Thursday May 30, 2019

In the Square

After a nice nights sleep, Carol makes us breakfast. It is really nice to have my personal breakfast lady traveling with me on this trip. We are going to start our day visiting the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes). We find our way through the interesting curvy streets of Avignon. We enter Palace Square and take in the surrounding scene. The palace is in front of us, along with the Petit Palace and the cathedral.

Cathedral View

Here is some history that we did not know. In 1309, a French Pope (Clement V) was elected and decided that Italy was too dangerous for him, so he moved the Roman Catholic Church to Avignon. The church literally bought the town and moved in. They built the 3 acre Palace for the Pope, three miles of protective wall with 39 towers, the Petit Palace for the Cardinals, and residences for all the supporting staff and church bureaucrats. The population went from 6,000 to 25,000. It is 13,000 today. The Romanesque cathedral has been the seat of the local bishop for over a thousand years. It was here more than 200 years before the palace.

Where Decisions Were Made

We enter the Palace and buy our tickets which includes an iPad like Device with audio and visual guides. We enter the Consistory Hall where the Pope met about church business. This is where we discover that our iPad has a feature that brings up the room the way it looked in the 1300’s and you can move it around the room to see every side of the room and interior. It is really cool. There is also a model of the Palace in the room and we learn more about the history here.

The Schism

Popes resided here for over a hundred years. In 1378, there was a schism in the church as Italians wanted a Roman Pope. So they elected one of their own and from 1378 until 1417, there were two Popes, one here and one in Rome. At one short interval there was a third Pope in Pisa. Back to the building of this palace, it was the most fortified palace of the time with 10 foot thick walls, a true symbol of power. Although the rooms are pretty stark now, seeing what they looked like with the histopad gives us a good sense of the decor and how they lived back in the day. I have included a few now and then pictures to compare.

Secret Treasure Room

In one room we get to see some Papal coins from the 14th century and then a cool treasury room where the riches were locked up. What is really cool is that in 1985, they discovered that there were slabs on the floor which could be lifted and underneath was a fortune in coins and other relics hidden there for 600 years. We go through a courtyard which is now used for modern performances and up to the second level.

Time for Dinner

The banquet hall is very impressive along with the Saint Martial Chapel which has some of its original frescoes. Stepping into the kitchen is also cool when you realize that the tower above you with an opening on top was a giant chimney to vent the smoke. One room has a hunting scene painted on its four walls, all but one wall has the scene intact. We are able to ascend to the roof of the palace for some great views of the surrounding area.

Palace Chapel

We end our tour through a large chapel that was twice as large as the old cathedral next door. It is being restored so there is quite a lot of scaffolding in it. The history here was intriguing and the audio visual guide was very good making our visit much more pleasurable. We spent close to three hours in here.                                We decide to find a bite to eat before continuing our adventure today. We pass a small sandwich place on our list but I see that we are near a restaurant that is also on our list that is supposed to have a nice lunch menu. It is supposed to close in a half hour so we figure worst case we can check it out and reserve it for another day if need be. We find EAT and ask if we are too late to sit for lunch and no we are not. We sit at a table outside as she explains the menu. The main is a veal stew with rice, the choice of dessert is cheese or an apple crumble, and the meal includes a glass of wine and coffee for 16 Euros. Sold. We talk to a young couple seated next to us as we wait for our meal. Chris and April are from Los Angeles and are here for a little more than a week. Chris is a consultant and April is studying to be a doctor. We enjoy our conversation with them and continue it during our meal. The food is excellent and when the dessert comes the apple crumble turns out to be a whole baked apple with some crumble topping on it. Not what we were thinking but it is incredible,as,so much of the French food is. The cheese plate is good as well. Having our coffee, we sit and talk to Chris and April for quite a while before we feel we may be wearing out our welcome. It is not the case but we pay and part ways shortly thereafter. Our conversing was so good that we forgot to take any pictures of our lunch so my apologies to the foodies out there.

Wall Surrounding Avignon

After lunch, we head out to find the Petit Palace and visit its museum. We walk along the old wall which surrounds the whole city, passing the Pont D’Avignon bridge which I will discuss more later. The Petit Palais museum is free and the former Cardinals palace. It now houses a church collection of art, parts of statues and tombs which depict the destruction of church property during the French Revolution. One painting that I like is that of the archangel Michael slaying a demon. The colors are very vivid.

Portrait of the Popes

From the Petit Palace Museum we ascend a staircase in the square and go inside the cathedral for a short visit. The interesting thing here is that surrounding the altar are pictures of all the Popes who served from here. There is also a tomb of Pope Benoit XII, who was elected Pope in 1334 until his death, eight years later.


Right next to the cathedral, we climb a short distance to the Jardin di Rochers des Doms. The park is on a bluff with great views over the Rhone River and Ile de la Barthelasse below. We will be taking the free shuttle ferry tomorrow to check out the island. There is a Fort on the other side of the island called Fort St Andre which was in France at the time. It was built in 1360 to counter the papal incursion into this part of Europe. The Rhone River was the border of the Vatican Territory and France.

Tower in the Walls

The Pont D’Avignon was the key border crossing with towers on both sides, the Popes tower on the Vatican side and Phillip the Fairs tower on the French side. We ind a different way down from the park which lets us walk along the top of the wall and through one of its old towers. From there, we return home at the end of a very full and wonderful day. The rest of the evening is spent relaxing and deciding whether we will take a day trip to the city of Arles tomorrow. What did we decide. Read ahead to find out.

Sunset Design Touristic Center Apartment 55.31E
Palace of the Popes 24E
Lunch at EAT. 32E
Items from Supermarket 5E Cash
Walked 4 Miles