Cité des Papes (City of Popes)
Vaucluse (84000) Population: 90,194 Altitude: 23 m
Avignon is definitely not a town to stay in if you're interested in sightseeing the surrounding countryside and don't have much time. Once in Avignon, you won't want to leave, and the town is too interesting to let you go.
Avignon is ancient, full of history, life, youth, art, music and activity. Just to "see" the town itself, you could wander the narrow streets inside the fortified walls for days without tiring of them. Avignon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A great shopping area, with pedestrian streets without automobiles (not always the case in France), and loads of shops of all kinds. Southeast of the Place de l'Horloge: rue des Marchands, rue Rouge and adjoining streets are full of clothing and other shops.
Book market on the Cours Jean Jaures, just inside the wall in front of the train station.
There are a lot of old and picturesque squared dotted throughout the old town of Avignon. These range from the wide and open Place de l'Horloge and Place du Palais to small, isolated squares, some just a short, tree-lined street.
Place de l'Horloge
This is the long square in front of the Hotel de Ville, with terrace cafés along both sides and the "Belle Epoque" carrousel at the top end. During the summer this square is packed with people and activity. Both of the streets at the top end of the Place d'Horloge lead to the Place du Palais and the Palace of the Popes.
The first public clock was built on the town hall's clocktower in 1471, with a Clockwork Jacquemard at the top to ring the bell. The original jacquemards are on display in the Calvet Museum (Avignon Museums).
The Place de l'Horloge was the Forum of Avenio, the early Roman town in the 1st century BC. This was also the center of Medieval Avignon, and narrow streets radiated out from here to the different 12th and 13th century portes in the town fortifications.
Place du Palais
During the 14th century this square was much smaller, with the houses pressing up close to the Popes' Palace. In 1404, Benoit XIII had the houses razed and the twisty little streets cleared out, fearing a second siege of his palace and wanting a clear field of fire.
Place de la Pignotte
This is actually a shady, tree-lined street, an eastern extension of Rue Saint Jean le Vieux. At the end of the street is the 17th-century Baroque Chapelle de la Visitation, built in 1631-1638.
The place is named after La Pignotte, a building founded in 1316 by Pope Jean XXII to furnish food and clothing for the needy. At number 5 is the Hotel Achard, a hotel particulier built in 1760.
The famous Pont d'Avignon is the picturesque bridge spanning half the river towards the Ile de Piot west of the town. This bridge began as the Pont Saint-Bénézet around 1180 to connect Avignon with the town of Villeneuve-les-Avignon on the west side of the Rhône (where the land was ruled by the Kings of France).
The Pont Saint-Bénézet was destroyed about 40 years later, when King Louix VIII was laying seige to Avignon during the Albigensian Crusade. Following the war, the bridge was rebuilt, with 22 stone arches. Unfortunately the arches tended to collapse during the periodic flooding of the Rhône, and the bridge was abandoned in the 17th century.
The remaining part of the bridge is a four-arch span that's survived since the 14th century. The small Chapel Saint Nicholas on the bridge's second pier was built in the 12th century, but extensively renovated since that time.
The current Pont d'Avignon is part of a World Heritage Site, along with Avignon's Palais des Papes and the Cathedrale Notre-Dame des Doms.
The festival of Dance, Music and Theatre was founded in 1947 by the actor and director Jean Vilar. (The 1996 festival was the 50th.)
The events occur all over town, often staged at historical monuments and in the streets, and with close audience rapport. This is now an international festival, with people from all over France, Europe and the rest of the world arranging vacations around the festival dates.
Festival catalog and information - tel: (33) 490 27 66 50; fax: (33) 490 27 66 83
Sites Nearby Avignon
Villeneuve-lès-Avignon is a medieval village just across the river from Avignon, its crenelated hilltop fortress visible from the Rocher des Doma beside the Pope's Palace.
