It all started when the first French pope, Clement V, refused to move to Rome, and instead set up church-keeping in Avignon in 1309. Seven popes reigned at there, until Gregory XI moved his court to Rome in 1377. A breakdown in relations between the cardinals and Gregory’s successor gave rise to the Western Schism, a second line of Avignon popes, known as anti-popes. The schism ended in 1417 after only two popes had reigned in opposition to the papacy in Rome.
So much for history, and now on to real estate. Those popes did like to build, and each topped the other. Much of the existing complex is being restored to papal designs, but even after the Revolution and centuries of being re-purposed, the Papal Palace can still provide a strong sense of the wealth of the Papacy, and the imperialistic tendencies of its leaders. Many murals have been lost, but one can only imagine the vast chambers as they once were decorated. Our favorite room was a small one that only the pope and his CFO could enter, where they counted and stored the money in chambers under the floor, which have only just been excavated. Palace, court, reign – all words which accurately applied to the center of the Catholic Church in Avignon.
Naturally, we got close to the famous Pont d’Avignon, The four surviving arches on the bank of the Rhone are believed to have been built in around 1345. The Chapel of Saint Nicholas sits on the second pier of the bridge. It was constructed in the second half of 12th century but has since been substantially altered. Construction seems to be taking place on the bridge, but we could see its charms from above.
A vibrant city with ancient roots, Avignon was delightful, though the excess of the popes was – as always – a bit depressing. When did they decide to compete with kings? Oh well, on to the US election…