Photo of the Week: Papal Palace of Avignon

On the Rhône River in Southern France is the small city of Avignon. The city is home of the famous bridge from the French children’s song (or what’s left of it). More significantly, Avignon is awash in Papal history. One of the only French cities with intact centuries-old ramparts, its claim to fame is being the official seat of the Papacy during the 14th century.

Papal Palace

While construction of their future home started in the mid 13th century, the Popes throughout the 14th century quickly turned this Avignon fortress and new Papal Palace into the largest Gothic structure in the world. Walking through the parts open to the public, even quickly, takes well over an hour. But you won’t want to go that fast. Quietly strolling through the dark and drafty passageways is the way to go here. The Papal Palace connotes less a grand residence than an eerie Dark Ages dungeon. Sometimes, however, an impressive grand hall emerges, with arches and high ceilings demonstrating the symbolic strength of the castle.

Papal Palace

Zigzagging your way through the chambers, dungeons, and court rooms, you’ll make your way to the roof — sorry, towers — high above old Avignon. The Papal Palace dwarfs its surroundings, hulking above the Rhône Valley, guarding the rich legacy hidden in its thick walls. Definitely don’t miss the views.

Papal Palace

Avignon itself is a charming and easily walkable collection of old houses with a lively central square. And the many shops and restaurants are open in the off-season, too. Avignon isn’t the first place that comes to mind when thinking France. But it’s well worth a stop, even brief. It’s accessible via high speed train from Paris and is close to Marseille. A great base for Provence and the Lubéron, it’s geographically like a gateway to the south of France. Plus, the Papal Palace will definitely be there waiting for years to come.