Although my time in the ancient city of Avignon was short, I was determined to see and do as much as possible. Most people are familiar with this southern French town from the children’s song “On the bridge in Avignon,” but as I learned there’s much more to this city. One of the most remarkable features of Avignon is how very beautiful it is and out of all of the amazing views, these three were my favorite.
1. Pope’s Palace – One of the most recognizable sites in Avignon is the old Pope’s Palace, a massive castle that was the home of the Roman Catholic Church in the 14th century. The Avignon Papacy and the following Papal Schism marks a confusing and violent time in the history of the church and of Europe, all of which can be seen in this well fortified palace. Today it is invaded daily not by armed foes but by camera toting tourists, intent on trying to capture this immense building in one shot. My favorite view is one of the first most visitors have as they enter the massive square immediately in front of the Palace. The scene is always chaotic but don’t let this take away from the experience. Just ignore the people eating at the overpriced cafes and soak up the moment and imagine what it must have been like standing at that very same spot centuries ago.
2. The Bridge – I couldn’t have a round up of favorite Avignon views without mentioning the famous bridge. The bridge may disappoint the first time you see it because it’s really only half a bridge. 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 as they do in the song, but they absolutely had festive times amongst the bars and markets under it. I had waited decades to see this bridge in person and one of my favorite moments in France was being able to do a jig on top of the mighty bridge.
3. Main square – After traveling through small villages in France I was surprised at how big and active Avignon is. Just as it has always been, Avignon is still a very wealthy city, a fact that can be seen in the variety of shops and homes around town. It’s also home to a large student population that creates a much livelier atmosphere than in neighboring towns and villages. Walking around town on a sunny summer morning, it seemed as if the entire city was out to run their errands. The markets were packed as well as the high-end shops, everyone keen on getting their chores done so they could relax in the warm sunshine. That’s why my third favorite image is of a large square in town, packed with people of all types and persuasions intent on completing their missions and enjoying the beauty of Avignon on a beautiful day.