Avignon’s Palais des Papes

Avignon’s Palais des Papes

It’s hard to believe that popes once lived here. That thought ran through my mind as we made our way through the nearly dilapidated door that led us behind the walls of Palais des Papes, one of the key places of interest that lures travelers like us to Avignon.

My disbelief wasn’t incited by the palace’s opulence; there aren’t any significant vestiges of rococo adornments, lavish furniture, or over-the-top works of art left from the palace’s glory days when it housed the popes.

It’s just that Palais des Papes is overwhelmingly massive, and once inside the palace’s walls, when looking upward, you can’t help but feel small.

Replica of Palais des Papes
Replica of Palais des Papes

Taking up nearly 120,000 square feet, Palais des Papes is Europe’s largest Gothic palace, and its immensity is accented by its towering, impenetrable walls. Palais des Papes is comprised of two distinct sections, Palais Vieux (Old Palace) and Palais Neuf (New Palace), the former of which was heavily fortified to protect the structure from attack.

Kitchen
Kitchen
Looking up at the kitchen’s chimney, you get an even better feel for the enormity of the palace
Looking up at the kitchen’s chimney, you get an even better feel for the enormity of the palace
The Great Tinel was primarily used as a reception room, and its walls were covered in tapestries
The Grand Tinel was primarily used as a reception room, and its walls were covered in tapestries

Although the bishops of Avignon once lived on the site, Pope Clement V made a home for himself at Palais des Papes after escaping the violence in Rome that erupted upon his election in 1305. For nearly 70 years from 1309 to 1377, a period often referred to as the Avignon Papacy, Pope Clement V and his successors called Palais des Papes home.

Under the direction of Pope Clement VI, the palace was expanded to form what’s now known as the New Palace which includes the Grand Chapel where the popes worshiped. I was instantly drawn to this large, nearly empty room because of its high ceilings and beautiful arches.

Grand Chapel
Grand Chapel
Beautiful arches and doors like these are common throughout the palace
Beautiful arches and doors like these are common throughout the palace

Once the political climate in Rome cooled down, the popes decided that the papacy should be seated where St. Peter is buried, prompting their return to Rome in 1377. Thereafter, the palace underwent hard times as it was occupied by antipapal rebels for several years despite remaining under papal control.

The skull of a victim who was killed by a crossbow bolt when the palace was seized by anti-papal rebels
The skull of a victim who was killed by a crossbow bolt when the palace was seized by anti-papal rebels

Palais des Papes’ physical condition worsened when it underwent a five year siege in 1398 and again when it was seized during the French Revolution and subsequently used as a military garrison and prison.

Replicas of some of the popes’ tombs
Replicas of some of the popes’ tombs

Restorations didn’t start until 1906 when Palais des Papes was vacated and converted to a national museum.

Gift shop
Gift shop

These days, Palais des Papes is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s one of the most visited attractions in France. The palace’s courtyard serves as a performance venue for the Festival d’Avignon each July, and the palace is also the home base for the International Centre of Congress which hosts several events each year.

While one could while away an entire afternoon people watching and shooting the breeze outside of Palais des Papes, visitors to Avignon would be remiss if they didn’t venture inside the palace’s walls for a closer look at where the popes once called home.

Visitors’ Info

Tickets start from €11/person; tours start from €24.50/person. Visit the palace’s booking page for more details.

PINNABLE

palais-de-papes

Have you been to Avignon and/or Palais des Papes?

  • I find the contrast between the grandness of the architecture and the starkness of the decor really interesting. The tapestries must have made a huge difference in the appearance of the rooms. Beautiful as it is, I am very glad that I don’t live somewhere that needs that much fortification or undergoes a 5 year siege.

    • Dana Carmel

      You and me both, Michele!

  • There you go, another place to add to my bucket list! What a mysterious and interesting place!

    • Dana Carmel

      Yes, you definitely have to visit. A visit to Avignon would be incomplete without a visit to Palais des Papes.

  • This was one of those posts of your’s where my jaw was dropped the entire time. Every thing and every room is so grand in beauty, size and gesture ya know, Dana? No that kitchen I would take in a heartbeat because it’s a 100 year bigger than my teeny, tiny kitchen. Just needs some appliances, a little spackle and some paint 🙂

    • Dana Carmel

      Haha – I could use a bigger kitchen too, Mike! The palace is definitely jaw-dropping even without many furnishings and decorations.

  • Okay, this is seriously beautiful. I could picture myself sitting at a table outside people watching. Those popes sure knew how to live it up! 🙂

    • Dana Carmel

      Didn’t they?! Lol!

  • What a wonderfully preserved palace! I can just imagine how grand it must have been for the Pope!

    • Dana Carmel

      I know. As I was walking through, I tried to imagine it with furnishings, paintings, etc.

  • I knew that there was a pope in Rome and a pope in Avignon at one time but I never imagined how grand and opulent his “home” was!

    • Dana Carmel

      I know – right?!

  • Some bits look a bit dilapidated but the palace is still grand.

    Is this the same town that inspired Pablo Picasso’s famous painting ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’?

    • Dana Carmel

      That’s a good question – not sure though!

thatgirlcarmel

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