Provence - Avignon









Sights in Avignon & Pont du Gard

In 1309, in an unprecedented move, Pope Clement V decided that Rome was no longer suitable for the papal seat and so he moved the seat of the Catholic church to Avignon.  He died in 1314, but another six French popes followed, and Avignon became a cultural center with a flourishing university.  Starting in 1378 there were two Popes sitting simultaneously, one in Avignon and the other in Rome.  Finally in the early 1400s the Papal seat was fully returned to Rome.

Today the Palais des Papes or Papal Palace is a highlight of a visit to Avignon.  The Palace is composed of two buildings built one after the other in the mid 1300s.  Quite different than the Vatican in Rome, this palace was fortified to withstand attacks from enemies.  You'll find battlements, turrets, arrow slits and deadly gateways.  After the pope returned to Rome, so did the majority of the precious art and relics.  Today the interior is empty except for tapestries and frescos.  You can tour the palace by audio guide and imagine what the furnishings would have been.  The cost is $9.00 and the hours are from 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM, shorter in off-season.

After a visit to the palace, you can climb up to the Rocher des Doms.  This park offers views over the town and its famous bridge, the Pont St-Bénezet.  This medieval bridge was once nearly 3000 feet long and had 22 arches.  A flood in the 17th century reduced it to 4 arches and now it has been made famous by a children's song "Sur le Pont d"Avignon".  You can pay ($4.00) to walk out onto the bridge remains.  

Pont du Gard

In the year 19 BC the Romans selected a small spring near the town of Uzés to provide water for the large city of Nimes.  There were two obstacles, Uzés was 35 miles from Nimes and there was a river in a valley between the two.  For the Romans, neither of these obstacles were real problems.  In a matter of 5 years a 35 mile long stone canal was built with an aqueduct to span the river's valley. 

Today Pont du Gard, or bridge of the Gard, is considered one of the best preserved Roman sites in all of Europe.  You can cross the aqueduct on its lower level and climb into the surrounding hills for wonderful views.  As you cross over it, try to imagine this being built over 2000 years ago.  The stones are perfectly carved and placed so that no mortar is used to hold it together.  On warm days you can swim in the Gard River below the aqueduct.  Considering hiking upstream a bit and then floating down.  

Recently a new complex opened at the sight.  The Grand Expo includes an interactive museum about Roman life and the use of water, a 25 minute film and a cafeteria.  While there is no cost for the Pont du Gard (except parking-$5), the Expo costs $15 (includes parking), with discounts for families.  While the Expo closes before dark you can stay on the grounds until midnight.  A real treat is to stay into the evening to see this ancient wonder illuminated against the night sky. 


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