I had been looking forward to visiting Avignon. The city has a turbulent history going back to Roman times but it is most famous as being the site of the Papacy (instead of Rome) between 1309 and 1377. Needless to say, the basis for the move was politics. Philip IV was king of France at the time and encouraged the move to Avignon because of the distressing factionalism in Rome (yeah, right). Indeed, during the time the Papacy was based at Avignon all the Popes and most of the cardinals were French, which (of course) did not please the English and the Germans.
After Gregory IX moved the Papacy back to Rome in 1377 a second pope (an antipope) was elected for Avignon. Things came to something of a head when in 1408 there were three contenders for the title of Pope.This was the Catholic church’s Western Schism which was not healed until 1417, after which the Pope remained in Rome. A piece of trivia I’ve remembered for decades is that one of the antipopes was John XXIII. Not to be confused with the 20th century John XXIII. They were turbulent times.
These days, the Papal Palace at Avignon is a popular tourist spot and judging by the crowds at Monet’s garden and Versailles, the place would be packed. We, of course, couldn’t go. But I wasn’t too upset about missing out on the crowds. Instead, here’s the website.
One of the “fun” things about being stuck with covid was we got to see what happens on the ship while the passengers are away. The obvious chore is housekeeping; service of cabins, vacuuming, general santisizing and the like. But there’s much more going on. While we were at Lyon a service vessel came alongside to pump out the wastewater and replenish the fresh water. Then there’s all the rubbish – lots and lots of empty bottles and cans for recycling, and general rubbish for disposal. Much of it is done by boat, with the crew loading the vessels that come alongside. Then there’s the job of getting all the supplies on board – food, booze etc. We saw that on a previous trip, where everybody formed a line from the ship down the gangway to shift boxes hand over hand. At Avignon we stood on the (empty) upper deck and watched the crew – waiters, housekeepers and anyone else – carrying laundry to a truck to be taken away for washing. The boys and girls earn their pay.
Peter and I didn’t venture into the city at all, preferring to walk along the bank of the Rhone up to the famous Pont Saint-Bénézetbridge which doesn’t cross the river. This structure dates back to the 17th century but there has been a crossing at this spot for thousands of years. I’m pretty sure it was the late great Carl Sagan in his wonderful series, Cosmos, who explained that things like river crossings are always in the same spot. It was chosen originally as a good place for a crossing and the roads would have been built to access that location. So there was a wooden bridge, which was replaced with a Roman bridge, which was replaced by an elegant bridge designed so the cardinals could get over to the other side of the river where they’d built elegant palaces away from the stink of Avignon. But the Rhone can be a powerful, raging river. “The bridge was abandoned in the mid-17th century as the arches tended to collapse each time the Rhône flooded.” It knocked down the arches of the bridge more than once, so eventually the French shrugged their shoulders, declared you can’t beat the will of the river, and moved on.
We would have visited the Roman aqueduct had we not been grounded. But there’s always a website.
Avignon is one place I’d like to go back to, maybe late in the year when the tourist flood becomes a trickle. And here’s a shot taken around dawn from the cabin.
If you’re new to this journey and want to find other parts of the trip, go to France 2022. That page has all the posts.
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