No, we’re not talking about the Vatican. For about 70 years, 7 successive popes ruled from Provence in the south of France. The history is very long and interesting, and si vous voulez connaitre l’histoire à fond (if you want to learn about it in depth), I’ve included 2 YouTube documentaries at the bottom. This post is going to focus on 15 facts that I find interesting. They range from the time of the popes to present day. Bonne lecture!
- In 1995, the Palais des Papes was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- The Pope’s Palace is the 10th most visited site in all of France. Je vous laisse deviner le premier… (I’ll let you guess the first…)
- The papacy in Avignon began with une gifle (a slap). Pope Boniface VIII had a well-known feud with French King Philip IV of France (Philippe Le Bel – Philip the Fair). There was a feud over taxes that eventually led to the Pope’s famous and extreme bull Unam sanctam which gave the power to the papacy. Philip condemns Boniface as a heretic, and Boniface excommunicates Philip. Boniface was captured in Italy by an army of Philip supporters and was asked to rescind the sanctum. The pope said he would rather die and was slapped by Sciarra Colonna (this event is known as the Anagni slap). Boniface was essentially tortured, and the city rallied to have Boniface released. He was, but he died a short time later, assumingly because of the result of his time as a prisoner. Benedict XI becomes pope and ignores the Unam sanctum. Grâce à cela (thanks to this), the French king is happy. Benedict dies a few months later, and French-born Clement V ascends to the throne. He refuses to leave France because Rome was not in good condition, and this is where the papacy begins in France.
- The palace’s construction began in 1292, a while before a pope would reside in France. Clement V stayed in a monastery in Avignon, and it was Pope John XXII who really got the construction going — he started the rebuilding and enlarging process of the original Bishop’s Palace. Benedict XII built the Old Palace, and Celement VI, the other “builder pope,” built the New Palace.
- The Pope’s Palace is la plus grande construction gothique du Moyen Âge (the largest Gothic Palace of the Middle Ages) in all of Europe.
- Even though 7 successive popes ruled in Avignon (after Clement V refused to move to Rome, the cardinals came to France), the pope was still bishop of Rome. He ruled in absentia.
- Clement VI decided to decorate the interior palace and contacted Italian painter Matteo Giovannetti to take charge. He brought in many painters from Europe who painted for a few years. Malheureusement (unforunately), with time, many of the paintings were lost. You can still see quite a few of them, though.
- The palace boasts over 650,000 visiteurs par an (visitors a year).
- «Il habite en Avignon» (He lives in Avignon) is a completely correct sentence. You’ve probably been taught that you should use the preposition à when saying you’re in a city, so why does this sentence use en, which is mostly used for countries? In 1348, Jeanne de Provence (Joana I) sold Avignon to the papacy. Avignon was thus no longer a city, but a papal state (it wasn’t ‘reattached’ to France until the Revolution). En Avignon refers to the papal state, but it has stuck, and it’s used today to say “in Avignon.” (There is another city in France that uses en instead of à. Connaissez-vous la ville? [Do you know the city?])
- After construction was completed, the palace had 12 tours (towers): 1) tour de Trouillas, 2) tour des Latrines ou de la Glacière, 3) tour des Cuisines, 4) tour Saint-Jean, 5) tour de l’Étude, 6) tour des Anges [or tour du pape], 7) tour du Jardin, 8) tour de la Garde-Robe, 9) tour Saint-Laurent, 10) tour de la Gache, 11) tour d’angle ou des Grands Dignitaires, and 12) tour de la Campane
- Habitez-vous en Avignon (Do you live in Avignon)? If you’ve never been in the palace or simply want to see it again, you can do it free if you live in Avignon! Tous les dimanches de septembre à juin, you have une entrée libre (free entry) to the palace (and the bridge!). You just need to show proof that you live in Avignon. I used mon bail (my lease), and I got in. You could also use une facture (a bill).
- Urban V completed the courtyard, called le Cour d’honneur. It’s an 1,800 metres carrés (meters squared) square with a view of the Old Palace at the north and east and a view of the New Palace at the south and west. Today, it is used as a huge stage for the world’s biggest theater festival (which Avignon has hosted for around 70 years). It is the biggest stage in the official theater festival (there is an unofficial branch that happens at the same time) and seats 2,000 people.
- Pope Gregory XI decided to move Papacy back to Rome in 1376. He died shortly after, and the College of Cardinals elected an Italian pope. It was the hope that the new pope, Urban VI, would keep the court in Rome. However, many Cardinals fled Rome after the election after the church split in two. They elected a pro-French pope by saying their prior election was invalid. This new pope, Clement VII, established his court back in Avignon. Both popes obviously wanted to remain pope, so they excommunicated and denounced each other. This era lasted from 1378 to 1403 and was known as the Papal Schism. It was a pretty bad time in Catholic history because it took away respect from the papacy. Don’t think this is the first time in history two people have claimed to be pope at the same time. Have you heard of Pope Michael?
- The Palace is also home to many art shows. In 1947, Christian Zeros and René Char organized an art exhibit. Visitors have seen works by Braque, Picasso, Matisse, and many more. Le palais se transforme aussi en roseraie chaque année (the palace also transforms into a rose garden each year) called ALTERAROSA. Here, you can learn how to grow and care for roses. You will also get to see a new rose creation each year that will be available in the fall!
- Similar to La fêtes des lumières, Avignon has its own light show every year. Called Les Luminessences d’Avignon, this show displays lights on the palace to tell a story. This year, it will be shown from August 12-October 3. Check it out if you can! If you can’t (or even if you can), here’s a video example:
And the documentaries:
In French: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H53c_mqD_s4
In English: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uU7GSf35oSY