Avignon - Abbey Travel, Ireland

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Welcome to Avignon


Situated on the River Rhone, the historic holiday destination of Avignon is famed for being the Vatican of the 14th century; six successive Popes resided here from 1309, making it one of Europe's largest and most important cities of the time. The papacy retreated back to Rome in 1378, but this was just the beginning of a battle between the Italian capital and Avignon for control of the Church's riches and power.

Altogether Avignon was the seat for nine Popes, until the last, Pope Benedict XIII, fled into self-exile in 1409. Without the Pope, the city went into a decline that has been exacerbated ever since by floods, fire, the plague and the Le Mistral, the harsh wind that whistles down the Rhone valley in winter.

Avignon supposedly was named by the Celts who gave the area the name 'Avenio' or 'the town of violent winds'. Despite all this, Avignon has one of the best-preserved centres in France, a strong holiday attraction. Piercing the skyline are the beautiful spires of the Palais des Papes, and along the cobbled streets are countless richly decorated buildings, ancient churches and spectacular monuments and museums. Imposing medieval walls, built in 1403 by Pope Benedict, enclose the old town.

The yearly Avignon Festival draws performers and art enthusiasts from all over France every July. Despite the huge influx of tourists, which double the town's population of 100,000, this is a wonderful festival and a must-see for anyone on holiday in the Avignon area.

Information & Facts


Avignon is a compact city within fortified walls, so walking around the town is both easy and rewarding for viewing medieval architecture, gardens and squares. There are grand cathedrals and palaces from the Papal era; or for a different perspective, a particularly interesting neighbourhood is Quartier de La Balance, once inhabited by gypsies. There are several worthwhile museums, including the Musée Angladon, which houses art by Van Gogh and Modigliani.

French is the official language.

The Euro (EUR) is the official currency in France. Currency can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and some large hotels, though you will get a better exchange rate at the ATMs. Major credit cards are widely accepted, as are travellers cheques, particularly in major tourist destinations. Foreign currency is not accepted.


Avignon can be overrun with tourists during the festival, which takes place in July each year.


Avignon can be quite lively, though not a slick or trendy partying hotspot. Dress codes tend toward smart-casual, and bars stay open quite late. Most nightspots are centred around rue Carnot and the place du Palais. There are also several good live music venues to hear French jazz. Pick up a copy of the monthly event listings guide Rendez-Vous, free from the Avignon Tourist Office.


Provençal food is famous, and Avignon offers a number of places to sample its delicacies. The Restaurant l'Orangerie in Place Jerusalem is offers al fresco dining with a combination of Provençal and Corsican food in summer, and Terre de Saveur has a more Mediterranean flavour with good vegetarian options. Restaurant Christian Etienne enjoys a location next to the Palace of the Popes and an excellent reputation, but is among the most expensive eateries in town.


The flea market at Place des Carmes is worth visiting on Sunday mornings, with a range of interesting items. There is also a food market held Tuesdays through Sundays in Les Halles d'Avignon which offers cooking classes on Saturday mornings. Popular souvenirs from Avignon include traditional Provençal fabric, terra cotta pottery, and locally-made lavender products.

Local time is GMT +1 (GMT +2 between last Sunday in March and last Sunday in October).

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a medieval village on the side of a hill, dominated by the ruins of an ancient château towering above. The château was the pope's summer retreat from the Palais and although all that remains are the foundations and two outer walls, it is still an imposing sight and a wonderful viewpoint. The village below is a maze of well-restored medieval buildings and narrow streets that weave around the hillside. Today life in the village often involves working in the surrounding vineyards or selling the famous wine to the many tourists who visit.

Just north of Avignon, Orange was the former seat of the Counts of Orange, a title created in the 8th century and passed to the Dutch crown in the 16th century. The family's most famous member was Prince William, who ascended the English throne in 1689. Today the town is best known for its spectacular Roman theatre and triumphal arch, both of which remain remarkably intact. The rest of Orange isn't strikingly picturesque, however there are pleasant tree-lined streets and squares with some nice cafes and restaurants.

Towering over Avignon the imposing Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) is the symbol of the city's medieval power. The palace consists of the ascetic Old Palace, commissioned by Benedict XII, and the extravagant Gothic New Palace of Clement VI. It was built primarily as a fortress with massive outer walls, battlements and sluices for pouring hot oil onto attackers. Inside the palace, so little remains of the original interior that visitors could be mislead into believing that all the popes and their entourage were as virtuous as the last official occupant, Benedict XIII. In reality the interior was once elaborately decorated, displayed the decadence of the feuding cardinals and their mistresses. The fire of 1413 destroyed most of the decoration and furnishings, but evidence of the once magnificent interior remains including some frescoes, including one painted by Italian artist Matteo Giovannetti in the Great Audience Room. Visitors can take a fascinating tour of the palace taking in the Pope's Bedchamber, the Chapelle St-Martial and the Stag Room. Nearby, dwarfed by the palace, is the 12th-century Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms.

Just below the Palais des Papes, the Petit Palais contains a wonderful collection of 13th to 15th-century paintings and sculpture. Most are the work of Italian masters from that era and, as you progress through the 19 rooms, you can observe how they wrestled with and finally conquered the representation of perspective - a revolution from medieval art, where the size of figures depended on their importance rather than position. The highlights of the collection are Botticelli's sublime Virgin and Childand TheAngel of the Annunciationby Sano Di Pietro.

Behind the Petit Palais is the much photographed Pont d'Avignon, known best from the famous children's song of the same name. The bridge was originally built in the 12th century to shorten the journey for the busy traders ferrying their goods between the Mediterranean and Lyon. The torrents of the Rhône regularly damaged and brought down sections of the bridge and builders finally gave up repairing it in 1660, four centuries after it was built. Today only four of the original 22 arches remain. On the first of the bridge's bulwarks is the tiny Chapelle St-Nicholas, and this delicate Romanesque chapel, dedicated to St Nicholas, patron saint of bargemen, is well worth a visit.

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