On Day 3 of our Viking River Cruise, we returned to Avignon. With our whisper boxes in hand, we set off on foot that morning for our included excursion to tour the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) and the historic center. (A whisper box is a headset that enables the wearer to better hear the tour guide.)
Once inside the ramparts, we meandered through the medieval streets while our guide pointed out several buildings on our way to the Popes’ Palace. Incidentally, you can walk the ramparts which I would like to do next time.
The Palace of the Popes is the largest gothic palace in Europe and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Why, you may wonder did the papacy relocate to Avignon, France in 1309? Pope Boniface VIII had earlier issued two edicts; one prohibited taxation of the clergy and the other asserted the supremacy of papal authority over temporal authority. Philip IV, King of France, objected to these edicts and responded by taking Boniface prisoner for a short time and the Pope died soon after his release. When Pope Clement V from France was elected, he reached an agreement with King Philip to settle in Avignon where the papacy would remain for nearly 70 years. This period was known as the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, in reference to the 70-year Jewish exile in Babylon.
The Palace of the Popes actually consists of two palaces; construction of the Old Palace commenced in 1335 under Pope Benedict XII and the New Palace was completed less than 20 years later by Pope Clement VI. The model below shows just how vast the complex is, covering 15,000 square meters (over 161,000 square feet).
Photography of the priceless frescoes in the private apartments and chapels of the Palace of the Popes was not allowed but I took several photos of the video shown to illustrate the beauty.
The acoustics are absolutely amazing in this chapel. When none of us volunteered to sing, our guide sang for us. I could hear her all the way at the other end of the chapel. Listen to her.
Sadly, many of the sculptures were beheaded during the French Revolution. If you look closely, you can see the heads are missing on the archway of the doors below.
Following the departure of the papacy, the Catholic Church maintained ownership of the palace until the French Revolution. Under the subsequent Napoleonic rule, the palace was used as a military barracks and prison until 1906 when it became a national museum and restoration began. Today the Palace of the Popes doesn’t compare to the lavish splendor of the Vatican in Rome, but I imagine in the 14th century when it was filled with tapestries and treasures, it would have come close.
I was excited that we were headed next to Les Halles, the indoor market. On our way, we stopped at Basilique St. Pierre to see the intricately carved walnut doors and the gold-gilded Renaissance altar.
I purchased a large package of herbes de Provence from the spice stall to use at home and bring back memories of the time and food we enjoyed in Provence.
My daughter-in-law likes macarons so I purchased some of those, too, to take home to her. Then they served macarons on our ship a couple days later.
We accomplished all of this in the morning, then headed back to the ship for lunch before our optional excursion that afternoon to Pont du Gard. Check back for my next post. Pont du Gard was truly amazing.
Based on events from November 2016.
Tour guide engaged by Viking