Papal Palace

1128 Reviews

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Things to do


Date of travel

August, 2017

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Travelled with

On your own

Reasons for trip

The Papal palace dominates the skyline of Avignon, reflecting the importance of the Church here in the C14th. You can’t miss it and it is among the top ten tourist attractions in France.

Clement V was elected as pope in 1304. He was born in France, was the first non-Italian Pope and there was a lot of controversy over his election. He was responsible for abolishing the Order of the Knights Templar, executing many of its members and confiscating their wealth. He left Rome in 1309 following increasing unrest and disorder over his election and moved his court to Avignon, taking over the old episcopal palace of the Bishops of Avignon. Avignon remained the seat of of papal power for seven decades.

In 1335 Benedict XII began building a suitable Papal Palace in Avignon. Known as the Old Palace, it was designed as a fortress and fortified with thick walls and towers. He was buried in Notre Dame Des Doms Cathedral next to the Palace. The tall stark Papal tower was the heart of the Papal apartments not only protecting the Pope, but also his wealth. The consistory wing used for all Papal discussions and meeting dignitaries was built off this.

His successor Clement VI was responsible for the even bigger New Palace to the south and west. This included a Grand Chapel for Papal worship and the Indulgence window, as well as kitchens.

Construction took twenty years and used up most of the Papacy income. Together they form the largest Gothic building of the Middle Ages and one of the best examples of the International Gothic architectural style. The construction was the work of two of France’s best architects, Pierre Peysson and Jean du Louvres. The inside of the Palace was lavishly decorated with frescoes, tapestries, paintings and sculptures. The frescoes were the work of Simone Martini and Matteo Giovanetti, two of the best students of the School of Siena in Italy.

As well as housing the Pope, and all his office, there was also a library with over 2000 books and the largest in Europe. Over 1500 people were based here.

Urban V, the sixth Avignon Pope and his successor Gregory XI had the strong conviction that the papacy could only be run from Rome where the tomb of St Peter was. Despite strong opposition from the Court of France and the College of Cardinals, Gregory returned to Rome in 1377. This lead to a split in the Catholic Church with two rival popes Clement VII and Benedict XIII maintaining a court in Avignon. This was only resolved in 1417 by excommunicating Benedict XIII. The Place continued under papal control for the next 350 years until the French Revolution when it was seized by the state and used as a barracks and military prison. It was only vacated in 1906 when it became a national museum.

It is one of the top ten tourist attractions in France and hosts a large number of events. It does get very busy, particularly in the morning with large numbers of guided tours arriving. Security is strict and bags are scanned on entering. There are “25 rooms”: open to the public, although most of these are unfurnished. Photography is allowed in the palace, but NOT in rooms with frescoes.

The palace is so large and confusing inside that you quickly lose all sense of direction inside. There are a few information boards in the rooms. We had a guided tour (separate review) which I found superficial and it may be better to hire an audio guide.

I visited here on Day 7 of Burgundy, the River Rhone and Provence, a river cruise with Riviera Travel.

My full account with all the pictures can be found “here.”: here. 


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