Thursday, March 1, 2018

Avignon, France

This is the biggest Gothic palace in the world. It is a megalithic structure built locks like it was built by giants.

Of the 90,194 inhabitants of the city (as of 2011), about 12,000 live in the ancient town center enclosed by its medieval ramparts.

The Roman name Avennĭo Cavarum (Mela, II, 575, Pliny III, 36), i.e. "Avignon of Cavares" accurately shows that Avignon was one of the three cities of the Celtic-Ligurian tribe of Cavares, along with Cavaillon and Orange.

The current name dates to a pre-Indo-European or pre-Latin theme ab-ên with the suffix -i-ōn(e) This theme would be a hydronym – i.e. a name linked to the river (Rhône), but perhaps also an oronym of terrain (the Rocher des Doms).

The Auenion of the 1st century BC was Latinized to Avennĭo (or Avēnĭo), -ōnis in the 1st century and was written Avinhon in classic Occitan spelling or Avignoun [aviɲũ] in Mistralian spelling] The inhabitants of the commune are called avinhonencs or avignounen in both Occitan and Provençal dialect.

The site of Avignon has been occupied since the Neolithic period as shown by excavations at Rocher des Doms and the Balance district.

The name of the city dates back to around the 6th century BC. The first citation of Avignon (Aouen(n)ion) was made by Artemidorus of Ephesus. Although his book, The Journey, is lost it is known from the abstract by Marcian of Heraclea and The Ethnics, a dictionary of names of cities by Stephanus of Byzantium based on that book. He said:

"The City of Massalia (Marseille), near the Rhone, the ethnic name (name from the inhabitants) is Avenionsios (Avenionensis) according to the local name (in Latin) and Auenionitès according to the Greek expression".

This name has two interpretations: "city of violent wind" or, more likely, "lord of the river".Other sources trace its origin to the Gallic mignon ("marshes") and the Celtic definitive article.

Avignon was a simple Greek Emporium founded by Phocaeans from Marseille around 539 BC. It was in the 4th century BC that the Massaliotes (people from Marseilles) began to sign treaties of alliance with some cities in the Rhone valley including Avignon and Cavaillon. A century later Avignon was part of the "region of Massaliotes" or "country of Massalia".

Fortified on its rock, the city later became and long remained the capital of the Cavares. With the arrival of the Roman legions in 120 BC. the Cavares, allies with the Massaliotes, became Roman.
So at that time there were fortifications possibly large.

Under the domination of the Roman Empire, Aouenion became Avennio and was now part of Gallia Narbonensis (118 BC.), the first Transalpine province of the Roman Empire. Very little from this period remains (a few fragments of the forum near Rue Molière).

It later became part of the 2nd Viennoise. Avignon remained a "federated city" with Marseille until the conquest of Marseille by Trebonius and Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus, Caesar's lieutenants. It became a city of Roman law in 49 BC. It acquired the status of Roman colony in 43 BC. Pomponius Mela placed it among the most flourishing cities of the province possibly because of the buildings in the city.

Listed as a World Heritage Site by Unesco, the Popes' Palace is one of the 10 most visited monuments in France with 650,000 visitors per year.

Official History say that it was built in less then 20 years starting in 1335, the Popes' Palace is the amalgamation of two palaces built by two popes: Benedict XII, who built the Old Palace to the east and north, and his successor Clement VI who built the New Palace to the south and west.

In the 14th century, the Popes' Palace was occupied by 7 popes and 2 popes of the Papal Schism before the return of the papacy to Rome.


The Avignon Papacy lasted from 1309 to 1376, when seven Popes based their court there. They were Clement V (1305–1314), John XXII (1316–1334), Benedict XII (1334–1342), Clement VI (1342–1352), Innocent VI (1352–1362), Urban V (1362–1370) and Gregory XI (1370–1378). But why did they leave Rome in the first place?

The story begins with a long-running conflict between the Vatican and the Kings of France. When a Frenchman, Bertrand de Got (who later gave his name to berlingot candies), was elected Pope Clement V, he moved to Avignon.

