Things to do in Avignon France – The Capital Town of Vaucluse
Avignon France, the capital town of Vaucluse (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur Region) and Côtes du Rhône (one of the biggest rivers in France), famous for its World’s Largest Gothic Edifice – Le Palais des Papes or the Palace of Popes. It was the capital of the papacy from 1309 to 1377.
Its historical center; the Avignon Cathedral, Pont d’Avignon, and Palais des Papes became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Avignon France was one of the European Cities of Culture in 2000. It is approximated that about 200,000 people live in Avignon. 16,000 of which live ‘Intra-Muros,’ or within the ramparts built in the 14th century.
Did you know that during the early 14th century, the popes lived in Avignon? Now you know!
Avignon France was the center of the Roman Catholic world.
History of Avignon’s Papacy
In 1309, the city, still part of the Kingdom of Arles. Chosen by Pope Clement V as his residence at the time of the Council of Vienne. Avignon was the seat of the Papacy rather than Rome.
At the time the city and its surroundings were ruled by the kings of Sicily of the House of Anjou.
The French King Philip the Fair, who had inherited from his father all the rights of Alphonse de Poitiers. Made them over to Charles II, King of Naples and Count of Provence.
Avignon became the Pontifical residence under Pope Clement V in 1309. His successor, John XXII, a former bishop of the diocese, made it the capital of Christianity. And transformed his former episcopal palace into the primary Palace of the Popes.
According to the record, the papal library in Avignon was the largest in Europe in the 14th century with 2,000 volumes.
The Clementine Chapel called the Grande Chapelle. Attracted composers, singers, and musicians including Philippe de Vitry, inventor of the Ars Nova, and Johannes Ciconia.
Overall, there were seven popes and two anti-popes resided in Avignon. Clement V, John XXII, Benedict XII, Clement VI, Innocent VI, Urban V, and Gregory XI. The two other Anti-Popes were Clement VII and Benedict XIII.
Things to do in Avignon
On the other hand, Avignon is now best known for its annual Arts Festival (in July), the largest in France. The rest of its main attractions are hidden in its rampart-ringed old town, medieval bridge, enticing squares, city of art and culture, theatre, cinema, museums, and many more.
Visiting Avignon France would be an enjoyable discovery of the history of the country. You can spend days wandering the neighborhoods within the city walls, and I promised, you’ll never get bored.
Strolling a day in Avignon is very exciting. There are tons of places to visit in this city. Among those on my lists would be the historic city center. Including the Popes’ Palace, all the apostolic structures, and the Saint Bénézet Bridge (which are listed as world heritage sites by UNESCO)
Visit the Temple St Martial
Temple St Martial located just beside the Avignon tourism office. Adjacent to it was a large beautiful garden, and a square (Square Agricol Perdiguier) next to the main street of Avignon.
This church has unique High Gothic spires. It is named after the first Bishop of Limoges and was built in the middle of the 14th century. Then there was a revolution. From 1881, it became the main Protestant church of Avignon. Featuring a very interesting architecture.
Take a peek of the Hotel de Ville of Avignon
For other European cities, Hotel de Ville or the Town Hall/City Hall is one of the most visited places in the area.
However, in Avignon France, it is not that highlighted on their must-visit places. Though it’s an underdog spot for tourist to render, I would still recommend you to take a peek of how beautiful is this historic hall.
Hotel de Ville lies in the Place de l’horloge, just right beside the Rue de la Republique (street). On the other side of the building, you’ll also see the Beffroi d’Avignon with its grandiose Gothic roof.
Wander in the expressive streets of the city
From all the cities and towns in France, Paris outstands when it comes to people expressing through posters or what they call it ‘affiche’ to convey or communicate or announce something to the citizens.
Well, if you visit Avignon, one of its inherited traits is also these expressive streets filled with caricature posters/announcements.
You will see jillions of them all over the city, the main road heading to the historic center would be the extreme one. The streets are absolutely overflowed with these posters. From the narrow to the big streets you will see it everywhere.
Street Artists of Avignon
Galloping like a kid in the street heading to the historic center of Avignon, I’ve floundered into some of the street artists of the city. In the beginning, I was anxious to ask if I can take photos of ‘une toile’ or pieces or arts exposed in the streets.
