The Monumental Palais des Papes Avignon Provence

Written by on August 10, 2017 in Museums and Châteaux, Provence-Alpes

I’d heard of the Palais des Papes in the Provencal town of Avignon. I’d seen photos and even knew a little bit of history though not much. But it hadn’t at all prepared me for seeing it in person. The sheer overwhelming size of this towering palace in which Popes once lived is mind boggling. And as for the history of this mighty Gothic castle – it’s nothing short of miraculous.

Why did the Popes live in France?

It’s a good question – just why did the leader of the Catholic church upsticks from Rome and move to France? In the 14th century the politics of Europe were edgy to say the least. In 1346 the then Pope Clement V, former Archbishop of Bordeaux decided to settle in Avignon. History is a little sketchy on the exact reasons but there had been disagreements between the King of France and previous Popes and it’s thought likely Clement wanted to please his King and perhaps Rome wasn’t as safe a place as it could be for a French Pope.

In 1309 Pope Clement V established a Papal residence in Avignon making this French city the capital of the Christian world.  Successive Popes elaborated and extended the building until it became the soaring, majestic palace we see today with a maze of rooms and chapels and courtyards. The fourth Pope, Clement VI bought the city of Avignon from the Countess of Provence. Cardinals built grand palatial mansions around the Popes Palace and the old city of Avignon became to all intents and purposes an enclosed city much like the Vatican in Rome.

Seven official Popes lived here until the court was moved back to Rome in 1376. Two “anti-popes” continued living and attempting to rule the Catholic church from Avignon for a further 39 years until finally being made to give up. The Palace then became a residence of the legates of Rome but without investment it became quite dilapidated.

Palais des Papes today

For a while, incredibly, the Palace became a prison as well as barracks for French soldiers. After the French Revolution, this magnificent building was turned into quarters for the army. Inevitably parts of the building were destroyed. The stunning floor tiles that can be seen in just a few of the rooms were pulled up and chucked out of the windows. Some of the frescoes were covered over, mezzanine floors were installed. Damage was caused but strangely, the presence of the army saved it from being pulled down. And, amazingly, some rooms were untouched. The Palace retained enough of its original features that when in the early 1900s it’s magnificence was recognised and opened to the public, there was enough left to impress and to restore.

It is the biggest Gothic palace in the world covering a whopping 15000 square metres.

What to see at the Palais des Papes

Nowadays the UNESCO listed Palace hosts art exhibitions in many of its rooms including the kitchen which is big enough that it once roasted up to 50 oxen, the smoke and immense heat being drawn up its huge chimney.

Some rooms are intact with brightly coloured ceilings gilded and bright with precious lapis lazuli and gold There are beautiful frescoes – the intact Pope’s bedroom is stunning, and in the rooms where the floor tiles are still in place – there’s sublime wow factor. To stand at the Indulgence Window as Popes once did to give blessings to the faithful is quite a strange experience, I could imagine the people below and the Pope waving his arm over them under a typically blue Avignon sky.

If you’re there in the summer a fabulous son et Lumière takes place in the grand courtyard (in English and French) – it’s something you’ll never forget as the walls of the palace are painted with light in a magical presentation.

Also in the summer, the internationally famous Festival of Avignon takes place, with shows in the Palais des Papes as well as throughout the town.

You can take a backstage visit of the Palais des Papes with a guided tour at weekends (via the tourist office) and see private chambers, bathrooms, wardrobes, terraces, chapels and gardens which aren’t open to tourists as a matter of course.

If you go to Avignon, you can’t not visit this amazing historic palace – you won’t be disappointed…

Practical Info

For the son et Lumiere show, les Luminessences d’Avigon, and the Festival of Avignon book in advance online or via the tourist office.

Avignon train station can be reached from Paris in around 2 hours 30 minutes and there are loads of trains daily. You can go direct by Eurostar from London in summer months.

www.palais-des-papes.com; www.avignon-tourism.com; www.provenceguide.com

Related Articles

5 villages to fall in love with in Provence

Provence is one of the most popular destinations for holiday makers in France, once visited and you’ll always yearn to return. There are more than 800 villages and towns in this area of France and everyone will have their own preference but here are 5 of our favourites in lovely Provence… Avignon With its historic […]

Continue Reading

Chateau de Sully, Saone-et-Loire Burgundy

Madame de Sévigné, a 17th century aristocrat who is remembered thanks to her fabulous letter writing skills, called the courtyard of the Chateau de Sully “the most beautiful in France”. She wasn’t wrong, it is a huge space, perfect for partying aristos and surrounded by the walls of the fabulous castle. The Chateau de Sully […]

Continue Reading

Chateau d’Ancy-le-Franc Yonne Burgundy

The Chateau d’Ancy-le-Franc was built in the Renaissance style in the middle of 123 acres of parkland in Yonne, the heart of Burgundy. It is one of the first French castles to have been built to a design that was set out on paper. Before then, castles tended to be designed as they went along. […]

Continue Reading

Fabulous and fragrant Fragonard Perfume Museum Paris

In the shadow of the grand Paris Opera house lies a small and unique museum. The Musée de Pafum Fragonard is not one of the big museums that everyone visits, it’s not that well-known at all in fact, but it’s definitely worth seeking out. The Musée de Parfum The Musée de Parfum Fragonard is located […]

Continue Reading

Chateau de Germolles, Saône-et-Loire, Burgundy

The ancient chateau de Germolles in Burgundy is really quite extraordinary. Not just for its gorgeous good looks and its wonderful history but because in one of the rooms the original wall decoration dating to the 14th century is still intact and very beautiful. The best preserved residence of the Dukes of Burgundy The Chateau […]

Continue Reading

Subscribe

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed

Comments are closed.

Top