Guide to the Famous Avignon Bridge St-Bénézet (Pont d’Avignon)
Welcome to Avignon France’s UNESCO World Heritage Site Pont Saint-Bénézet famously known as Le Pont d’Avignon. One of the most famous monuments in the world. Using similar engineering to the Pont du Gard (one of the world’s most famous Roman aqueducts).
Avignon Bridge was the inspiration for the song Sur le pont d’Avignon, sung by many people and children throughout France. It is considered a landmark of the city and attracts more than 300,000 visitors per year.
In the Middle Ages, the Saint Bénézet bridge was part of one of the most important pilgrimage routes between Italy and Spain. It would become fundamental to the pontifical court, which settled in Avignon in the 14th century.
Pont d’Avignon is a wooden bridge, spanning the Rhône between Villeneuve-lès-Avignon and Avignon was built between 1177 and 1185.
This early bridge was destroyed forty years later during the Albigensian Crusade when Louis VIII of France laid siege to Avignon. The bridge was at that time the most direct link between the many residences that the cardinals had built and the Popes’ Palace situated inside the city walls.
History of St-Bénézet
The bridge of Avignon was started in 1177. 980 meters long, it had 22 arches and measured 4 meters wide. It was built in only 8 years, taking until 1185.
In 1226, the bridge was destroyed during the siege of the city by Louis VIII of France. But beginning in 1234 it was rebuilt.
From the 17th century on, the city could no longer bear the costs of the bridge’s maintenance and repairs.
Following strong flooding of the Rhône in 1603, one arch collapsed. Then three others in 1605. Repair work didn’t start until1628, in 1633, two new arches were swept away by the Rhône.
The bridge threatened so much to collapse that the relics of Saint Bénézet were taken from St Nicolas Chapel in 1674. They were transferred to the Celestine cloister.
After being moved several times and desecration in 1791, there remained just a few bits from the mortal remains, which are now kept in the cathedral of Notre-Dame-des-Doms.
The Bridge’s Legend
The bridge’s construction was inspired by Saint Bénézet. A shepherd boy from the hamlet of Villard in the Ardèche. Who according to tradition, while tending his flock he heard the voice of Jesus Christ asking him to build a bridge across the river.
Although he was ridiculed at first, he dramatically proved his divine inspiration by miraculously lifting a huge block of stone. He won the support for his project and formed a Bridge Brotherhood to oversee its construction.
After his death, he was interred on the bridge itself in a small chapel standing on one of the bridge’s surviving piers on the Avignon side.
Sur le Pont d’Avignon Song
The Pont St-Bénézet is so famous it even has its song, Sur Le Pont d’Avignon (On the Bridge of Avignon) as the bridge is more commonly known. The bridge has achieved worldwide fame through its commemoration by the song.
An earlier song with the same title was popular in the 16th and 17th centuries. The melody was published by Ottaviano Petrucci in his Harmonice Musices Odhecaton of 1503-4.
The 16th-century composer Pierre Certon used the melody in a mass with the title of Sur le Pont d’Avignon. The modern version of the song dates from the mid-19th century when Adolphe Adam.
It was included in the opéra comique Le Sourd ou l’Auberge pleine which was first performed in Paris in 1853. The opera was an adaptation of the 1790 comedy by Desforges.
Here’s the lyrics of the song:
Sur le pont d’Avignon
l’on y danse,
l’on y danse
Sur le pont d’Avignon
l’on y danse tous en rond
Les beaux messieurs font comme ça
Et puis encore comme ça
Les belles dames font comme ça
Et puis encore comme ça
Visiting Saint Bénézet
The bridge is located in Boulevard de la Ligne, 84000 Avignon, France. Visiting the bridge, you can learn about the human and scientific features required for its construction in the digital space.
A 3D display shows the bridge linking the two banks, spanning across from Avignon to Villeneuve-lès-Avignon in 1550. Touchscreen tablets in French and English offer a lively guided tour of the monument, taking you through its chequered history.
Audio guides available in 11 languages, with a special audio guide designed for 8-16-year-olds. Free entry for under 8 yrs old.
You can find St-Bénézet’s entrance in 14 Rue Ferruce in the city. You can buy tickets on the spot, or, otherwise, you can do it online. Tickets are 5 euros per adult. You can avail of the audio guide for free and choose your desired language.
For our case, we bought the tickets in the ticketing office of Avignon on the spot. We have 3 tickets for 3 adults and 1 entree pass for my niece (under 8yrs old). You can get a discount as well if you are a student (just don’t forget to bring your ID with you)
After claiming everything needed, you can now start the tour. You can enter the bridge’s entrance and there, you’ll see some of the expositions about the details and history of the bridge.
In the first part of the entrance (gatehouse), you’ll see some of the example woods that the bridge was made of, techniques of the construction of the bridge, and other information.
We visited the whole area of the gatehouse and read some of the information that is provided. Next to visit is the bridge itself. Walking at the historic bridge, you would surely be curious how long is the bridge and where’s the end of it.
Chapel Saint Nicolas
First, I’d like to recommend you to visit the Chapel Saint Nicolas, it sits on a platform on the upstream side of the second pier, between the second and third arches. The bridge chapel has undergone several phases of reconstruction and restoration.
It is now divided into two floors, each with a nave and an apse. The upper floor is on a level with the platform of the bridge and reduces the width of the walkway to 1.75 m (5.7 ft).
The bridge was also the site of devotion by the Rhône boatmen, whose patron saint was Saint Nicholas. According to the history, people initially worshipped in Saint Nicholas Chapel on the bridge itself, but the increasing dilapidation of the bridge made access difficult.
Views from the Bridge
Most people think that Avignon Bridge has a great view from outside. However, the funny unexpected side is that Le Pont d’Avignon offers a great view of the city and the Rhone river as well.
The surviving four arches of the Pont St-Bénézet look pretty good from different angles but the views from the bridge are quite exceptional too.
Here are some of the photos that I’ve collected whilst on our visit to this UNESCO World Heritage site.
Avignon Bridge St-Bénézet