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2005 AD: Avignon, France

Once the spiritual and temporal residence of seven popes and two antipopes Avignon is steeped in a rich albeit turbulent history and has anything but lost its pious character and imposing if not at times pompous architecture. In exile from Rome, the Avignon Papacy ruled from 1309 until 1377 and left a lasting legacy of grandeur on this once unimportant hamlet on the eastbank of the river Rhône. The city is heavily fortified by an eight metre high city wall once surrounded by a deep moat and garnished with ramparts and slits and reinforced by more than 30 large and 50 smaller towers. This and the papal seat itself, the splendid Le Palais des Papes with its six metre thick walls and build up against a rocky outcrop known as Le Rocher les Doms, will almost certainly have provided its devout occupants with an infallible sense of 'earthly' security.

 [click on an image for a larger view]

On the same Le Rocher les Doms a hilltop garden sitting against the backdrop of the Cathédrale Notre Dame des Doms offers a fabulous panorama of the surrounding region over the Rhône valley and towards the medieval town of Villeneuve-lez-Avignon. Further afield sits, unmistakenly, the Mont Ventoux, its barren peak elevated by some 1,909 metres and covered in white limestone deposits, its flanks regularly playing host to one of the most gruelling ascents in the Tour de France bicycle race. Directly down below is Avignon's perhaps most well-known asset: the four arches which survived the original total of twenty-two of the Pont Saint-Bénezet, otherwise known as Le Pont d'Avignon and made famous by the children song: "Sur le pont d'Avignon, L'on y danse tous en rond, Les bell' dames font comm' çà, Et puis encore comm' çà." I assume that this spectacle included all but the city's papal clergymen.

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Published on 12.06.2006 by Sjaak van der Sar   –   Leave critique or other comments