Monday, April 30, 2007

Sur le pont d'Avignon?

Or is it sous le pont? Even this bedrock belief is now being challenged by historians - small wonder the world is in such a mess - but it seems that dancing on the bridge is considered to have been most unlikely and the rhyme most probably referred to dancing under, or sous the bridge. Phooey. Quick as I learn something, they change it.
another city that has"belonged" to several different nations during it's history and even had a brief period as an independent republic, is where it is because of the Rocher des Doms (Dom's Rock), a great chunk of rock rising from the left bank of the river Rhone. It is likely that the Celts used the rock for a defensive position sometime BC and it has been coveted by all and sundry since then.
To cut to the chase, the current city houses about 90,000 people within its walls with a total of about 1/4 million in the immediate urban area. The city walls, which are almost intact, are several miles in length and grafted right into Dom's Rock. Several gateways pierce the wall and the interior contains both vehicular areas and pedestrian only areas. The "big rides" are contained in two large squares, adjacent to each other at the north end of town. More about them later - first, the famous bridge.
Another great piece of salesmanship if ever I saw one! In reality the bridge is only a bit of bridge and is actually the Pont St Bénezet and not the bridge of
Avignon. In fact, since 1668 when much of the bridge collapsed in a flood, only four of the original 22 arches have ever been maintained, the other 18 have slowly crumbled away and the city simply gave up the battle. The original bridge ran from the city wall across the first part of the river onto the Ile de Barthelasse and then across the other leg of the river to Villeneuve les Avignon. The bridge had two chapels along its length and one of these is preserved and can be seen in the picture. The municipal camp site that we stayed at in Avignon was on the Ile de Barthelasse at the top left hand corner of the picture.

Back to the city.
The major attraction in Avignon is the Palais des Papes, or the Palace of the Popes, shown below about the center of the picture

This massive building, about 3-1/2 acres of
floor space, was built during the 14th century during the period that the Papal residence was moved to Avignon from Rome due to unrest and turmoil in that city. Seven Popes held court in Avignon during this time

To the left of the Popes Palace stands the Cathedrale Notre Dame des Doms. Orininally built in the 12th century, the cathedral was modified in the 14th and 17th centuries, with the gilded St. Mary statue being added in the 19th century. The statue grouping in front the church dates from the 16th century. Opposite the Popes Palace is the Papal Mint which is decorated with detailed and exotic stonework. As one might expect, the whole area was rife with tourist paraphernalia including the ever present sidewalk cafe, mime artists, cute little gas powered trains for the really idle and of course, lots of vendors of largely irrelevant souvenirs.
At the opposite end of this huge square is the Petit
Palais, the original and more modest Papal home that has long since been converted into a museum. The highest point of Dom's rock has been made into a garden which provided space for more restaurants where a succulent hot dog and fries can be enjoyed for a paltry $10.00. There are some nice ducks on the garden pond - 25 minutes to the pound at 325 would be my guess.

The south end of the Popes pad. Notice on the restaurant menu that an omlette is only 12 Euros ($17.00) while a salad is a mere 11.50 Euros ($15.50)!

The southwest corner exit of Palais square leads directly to the other main attraction, the Place d'Horloge. The building on the right is the Papal Mint and some of the decorative sculptures can be seen
Place d'Horloge - Clock Square - is a second large square and is almost completely filled with sidewalk cafe clutter. Sadly, this has morphed from the traditional pleasant and casual arrangements of chairs and tables into a permanent looking array of feeding pens into which sidewalk hustlers were busily herding hapless tourists.

Hotel de Ville - City Hall - is the primary anchor for the square. Practically every city in France has its own Hotel de Ville but a distinguishing feature of the Avignon version is a clock tower complete with a fancy clock

Although the Town Hall was not built until 1845, it's construction incorporated a 14th century clock tower. Each hour, life size figures known as jacquemarts, get busy and strike the hours

The second significant building in the square is the Theatre (Theater :-)). Each July, the city bulges with visitors to the Independent Film Festival centered on the Theater

As for the rest of Avignon, inside the walls or outside, it is pretty much just another city - choked with cars and starved for parking. For us, it was a pleasant relief to move on into the countryside and leave thecruch of the city behind.

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