Sunday in Avignon
What a treat to be able to get up at 9 am and not leave until 10:30 am on our adventure. This tour schedule may be very laid back in comparison to last week, but it comes at a very good time.
Although I have washed my undergarments in the sink, I only have 1 pair of clean pants left. I had discovered to my chagrin that the hotel laundry didn’t operate on Sunday, but I had expected I could get my clothing cleaned tomorrow (Monday). No dice, they don’t open their laundry on Monday either. So I found out where there is a laundromat.
I also needed to exchange some US dollars into Euros and the front desk showed the conversion rates. Apparently, however, that is all they do- provide the information. They don’t exchange money. So I found out where I could do that, also.
Tonight I checked the Nice hotel we will be moving to on Tuesday morning and discovered that their services include a laundry. I am going to do my best to make my one pair of pants last so I can take advantage of the hotel’s laundry service. Doing laundry in a laundromat once on this trip was sufficient.
Today, we walked through one of the gates in the ramparts of Avignon to the center of the old city where the Palace of the Popes is located. We were given a tour of the Palace by Camille, a young, very knowledgeable and personable young woman.
Here are some miscellaneous facts about the Palace:
It was once the largest Gothic building in the world, measuring more than 165,00 square feet.
It served as the temporary home for the Papacy from 1309-1377. (I’ll bet many of you didn’t know there were ever Popes in France. According to Camille, no pope has visited France since 1377).
It started when Italy was plagued by political instability, eventually driving the popes out of Rome and forcing them to travel to find secure locations throughout the country.
The Palais is actually made up of two buildings: the old Palais of Benedict XII which sits on the impregnable rock of Doms, and the new Palais of Clement VI, the most extravagant of the Avignon popes.
The construction design was the work of two of France’s best architects, Pierre Peysson and Jean du Louvres and the lavish ornamentation was the work of two of the best students of the School of Siena (Italy),Simone Martini and Matteo Giovanetti.
It is relatively easy to tell the old and the new palace sections apart, because Pope Benedict XII was very austere and Pope Clement VI had beautiful tapestries (gone now), murals, statues, and a beautiful bedroom whose walls are covered with frescos of birds, vines, animals and other pastoral scenes.
Pope Clement VI loved music so there is an enormous hall that has amazing acoustics!
Camille sang a brief song and her voice, which was very beautiful, sounded as if there were twenty other singers.
During the French Revolution, the people wanted to destroy the palace but didn’t know where to start. Instead, they scratched out the faces and hands of the saints depicted on the walls or in the statuary.
For a while, there were two popes, one in Rome and one in Avignon. You can learn more about this at http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-28/1378-great-papal-schism.html
When a conclave was held in Avignon for the cardinals to select the new pope, they were walled into a large room, the windows were walled up, and they received food, water and other provisions through a hole in the floor. If they took too long to make a selection, the food was diminished until all they received was bread and water. Since the cardinals were used to a very lavish and luxurious existence, they hurried so they wouldn’t be subjected to this!
When the palace was an army barracks for thousands of soldiers, they walled off some windows, added others and also added one or two more floor levels in the great halls where three hundred men slept at the same time. With the acoustics, imagine the ruckus caused by all of their snoring!
After the tour, the intrepid five sought out an indoor market that was a feast to the eyes with a riot of color from all of the sausages, olives, fruit, vegetables, pastries, wines, meats, fish, cooked dishes and candies for sale.
We also shopped at small jewelry stands and I took photos of the two-level carousel that included a round seat comparable to a spinning tea cup, beautifully painted horses as well as other animals, including a sweet elephant- and very classical, somewhat risqué paintings on the ceiling!
We had lunch, then walked to see the Pont du Avignon, which is a bridge built between 1177 and 1185 that used to span the Rhone river. Only part of it is left, with a small cathedral at the top. The river is very serene, with a nice breeze since it was 100 F today!!!
We walked all over the city and then, when the others were ready to go back to the hotel, I went to take a tram that also went around the city (to the places we had already walked!) but provided some very brief historical information. Two facts that I remember are: (1) Napoleon was in Avignon to redact some document and (2) there are ruins of a Roman forum under the town square.
We walked back into the city to have a meal with the entire group. This restaurant served much more quickly than we’ve experienced to date, but we still began with drinks (wine for those who drink wine) at 7:30 and four courses that didn’t end until after 9 pm.
Since I knew that I had to write a Laurel Learning Tip for tomorrow as well as this email, I set off by myself to get back earlier. Of course I got very lost and three young Frenchmen turned me around, wrote the directions on my map and headed me in the right direction. I finally got to the hotel 10 minutes after everyone else made it back!
So, it is now 12:30 am, I’ve written and posted my Tip, had a shower and am ready to go to bed because we leave at 8 am to go visit various fortified cities in Provence.
By the way, every famous building we’ve toured has exited through the gift shop. The Palace of the Popes was no exception. It had loose tea for every Pope (Joan said she didn’t know which were the good popes so she wouldn’t be able to choose the tea), wine (!), lavender items, metal helmets, wooden swords and wooden cross bows, among other touristy items. We managed to avoid making any lethal purchases…