Our first trip to Avignon definitely started out on an ~interesting~ foot, but we soon discovered just how much history there is to explore in this beautiful, old city.
One of the most famous landmarks here is the Pont St. Bénézet, made famous by the song “Sur le Pont d’Avignon.” It played a pivotal part in the city’s history for centuries – through war and peace – and today is a beautiful place to visit on a warm summer’s day.
History of the Pont St. Bénézet
Legend says this bridge is the product of divine inspiration – and is only in existence because that inspired man performed a miracle. It would appear that a shepherd hear the voice of Jesus commanding him to build a bridge across the Rhône. When his fellow townspeople laughed at his experience, he performed the usual sort of miracle by lifting a huge block of stone – and he thus won support for his godly project.
Whether this is true or not, the bridge was first constructed in the late 12th century, and held great strategic importance for Popes, kings, and merchants. Over the centuries since, it has been destroyed many times – by warfare and by the river, to which the bridge’s pillars seemed particularly vulnerable – and rebuilt, until it was finally abandoned in the 1700s, and the four remaining pillars left to decay without use or maintenance.
More recently, in 1995, the bridge – made most well-known by the song “Sur le Pont D’Avignon” – was made a UNESCO world heritage site. It’s a fixture in Avignon, and a sight not to be missed!
Walking the bridge
After wandering near the Papal Palace, we ended up in a courtyard between the palace and the city’s wall. A docent kindly pointed us to a well-hidden door, and we purchased double passes that covered our entry into both the bridge and the palace. We also added a couple of audio guides, but pro tip: the volume is pretty low, and you’ll probably have just as good a time taking in the sights and researching anything you’re curious about later 😉
Boyfriend Perspective: They were kind of like wireless home phones from the 90s – and we ended up not using them after 5 minutes. Was more distracting for us anyway. But, if you want to look like you’re busy talking to someone, this is a great way to learn and keep people from talking to you 😉
From there, we entered the gatehouse, where there are various exhibits depicting the bridge in its original state, the architectural rules behind its construction, etc. It’s a moderately tight area when crowded, so we made a beeline for the stairs to get to the bridge.
The structure itself isn’t much to write home about if you’re not into history, plain ol’ craftsmanship, or the super cool aspect of standing on something that’s been in existence for longer than a lot of countries have been. But if you ARE into those things, this is definitely a worthwhile stop.
On the walk to the broken end of the bridge, you’ll pass a chapel, which was erected on the spot for merchants and sailors to make their devotions to their patron saint. It’s been altered several times over the centuries, and now plays host to more pigeons than it does prayers.
Boyfriend Perspective: DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING HERE. You’ll thank me later. Ew….
Once you get to the end of the bridge, you get a beautiful view of the Rhône in one direction, and a great view of Avignon in the other. It’s definitely worth a visit 🙂
Things to note
The bridge is pretty closely tied to the city’s old walls. If you want a bonus view of this piece of history, walk the walls until you get to the park at the top. The view above is the one you’ll be privy to 😉
Boyfriend Perspective: :whispher: Pssst….HEY….GUYS…..secretly pack a bottle of wine, some clear plastic glasses, maybe some meat and cheese in your backpack, then go here for sunset. I accept money and beer as thank you.
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Also published on Medium.