|The Papal Palace|
We took a similar path that the Roman Catholic popes did in the 1300s, who were also fleeing an unsavory (political) climate. They left chaotic Rome for the security of Avignon, a major city along the Rhône River not far from the Mediterranean coast. We scored (and later endured) super-cheap Ryanair flights to Marseille’s airport and looked forward to encountering not only papal history but also Roman ruins and endless French pastries.
Why we used Avignon as a home base for the region
|The city seen through the windows of the Papal Palace|
How the popes made their way here from Rome
|The main square|
At the time, the pope himself was basically a king in his own right, ruling vast swaths of central Italy, waging wars, and owning estates across Italy and France—one of which was the Comtat Venaissin, home to Avignon.
By 1305, however, a Frenchman was elected to the papacy: Clement V, who had been the archbishop of Bordeaux. He was actually crowned in Lyons, rather than Rome, and ended up permanently moving the papal curia to Avignon to get away from the political quarrels rocking Rome at the time (and to get right next door to King Philip’s territory). As the century grew on, though, the popes gained a reputation for being essentially pawns in the king of France’s hand, so this period of church history became known as the “Babylonian Captivity,” hearkening back to when the Jews were exiled to Babylon in the 500s BCE.
|The once-monumental St. Bénézet Bridge|
Exploring the Papal Palace
|Inside the Cour d’Honneur|
|The audience hall|
|Hopping around the parapet|
One of the most vivid images I remember from my college world history survey course has to do with Pope Clement VI. He reigned in Avignon mid-century and rode out the Black Plague by locking himself within the palace, where he set multiple bonfires raging day and night to protect against the “bad air.” Apparently this method worked, and when I finally visited in person, it was riveting to cross beneath the portcullis and imagine the great, roaring fires that would have been set up in the central Cour d’Honneur.
|I wasn’t supposed to take this photo but I took it anyway|
During the French Revolution, the papal palace became a military barracks, and it’s not hard to see why: long battlements connect lookout towers, the thick foundations had protected those within from attacks for years, and the whole structure sits on a defensive, rocky outcropping overlooking the Rhône River. Fortunately for Melissa and me, the upper parapets were open for access, so we were able to get panoramic views of charming Avignon.
Enjoying (and getting hopelessly lost in) the old walled city
|A quiet neighborhood street|
|The French love their manners|
|The medieval city walls|
My new favorite restaurant: Ginette et Marcel
|The dining area|
|Terrine spread & gherkins|
|Prunes & bleu cheese|
Unfortunately, just like the popes, it was time for us to return home. Whereas the late-medieval popes in all likelihood sailed safely back to Rome, a packed Ryanair flight was the cross we had to bear to get back to Santiago. The sights—and flavors—of Avignon, though, would linger in our minds in the weeks to come.
If you’re a French speaker, are you familiar with the Avignon jingle? What’s your favorite French dish? Tell me below in the comments!
For more pictures, check out my album on Flickr.