Finally Dancing on the Bridge in Avignon, France

Pont Avignon

When I first started French lessons in middle school, my instructor taught us a popular French folk song, “Sur le pont d’Avignon” or “On the Bridge in Avignon.” According to the song “On the bridge in Avignon, we all dance, again and again.” I don’t know why, but this common and somewhat annoying song has always stuck with me and when I learned I would be visiting Avignon, I wanted to do nothing more than see this damnable bridge for myself.

I had a guide for my short visit in Avignon, Dutch by birth but French by choice. She loved her city and was eager to show me as much of this large, wealthy and beautiful city in southern France during the day I had there. As we toured the famous and massive Pope’s Palace, I couldn’t concentrate on the history or the old rooms. Instead all I could think about was the bridge, THE BRIDGE. It had to be close by, I could almost feel it calling me. In my head I always envisioned a foot bridge of sorts, I have no idea why. I’d never actually researched the bridge before, so all I had to go on was just an initial impression formed when I was thirteen years old.

Pont Avignon

Finally we exited the honestly lovely palace, crossed a park and walked by an overlook point when I caught something out of the corner of my eye. I walked over and saw a bridge, but only half of one. This strange looking bridge only extended partway over the Rhône River, stopping for no apparent reason other than laziness it seemed. My guide leaned over and whispered, “That is THE bridge.”

Pont Avignon

So it wasn’t a foot bridge after all, it was a real, honest to goodness large bridge, except the aforementioned not going anywhere part. Turns out there is a real reason for that other than the ones I was busy making up in the head. Not surprisingly, the bridge did at one point actually span the river. It was originally built in the 12th century and was built up over time. But floods plagued the bridge and after one particularly catastrophic flood the city gave up trying to rebuild the massive structure. In medieval times there were also shops and restaurants under the land based spans of the bridge, which is where the song’s inspiration originated. People didn’t dance on top of the bridge per se, but they absolutely had festive times amongst the bars and markets under it.

I walked down the pathway and excitedly stepped across onto this famous bridge. I wasn’t the only one who looked charmed by the bridge, it appears that people from around the world have also been taught this globally famous song. Chinese, Italian, American, we were all there wistfully traversing the bridge, with vacant looks, obviously thinking about our middle school years.

Pont Avignon

I didn’t spend a lot of time on the bridge. After all, it is a half finished bridge in the middle of a large, southern French city. But as I left I wandered if it was worth it. Was finally doing a jig on the bridge in Avignon satisfy more than twenty years of pining? Sure, of course it did, because that song brought me to Avignon and while the bridge may not be all that interesting, the city in which it so dutifully sits is one of the true treasures of France.

Is there a place you’re inspired to visit because of a less than original reason?

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

14 thoughts on “Finally Dancing on the Bridge in Avignon, France”

  1. I was excited to visit Avignon for the very same reason! My younger daughter and I danced on the bridge – but, not surprisingly, my teenager would have no part of it.

  2. Most of my trips are solely food based. I’ve been to some pretty rural areas because I’ve heard that they originally made something [Parma ham, provencal stew, etc]. It could be something as small as “they’ve got good mussels in brussels,” and I’m there [mostly because it rhymed and not because I had any love for mussels – i actually hate the stuff.]

    Sadly, my lazy self didn’t want to walk down to the Avignon bridge so I took a picture of it from across the river during dinner one night. I think I might have had I known about this folk song…then again, i’m really awfully lazy sometimes…

  3. I don’t know about this song, but I had been dying to cross the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence for years and it was a magical moment when I actually did, it was a magical moment indeed. The gold glistened in the sun! Very much a fairy tale moment…much along the lines of your experience. Poignant narrative…

  4. We visited Avignon in the first week of July: the bridge is nice ( the danced under the bridge, not on it liek the song says ) but the Palais des Papes is just breathtaking ! Aix is a more charming city…Did you visit that city ?

  5. Fun story. I have a similar French song that I remember over everything else we learned in French class in junior high, wich was about the Champs Elysees. When I finally saw that street, it was beautiful, but seeing it hasn’t stopped that darn song from popping into my head again and again over the years. :)

  6. We learned that song at school too and it is an annoyingly catchy tune! Which dance did you do? I was hoping for photos of dancing! ;o)

  7. I once sat in the garden of a pizzeria with a beautiful view of the bridge, one warm summer’s evening that I’ll never forget. Avignon is a fantastic place, the bridge is even more magical at night when it’s lit up.

  8. Loved your story ! I was in Avignon 3 weeks ago ,,loved it (magical) and HAD to find that bridge!! I had heard stories of the dancing …so once on it (when few people were looking ) I did a quick dance! At 74 it was one of the things on my bucket list I got to finally tick off!

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