The southeastern French city of Avignon is well known for the Pont d’Avignon and the Palais des Papes, or the Palace of the Popes. Besides a great history that stretches back to pre-Roman times, this picturesque Europe destination should not to be missed by anyone visiting Provence. Every summer the city hosts the Festival d’Avignon, which is in effect two festivals at once: a more formal festival of theatre, dance, music and cinema; and a less formal programme of events which comprises undiscovered plays and street performances. The wonderful thing about these various performances is that they use the Palace and other historical monuments as performance settings.
The papacy was relocated from Rome to Avignon by Pope Clement V to escape the political unrest in Rome at the turn of the 14 Century. In all seven Popes ruled at Avignon, and together they brought incredible wealth and prestige to the city – still in evidence today.
The palace was constructed in two stages by two Popes: Benedict XII (1334-1342), who built the Old Palace; and Clement VI (1342-1352), who built the New Palace. The Old Palace is simple and utilitarian and in line with Cistercian architecture; whereas the New Palace is Gothic with much finer stonework that reflected a new spirit in decoration and architecture. When Clement VI died in 1352 the cost of the New Palace had all but bankrupted the Papacy. The best place to compare the styles of the Old and New Palaces is in the Courtyard of Honour (below), where the two palaces meet.
The Palace of the Popes can be overwhelming as there is so much to see, but for those on a tight schedule here are some Europe travel tips for your visit to the Palais des Papes: the best parts of the Old Palace include Saint Johnâ€™s Chapel, the Grand Tinel, and Saint Martialâ€™s Chapel; while the must see parts of the New Palace include the Popeâ€™s Chamber, the Stag Room, the Great Chapel and the Great Audience Hall.
The city of Avignon is served by both SNCF rail and the high-speed rail TGV. There is also an airport 8km outside the city.