Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Pont d'Avignon


I was very sad to leave Bourdeaux, but the next stop on Bill's agenda was a place he'd 'always wanted to see'.   I'm not certain that I'd ever heard of Avignon before he started planning this trip, but then I'm a complete Philistine.  I did happen to start reading a great book, Seven Ages of Paris, Portrait of a City by Alistair Horne, a few weeks before our trip to France, although Paris was not one of our destinations.  I'm sure I don't remember much of the book - so I'll have to read it again sometime - but I did take note of the mention of Avignon.

Bridge d'Avignon on the Rhône River

It seems that Philippe le Bel, AKA Philip IV of France (1268-1314), was in desperate need of money and he turned his eyes to the Vatican as a potential source, something none of his forebears had dared.   He arranged to have the Pope, Boniface VIII, abducted from the papal palace at Anagani and attempted to force him to abdicate.  Boniface declined, but died a month later; his successor died after only nine months (no surprise, poisoning was suspected).  Philip 'the Fair' must refer to his looks because it certainly didn't pertain to his practises.  Anyhow, he managed to get a friend elected as the next Pope, called Clement V, who was crowned at Lyon and settled into the Bishop's Palace at Avignon.   

The Knights Templar were a military order involved not only in the Crusades but in finance.  Both the King of England and Philip IV of France were heavily indebted to this order.  Philip arranged through Clement to have the order 'investigated' and members of the Knights Templar were tortured by the Inquisitors.  The dissolution of the order conveniently released Philip from his debts.

Officially named Pont Saint-Bénezet, this bridge was built between 1171 and 1185.

This period is known as the Babylonian Captivity of the Popes at Avignon, a period which lasted around 75 years.   Horne says that Dante (you know, author of Divine Comedy?) was shocked by all this, although he despised Boniface.  It reminded me of our visit to Dante's house a couple of years ago where I read about the conflicts between the royalty and the church in Italy.  We'll visit the Pope's Palace in a future post.  

Repeatedly lost to floods and rebuilt, it was abandoned after the flood of 1668.

Another thing Avignon is known for is its "Bridge to Nowhere".  Apparently British children grow up singing about it.  You can hear it here if you like.  We could have walked across the bridge but Bill was aghast that they wanted to charge 5 Euros for the privilege.  I wasn't that fussed, so we just snapped photos.

Only four of the original 22 arches remain.

July is an interesting time to visit Avignon.  There is Bastille Day on the 14th, celebrated much like the American 4th of July with fireworks.  There was a theatre festival going on there, but I gather there is some sort of festival going on in Avignon year round. 

This bridge is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

It's also hot.  Theoretically the average high in July is 86 F / 30 C, but I'm not sure I believe this.  Maybe it was the lack of air con or the proximity of our bed to the roof of the motorhome, but it was hot.  And I admit that I do get a bit cranky when I'm sweltering.  Also, we stayed at a municipal camp only about a mile from the city centre.  A neighbouring hotel seemed to be having a music festival for X Factor failures.  There was some sort of practise session mid afternoon, when it was just funny.   The real show started at about 11 pm and went on for several nights until about 2 am, when it was absolutely not funny. 

Finally, we had our first experience with le Mistral.  It was a blessed relief from the heat, but I did sometimes worry if we were going to wake up in Kansas (or is that not in Kansas?).   Then again, being blown away would have provided escape from that horrible 'singing'!


Suburban Princess said...

Surely you sang the song Sur Le Pont D'Avignon at some point right? Heard it playing somewhere?

Shelley said...

SP - I actually never ever did hear or sing that song. We did Frere Jacques and one other that escapes my brain just now. Being in Canada, I suspect you were very familiar with Sur Le Pont D'Avignon!