Avignon and Old Bridge Songs

Avignon and Bridge songs    SATURDAY MAY 19, 2012

Surely we almost all can remember the silly little song we learned in grade school about the bridge in Avignon.  I can almost sing it still but have long ago forgotten what the words meant.  So somewhat delighted to be traveling to Avignon today to see said bridge!    So another buffet breakfast at our three tables and away we go in the bus – but wait!  This morning there is a wonderful market outside of our hotel.  It is selling everything from fruits and vegetables and cheese and meats to purses, clothes, shoes, ceramics and more.  All of us got up in time to be able to enjoy breakfast and then take a stroll through the markets.  I so wanted to buy some cheeses and sausages but it’s a little hard to take them home in the luggage allowance plus with what I already have.  I did find a nice woven basket that will do nicely for my “purse” on the plane allowing me to have a few more things out of the suitcase so I won’t go over my weight limit.  Also found some nice olive oil to take home and some cherries to have for supper tonight.

We finally have to leave for Avignon and I notice that several of the other ladies are carrying their new “purses” made of the woven basket material as well.  We all did well!

Avignon isn’t just known for its bridge.  It also has the Popes Palace.  It was built in 1272 A.D. because Pope Clement V wasn’t too happy to stay in Rome with some violent outbreaks there.  Again from the site:   http://www.sacred-destinations.com/france/avignon-palais-des-papes

“””The star attraction of Avignon is the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes), a vast castle of significant historic, religious and architectural importance. It is one of the largest and most important medieval Gothic buildings in Europe.


Avignon became the home of the popes in 1309, who were fleeing the violent chaos of Rome. The Palais was built between 1335 and 1364 on a natural rocky outcrop at the northern edge of Avignon, overlooking the river Rhône. The site was formerly occupied by the old episcopal palace of the bishops of Avignon.

The Palais des Papes was built in two main phases with two distinct segments, known as the Palais Vieux (Old Palace) and Palais Neuf (New Palace). By the time of its completion, it occupied an area of 2.6 acres. The building was enormously expensive, consuming much of the papacy’s income during its construction.

The Palais Vieux was constructed by the architect Pierre Poisson of Mirepoix at the instruction of Pope Benedict XII. The austere Benedict had the old episcopal palace razed and replaced with a much larger building centred on a cloister, heavily fortified against attackers. Its four wings are flanked with high towers.

Under Popes Clement VI, Innocent VI and Urban V, the building was expanded to form what is now known as the Palais Neuf. Jean de Louvres was commissioned by Clement VI to build a new tower and adjoining buildings, including a 52m-long Grand Chapel to serve as the location for papal acts of worship.

Two more towers were built under Innocent VI, and Urban V completed the main courtyard (known as the Court d’Honneur) with further buildings enclosing it. The interior of the building was sumptuously decorated with frescos, tapestries, paintings, sculptures and wooden ceilings.

The popes departed Avignon in 1377, returning to Rome, but this prompted the Papal Schism during which time the antipopes Clement VII and Benedict XIII made Avignon their home until 1408. The latter was imprisoned in the Palais for ten years after being besieged within in 1398. The building remained in the hands of antipapal forces for some years – it was besieged from 1410 to 1411 – but was returned to the authority of papal legates in 1433.

Although the Palais remained under papal control (along with the surrounding city and Comtat Venaissin) for over 350 years afterwards, it gradually deteriorated despite a restoration in 1516. When the French Revolution broke out in 1789 it was already in a bad state when it was seized and sacked by revolutionary forces. In 1791 it became the scene of a massacre of counter-revolutionaries, whose bodies were thrown into the Tour des Latrines in the Palais Vieux.

The Palais was subsequently taken over by the Napoleonic French state for use as a military barracks and prison. Although it was further damaged by the military occupation – the frescos were covered over and largely destroyed – ironically this ensured the building’s physical survival. It was only vacated in 1906, when it became a national museum. It has been under virtually constant restoration ever since.

The majority of the Palais is now open to the public; it also houses a large convention centre and the archives of the départment of Vaucluse.”””

They do the explanations so much better than me.

We had entry tickets and could get an audio guide but I declined again, preferring to wander at leisure and stop to read signs when something stuck my fancy.  I could listen to the audio guides as well as many people had them over one ear only and I could hear what was coming through the headphones.   As luck would have it, there was also a plant exhibition there that day so the courtyard was filled with lovely flowers for sale.

I made it through the palace and then once again was totally alone and detached from any of our group members.  I wandered through the streets for a while and had a gelato and then found some of the group.  They were heading down to the bridge but I really didn’t feel like going downhill so soon and then walking back up hill again.  So I went over to the church and walked up that hill to see the view.  Apparently I didn’t go far enough though as I only had a view of the square.  Had I gone up the garden path, there would have been a view over the river.  Finally I went down to the river and caught up with some of our group so we walked out to the end of the bridge together and took photos.    Here’s some history of the bridge from:  http://www.avignon-et-provence.com/avignon-tourism/monuments/avignon-bridge.htm

“”””The bridge of Avignon was started in 1177. 920 meters long, it had 22 arches and measured 4 meters wide. This imposing edifice, that was called the marvel of the time, was built in only 8 years, taking until 1185. The narrowness of the bridge of Avignon contradicts the famous song: “on the bridge of Avignon” one could not “dance round and round”; it seems more likely that one danced under the bridge, as an inn had been set up on the Ile de la Barthelasse, at the foot of one of the small arches.

