Avignon is a commune in south-eastern France in the department of Vaucluse on the left bank of the Rhône river. Between 1309 and 1377 during the Avignon Papacy, seven successive popes resided in Avignon and in 1348 Pope Clement VI bought the town from Joanna I of Naples. Papal control persisted until 1791 when, during the French Revolution, it became part of France. The town is now the capital of the Vaucluse department and one of the few French cities to have preserved its ramparts. The historic centre, which includes the Palais des Papes, the cathedral, and the Pont d’Avignon, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. The medieval monuments and the annual Festival d’Avignon have helped to make the town a major centre for tourism.
The Palace of the Popes stands as the mighty symbol of the church’s influence throughout the western Christian world in the 14th century. The Popes’ Palace is the biggest Gothic palace in all of Europe (15,000 m2 of floor space, which is the equivalent of 4 Gothic cathedrals). Avignon became the home of the popes in 1309, who were fleeing the violent chaos of Rome. The Palais was built between 1335 and 1364 on a natural rocky outcrop at the northern edge of Avignon, overlooking the river Rhône. The site was formerly occupied by the old episcopal palace of the bishops of Avignon.The Palais des Papes was built in two main phases with two distinct segments, known as the Palais Vieux (Old Palace) and Palais Neuf (New Palace). By the time of its completion, it occupied an area of 2.6 acres. The building was enormously expensive, consuming much of the papacy’s income during its construction.
The Palais Vieux was constructed by the architect Pierre Poisson of Mirepoix at the instruction of Pope Benedict XII. The austere Benedict had the old episcopal palace razed and replaced with a much larger building centred on a cloister, heavily fortified against attackers. Its four wings are flanked with high Towers. Under Popes Clement VI, Innocent VI and Urban V, the building was expanded to form what is now known as the Palais Neuf. Jean de Louvres was commissioned by Clement VI to build a new tower and adjoining buildings, including a 52m-long Grand Chapel to serve as the location for papal acts of worship. Two more towers were built under Innocent VI, and Urban V completed the main courtyard (known as the Court d’Honneur) with further buildings enclosing it. The interior of the building was sumptuously decorated with frescos, tapestries, paintings, sculptures and wooden ceilings.
The popes departed Avignon in 1377, returning to Rome, but this prompted the Papal Schism during which time the antipopes Clement VII and Benedict XIII made Avignon their home until 1408. The latter was imprisoned in the Palais for ten years after being besieged within in 1398. The building remained in the hands of antipapal forces for some years – it was besieged from 1410 to 1411 – but was returned to the authority of papal legates in 1433.
Below, the Great Tinel. This room was used primarily as a reception room. Covered with tapestries on starry blue background, there is actually nothing left of these sets. Indeed, a fire that destroyed the palace in the XIVth century, many parts have been restored or rebuilt.During conclaves, it is in this room that the cardinals met to elect a new pope. For the occasion, the room was walled and only a small opening was left to provide all the necessary food. After each conclave, the walls were destroyed, revealing a vaulted room opened to the rest of the palace.
The Popes’ Room, with the paintings of the 9 Popes residing here (seven popes and two schismatic popes)
and the old library, now the palace bookshop
Although the Palais remained under papal control (along with the surrounding city and Comtat Venaissin) for over 350 years afterwards, it gradually deteriorated despite a restoration in 1516. When the French Revolution broke out in 1789 it was already in a bad state when it was seized and sacked by revolutionary forces. In 1791 it became the scene of a massacre of counter-revolutionaries, whose bodies were thrown into the Tour des Latrines in the Palais Vieux. The Palais was subsequently taken over by the Napoleonic French state for use as a military barracks and prison. Although it was further damaged by the military occupation – the frescos were covered over and largely destroyed – ironically this ensured the building’s physical survival. It was only vacated in 1906, when it became a national museum. It has been under virtually constant restoration ever since.
Clément VI studium, also called “la chambre du cerf”. This room is one of the most famous rooms of the palace because of its paintings on the walls and roof.This room served as Pope Clement VI writing cabinet. It is commonly called “house of deer” because of its murals depicting hunting scenes. These paintings are very interesting because they show all the influence of Italian painting on French painters of the time. Work on perspectives, mainly mastered by Italian painters is very present in these representations. It is an artistic work of high quality for the time, which leads to think that beyond the artistic influence of the great Italian masters, their participation in these works is quite possible.
Saint-Martial chapel located on the second level of the Saint-Jean tower, the chapel tells through paintings the main parts of Saint Martial’s life. Matteo Giovanetti worked there in 1344 and 1345. The reading direction of the painting should be made from top to bottom.
When hosting ceremonies at the palace, the pontiff dressed here in the North Sacristy. Pope Innocent VI actually built a bridge in 1360 between the Clementine Chapel and the apartments. It ends near the window in the sacristy. Although these tombs of cardinals and other spiritual dignitaries look real, they are actually plaster replicas.
The Popes’ Dressing Room, or what it’s left……….
If you have enough strenght (and breath) I recommend you to climb up to the roof of the palace to have a glimpse of the city below…