It's about a half-hour walk from the center of Avignon to Villeneuve-les-Avignon, crossing the bridge over the Rhône, with a lovely view back towards Avignon.
The sites to visit in Villeneuve-les-Avignon include: fortress Fort Saint-André, which houses a 14th-century Abbey; in the village center is the magnificent 14th-century Chartreuse Cal de Bénédiction. Also in the center is the Notre-Dame collegial church with its cloister; the ancient Philippe-le-Bel Tower is a short walk west from the center of town.
History of Avignon
First record, in Roman texts from the first century BC: Avenio.
The name Avignon comes from "Avenio" which means "town of violent winds" or "town of the river".
Prehistoric: The Rocher des Doms in the center of Avignon was the site of neolithic habitation.
Celto-Ligurian: Several centuries prior to the Romans, this was a Celtic-Ligurian river port called Cavares.
Gallo-Roman: Avignon was a major Roman town until about the 5th century.
Medieval: Through the medieval period, Avignon has a strong and well-documented history, including the Popes who ruled from here, ecclesiastically and sometimes politically.
Rue de la République
Tel : 0490 82 65 11; Fax: 04 90 82 95 03
Open: Mon-Fri 9h-13h, 14h-18h; Sat: 9h-13h; 14h-17h
Market day: Daily, Sat, Sun.
Brocante, Cloître aux Carmes: Every Sun
Flower market, Cloître aux Carmes: Every Sat
Jan - Marché de Noël - Christmas Market
Feb - Les Hivernales d'Avignon - spectacles and "stages" of contemporary dance
July - FESTIVAL D'AVIGNON
July - Festival International de Theatre
Aug - Avignon Jazz Festival - Tremplin Jazz d'Avignon
Dec - Marché de Noël - Christmas Market
• GPS: 43.948613, 4.805967
IGN (1/25,000) #3041 OT "Avignon"
- • The GR42 and GR63 (Grande Randonnée) pass by Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, just across the river to the west (an easy walk across the bridge).
- • The GR42 goes southwest to Montfrin, then joins the GR6 Hiking Trail which heads southeast to Tarascon and the Alpilles.
- • The GR42 also heads north, past Roquemaure and Laudun.
- • The GR63 goes west, past the A9 autoroute, to Pont du Gard and points west.
Sports and Montagne (supplies)
- and Alain Hantz - Guide de Haute Montagne
- 50, rue Carnot
- tel: (33) 490 85 61 45
Avignon is full of restaurants, ranging pretty much from pretty good to great. The most obvious place to start is the Place de l'Horloge, packed with terrace café-restaurants along the sides and, during the summer, down the center of the square. Main advantages of these is that they're handy and they're in the center of the action.
Exploring the town, you'll run across one or two (or more) little restaurants in many of the squares of Avignon. There are too many in the town for us to keep up with (an online site such as TripAdvisor is a good way to find rated restaurants), but we do have some favorites:
On the narrow Rue Petranale, has excellent dining and a great outdoor terrace; closed Sunday.
2 Rue Petite-Fusterie (just off the Rue Saint-Agricol, west of the center) has regional cuisine in a very up-market style. A bit pricy, but really, really good. We take our guests here; closed Sunday.
Rue Prevot, corner of Place de l'Amirande (beside the L'Ami Voyage), excellent, reasonable priced, very popular with the locals (and others); we tried it following recommendations by customers exiting the restaurant.
5 Rue Prevot (beside the Maison Nani), the "Libraire Ancienne" in an old book-printers shop, excellent French regional cooking, very reasonable prices, great ambience.
4 Rue de la Principale, on the Place de la Principale; outside tables on the square, but we really liked the quiet and intimate ambience inside; food, service and prices all good, of course.
The Provence section of Tours-France.com lists tours starting from Avignon. Different tours include sites and themes, such as Avignon, Cassis, Marseille, Camargue, Lavender, Olives.
Entry: Individual rates are in the 55-100 euro range.