The reason: the city was not part of France at the time, and the new Pope avoided getting caught in the crossfire!

Clement V firmed up the French connection by appointing nine of his French allies as cardinals. Since they would elect the next Pope, it was a virtual guarantee that the papacy would remain French.
And so it proved. His six successors, all of them French, continued the tradition. By the end of the Avignon Papacy, 111 of the new 134 cardinals created were French as well.

The Palais des Papes remained under papal control for over 350 years after the Popes had moved back to Rome, and continued to be used as a residence for visiting legates, But it gradually deteriorated, and was comprehensively sacked and looted during the French Revolution (1789-99).
Reverting to France in 1791, it became a military barracks and prison and during this time much of the interior decoration was destroyed.

Occupied by the Legates and Vice-Legates starting in the 15th century then transformed into a garrison until 1906, it has undergone various restoration work since. Most recently, the Trouillas Tower has regained its past appearance. The tower houses the 11 stories of the Departmental Archives and its height of 52 metres makes you dizzy as you look up at it from the terrace of the Utopia Manutention Cinema.

Avignon, a city in southeastern France’s Provence region, is set on the Rhône River. From 1309 to 1377, it was the seat of the Catholic popes. It remained under papal rule until becoming part of France in 1791. This legacy can be seen in the massive Palais des Papes (Popes' Palace) in the city center, which is surrounded by medieval stone ramparts.

Avignon invites you for a stay beyond all imagination.The historic city centre, the Popes' Palace, all the episcopal buildings and the Saint Bénézet Bridge are listed as world heritage sites by UNESCO.
The historic center radiates from the Place de l'Horloge.

Here, you find the City Hall built between 1845 and 1851 over a former cardinal's palace of which it has kept the old fortified tower, transformed into a belfry in the 15th century with clock and Jacquemart. Next to it, the municipal theatre, also from the 19th century, houses the Avignon opera and, all the way at the top, the delightful Belle Époque style carrousel still turns.

Originally the forum of Avenio, the city's name under the Romans in the 1st century BC, the Place de l'Horloge is still the “centre” of Avignon. A meeting place, bordered by cafés and restaurants, the square is always bustling. Just like the Place du Palais higher up, a vast esplanade where you could spend the day just watching all the street performers in summer. 

Next to the palace, the Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral, built in 1150 in a Provençal Romanesque style, was put on the first very list of historic monuments in 1840. From the top of its bell tower, the statue of the Virgin Mary, entirely gilded in gold, 6 metres high and weighing 4500 kilos, blesses and protects the city.

Across from the palace, dragons and eagles stand guard over the imposing edifice of the Hôtel des Monnaies, once the city's mint. And not far away, the Petit Palais, a former cardinal's residence turned into a museum, houses an impressive collection of Italian primitive art, old sculptures by Avignon artists and paintings from the Avignon School.

If you want to open up your horizons, go do a tour of the ramparts. The Avignon city walls constitute the 2nd longest continuous wall in the world, after the Great Wall of China. You can access the walls' walkway from the Rocher des Doms or from the Saint Anne stairs behind the palace.
Then, go dance on the famous bridge of Avignon. The Saint Bénézet Bridge was built around 1180 – miraculously, according to legend, by a simple shepherd – to link the city to Villeneuve-les-Avignon.

Over the years, a war and successive flooding by the Rhône partially destroyed the bridge. Today, the 12th century Saint Nicholas Chapel remains, as well as four arches of which the span constitutes, according to a prestigious civil engineer, an amazing feat for the period.

At the foot of the bridge you will find the landing pier for the cable ferry that will take you free of charge to the Barthelasse Island for a stroll in the countryside just a stone's throw from the city.
Unless you prefer exploring one of the museums of which Avignon has many.

Between the collections of contemporary art (the Lambert Collection) and of paintings (Musée Angladon and Petit Palais), the museum of Fine Arts (Musée Calvet), of archaeology (Musée Lapidaire) and of period furnishings and decorative arts (Musée Louis Vouland), you will be spoiled for choice.

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