But later on, when I’ve encountered another artist, (he was friendly) so I ask for photos. And he did agree, I was pretty happy not worrying about the artist’s reaction.
If you’re a street art and artisan product lover, then you’d be glad to stroll in the streets of Avignon.
See for yourself the Largest Gothic Palace ever built
One of the ideal things to do in Avignon, of course, is to visit the largest Gothic palace ever built in the world. (15,000 m2 of floor space, which is the equivalent of 4 Gothic cathedrals). The Palais des Papes erected by Pope Clement V. Stands as the mighty symbol of the church’s influence throughout the western Christian world.
Its enormous scale illustrates the medieval might of the Roman Catholic church. It has been inscribed as a World Heritage site by Unesco since 1995.
Encompassed by 3m-thick walls, its cavernous halls, chapels, and antechambers are largely bare today. The palace served as the seat of papal power for seven decades.
Its Highlights include 14th-century chapel frescos by Matteo Giovannetti and the Chambre du Cerf with medieval hunting scenes. Papal palace, once rival to the Vatican, with 25 open rooms, frescoes & cultural events. The Popes’ Palace also offers the visitor continuous cultural activities throughout the year.
Take a stop at the Avignon Cathedral
Avignon Cathedral located next to the Palais des Papes in Avignon France, is the seat of the Archbishop of Avignon.
The cathedral is a Romanesque building, constructed primarily in the second half of the 12th century.
It was abandoned and allowed to deteriorate during the Revolution. But it was reconsecrated and restored by the archbishop Célestin Dupont.
One of the most outstanding features of the cathedral is a gilded statue of the Virgin Mary (weighing 4.5 tonnes) atop the bell tower which was erected in 1859.
The interior of the cathedral contains many works of art. The most famous of these is the mausoleum of Pope John XXII and a 14th-century Gothic edifice. The cathedral was listed as a Monument Historique in 1840.
Visit the famous Pont d’Avignon
Pont Saint-Bénézet is also known as the Pont d’Avignon, a famous medieval bridge in Avignon France. It is a wooden 900m-long bridge crossing the Rhône between Villeneuve-lès-Avignon and Avignon.
Legend says, Pastor Bénézet (a former shepherd) had three visions urging him to build a bridge across the Rhône. It was rebuilt several times before all but four of its 22 spans were washed away in the 1600s, leaving the far side marooned in the middle of the Rhône.
The bridge has achieved worldwide fame through its commemoration by the song ‘Sur le Pont d’Avignon’ (‘On the Bridge of Avignon’). It is known as Pont d’Avignon after the nursery rhyme: ‘Sur le pont d’Avignon/L’on y danse, l’on y danse…’ (On Avignon Bridge, all are dancing)
Splurge into the Souvenir Boutiques
Normally, I would recommend souvenir shopping at the end of your visit or tour. But since Avignon is congested with beautiful and attractive souvenirs to buy, I would surely let you splurge into your ultimate desire.
Various souvenir shops are ranging from artisanal products to industrial ones. There are magnets, stuff toys, bags, shirts, soaps, and many more. We’ve stopped in one of the shops near the Pont St-Bénézet, the prices weren’t that exaggerated either, so it was a fair deal.
Ideal souvenirs that I would recommend for you are Lavender products, Herbes de Provence, Honey, Fabrics, some Jams, and Tapenades. If you are a fan of artisanal jewelry and hand made bags, then you can take time to choose your perfect souvenir.
Other Places to visit in Avignon, France
Apart from what I have stated for the things to do in Avignon, France. There are many places that you should check out. Like the Musée du Petit Palais which houses outstanding collections of primitive and pre-Rennaissance.
Musée Angladon harbors an impressive collection of realist and expressionist treasures. Including works by Cézanne, Sisley, Manet, Modigliani, Degas, and Picasso.
On the other hand, there’s Musée Lapidaire, housed inside the town’s striking Jesuit Chapel. With the archaeological collection of the Musée Calvet.
And finally, Basilique St-Pierre lies in the center of the walled city of Avignon, was built between the 14th and 16th centuries in the Flamboyant Gothic style.
Things To Do in Avignon France