Before the bridge, people crossed the Rhône in small boats, and this river that Man had not yet domesticated often made the crossing quite perilous. Arles having lost its Roman Bridge, that of Avignon became the only place between Lyon and the Mediterranean to cross the Rhône. The city attracted travelers, merchants and manufacturers and quickly developed thanks to the revenues generated by the tolls. Without doubt, it had also worked in Avignon’s favor when the popes made the decision to settle there in the 14th century.

In 1226, after the terrible siege to which Louis VIII subjected the city, three quarters of the bridge was destroyed. A few years later, despite it being forbidden, the people of Avignon put themselves to the task and rebuilt it. From the former bridge only the chapel remains and is called the lower chapel because the roadway of the second bridge was raised and so the newer St Nicolas Chapel built on it is called the higher chapel.

From the 17th century on, the city could no longer bear the costs of the bridge’s maintenance and repairs. In 1603, following strong flooding of the Rhône, one arch collapsed, then three others in 1605. Repair work didn’t start until1628, interrupted by an epidemic of plague, and the bridge was not usable again until 1633. Two months later, two new arches were swept away by the Rhône. At that time, various methods were used to cross the river. An island, today the Barthelasse, formed in the middle of the river bed. One headed for the island from Avignon in a small ferry, crossed the island on foot, following a path that lead, with the help of a wooden stairs, to the last 4 arches of the bridge, to finally reach the Philippe le Bel tower, in the kingdom of France.

The bridge of Avignon threatened so much to collapse that the relics of Saint Bénézet were taken from the St Nicolas Chapel in 1674. They were transferred to the Celestine cloister. After being moved several times and a desecration in 1791, there remained just a few bits from the mortal remains, which are now kept in the cathedral of Notre-Dame-des-Doms. Of the bridge itself, there only remains the four famous arches and the Philippe le Bel tower on the Villeneuve-lès-Avignon side, and of course, the famous song known around the world.

From up on the Rocher des Doms, and with a little imagination, you can reconstruct the past: the turbulent river, unpredictable and unsettling, at a much higher water level than today, the Ile de la Barthelasse, just starting to form, and the Philippe le Bel Tower at the other end, awash in the waters.””””

Imagine my timing sorrow that we still had enough time to climb up the hill again to find some other members of our group and also to hit some of the stores.  Being the good tourist, I found some more things to purchase for friends.

All of us found again and back on the bus for the trip to the aqueduct and Nimes.  This old aqueduct has been in so many photos and movies that it was like visiting an old friend.  What a beautiful piece of engineering.  This aqueduct carried water to Nimes at the rate of approximately 44 million gallons a day and over its 31 miles, it only descends in height by 17 meters.  That’s one heck of a job of engineering.  It lost its ability to carry water as maintenance deteriorated but lords in charge of the area started charging taxes and tolls and people walked across the bridge rather than go upstream or downstream to a bridge.  Finally, it was restored and the traffic going across the aqueduct was stopped and now it is a beautiful tourist attraction.  There were a lot of groups there and a lot of people having picnics on the banks below the aqueduct and many kayakers going down the river as well.

Of course you can imagine that to get the best view, I had to climb up the hills and walk behind the aqueduct to look back at it framed in the hills.  That meant a trip back down then as well.  And yet we are not done yet for today.  We are heading on into Nimes to see the old Roman amphitheater.

This old place is quite large.  It had tunnels and circular walkways to get to different parts of the theatre.  We determined that the best photos would be from the top so a bunch of women set off to find the way to get there.  We walked down one set of stairs and up another set and suddenly we were on the second level.  We were able to continue up levels by just a hit and miss combination of stairs and tunnels and stairs.  We finally get as far as we are going to be able to go without climbing up the stairs on the inside of the arena. Opps.  Most of the actual stairs are blocked so it is going to be scrambling up high tall immense blocks of stone.  No way are my knees going to make that bend and no way are my hips going to support a push up if my knees did make the bend.  OK, looking around to make sure the entire arena full of people aren’t staring at me, I jumped up backwards so I could land my butt on the stone, twisted my legs around to get onto the stone, got to my knees and pulled myself up with one of the railings that keeps you from taking a head dive into the stairwell.  Not my most graceful moment by a long shot.    I made it up several rows of seats when I had to do the whole thing again if I wanted to get any higher.  And drat if I wasn’t about 2/3rds of the way into the arena so not a really good place for a photo.  I needed to be further down towards the end.  OK.  Sidestepped my way over to a better vantage point and decided it would have to do.  Took some photos and then had to reverse the process to get down.  Oh the indignities we bear for our photographic art!  And it’s only bound to get worse!

We all managed to find our way back to the entrance of the arena and nobody got stuck anywhere and we worked our way over to the market which was open on the square.  This was a smaller market of jewelries and clothes and such.  Sad to say could not find anything to buy at this market.

Back to Arles for our final night at the hotel.  The group is going out again tonight but each group will go to a different restaurant.  I didn’t feel like I could sit through another 3 or 4 hours of food and wine and talk so I stayed behind, grabbed a Panini and had that plus my cherries in my room while I labeled photos and everyone was happy.

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