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The Bishop's Palace, Avignon

 The Bishop's Palace, Avignon, seen from across the Rhone River, at sunset

In the 14th century Pope Clement V moved the seat of the papacy from Rome to Avignon, basically because the Church was bankrupt. The Palace complex sits at the highest point of the city, overlooking the River Rhône; outwardly it's rather a grim fortress, but inside the buildings are lavishly decorated and painted. Unfortunately, we arrived too late for the tour. The papacy moved back to Rome in 1377.

Part of the palace is used as a conference centre now; and ‘medieval banquets’ and social events are held here.


The Pont St Benezet, Avignon

The smaller picture is of the Pont St-Benezet. Benezet was a poor but pious 12th century shepherd who was so appalled by the misfortunes of people trying to cross the Rhône by boat, that he undertook to build a bridge across the river. With the blessing of the local bishop he managed to raise the money, and got the bridge built. I can only wonder how they managed it. The Rhône is managed for flood control and hydro-electric power today – there are 16 dams on its course in France alone – but it drains almost all the French Alps and crossing it in spring and summer must have been a terrifying prospect. Part of the bridge was swept away by floods in the 17th century, and Benezet's remains were moved to a church in Avignon.

The Pont St Benezet is the ‘pont’ (bridge) in the traditional French song ‘Sur le Pont d'Avignon’ which speaks of people dancing beneath the bridge. Maybe that was possible in autumn if the river was low enough – perhaps the people danced to celebrate a successful grape harvest!

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