th century. Although the tower dates back to the 14th century. On top of it are life-size figures known as “jacquemarts.”
Church of Saint Pierre
The Church of Saint Pierre is a 14th-century medieval church with a beautiful Gothic facade and Renaissance wooden doors. The relics of St. Pierre of Luxembourg are kept here. The church houses some impressive sculptures and paintings, as well as baroque choral scenes from the mid-17th century.
Rue des Teinturiers
Rue des Teinturiers is a charming old street along the Vaucluse Canal with beautiful stone houses, cobblestone sidewalk and old plane trees.
Interesting places near Avignon
Pont du Gard
The Pont du Gard is a grandiose Roman aqueduct located near the city of Nîmes on the River Gardon. It is the tallest of the Roman structures of this type.
Lavender Fields near the town of Roussillon
Lavender fields are one of the most famous and picturesque sights in Provence. The most beautiful are those around the charming towns of Roussillon and Sault.
Medieval Villages of Provence
Provence is famous for its charming medieval villages:
- Saint-Rémy de Provence is a quaint Provence town with elegant buildings, pleasant squares and charming pedestrian streets. It is located only 20 km from Avignon. It is known as the birthplace of Nostradamus and as an archaeological site of the Greco-Roman period.
- Villeneuve-les-Avignon is a small village with a wonderful historical atmosphere and sights of the Middle Ages.
- Cavaillon is a small town with an interesting historical and cultural heritage. It is famous for its melons.
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