Avignon: contemporary city with a rich history
Once the center of the Catholic world, the charming Provencal city of Avignon is now full of youthful energy, contemporary festivals and trendy boutiques. Surrounded by medieval ramparts and flanked on both sides by the Rhone, the historic center of Avignon is a charming place to stroll, admire the UNESCO-protected architecture and watch the people who walk through the many picturesque cobbled squares of the city.
Palais des Papes
Dominating the city skyline, the impressive Palais des Papes is the main attraction of Avignon and one of the most visited monuments in France. It was the seat of the papacy in the 14th century, a fortress included in the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1995 and it is the largest gothic palace in the world as well as has 25 rooms open to the public. Highlights of your visit to the Palais are certainly the private apartments of the popes and the chapels of Saint Martial and Saint John, both decorated with valuable frescoes by Matteo Giovannetti. Many events, art exhibitions and cultural activities are held at the Palais throughout the year, including the famous Les Luminessences d’Avignon and the legendary theatrical representations of the Festival d’Avignon.
Les Luminessences d’Avignon
Every summer in the courtyard of the Palais des Papes, is held Les Luminences d’Avignon, a 3D light show that tells the story of the popes in Avignon, using state-of-art technology. From August to October, over 100 magnificent shows accompanied by a narration in French and English, are projected on the ancient walls of the building, offering guests of all ages, a truly evocative experience.
To see the city in a livelier atmosphere, plan your visit during the Festival d’Avignon, which lasts about three weeks. Every summer, this world-renowned arts and entertainment event brings the city’s architectural treasures to life with theatrical performances, dances and music. Founded in 1947 by the French actor Jean Vilar, it is one of the biggest art festivals in the world, with over 40 performances, film screenings, poetry readings and exhibitions. Both free and paid events take place in more than twenty different locations around the city; places ranging from small chapels and open air places to great theaters and to the majestic historic buildings of Avignon. However, the most important is always the main courtyard of the Palais des Papes, known as the Cour d’Honneur.
One of the city’s landmarks, the Pont Saint-Bénézet, better known as Pont d’Avignon, is a medieval bridge built in the 12th century on the Rhone river with the purpose of connecting the historic center of Avignon with Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. The monument is famous worldwide thanks to the song for children Sur le Pont d’Avignon. Unfortunately, the mighty construction was progressively destroyed by flooding and nowadays only a small chapel and 4 of its 22 original arches are visible. A ticket of Euro 5 will allow you to visit the ruined bridge, but also know its history through a multimedia and interactive film.
Notre-Dame de Sénanque
Founded in 1148, Notre-Dame de Sénanque is a splendid Cistercian abbey about 50 km from Avignon, near the pretty hilltop village of Gordes. The monastery gardens are open to the public for recreational use and there is also a charming shop selling hand-made honey and lavender-based products. Guided tours of the abbey and its cloisters are available, so be sure to book in advance. If you are looking for a spiritual retreat, longer stays can be arranged for a minimum of € 30 per day. During the summer months it is worth renting a car from Avignon and drive here to admire the wonderful Romanesque architecture of the abbey and see some of the most iconic lavender fields in Provence, absolutely in full bloom.