As followers of "Our House in Provence" blog know, Shirley and I have been traveling to Sablet for quite a few years. During those years, we have spent a lot of time in Avignon but never felt inclined to visit the Palais des Papes (Popes' Palace). Probably has to do with the fact we steer clear of museums. Much prefer to spend our time wandering around towns and villages, walking in and out of shops and stopping periodically for a petit café or glass of rosé depending on the time of day.
Last fall, we were honored by a visit of friends from Northern California. Since several had visited Sablet previously, we wanted to take the group to some new places. One place we chose to visit was the Pope's Palace. So we loaded the group into the car and headed to Avignon. We parked in our favorite parking garage and climbed the steps and exited to a view across Place du Palais to the Cathedral.
Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral is a Romanesque building, mainly built during the 12th century. The most prominent feature of the cathedral is the 19th century gilded statue of the Virgin which surmounts the western tower. The mausoleum of Pope John XXII (1334) is one of the most beautiful works within the cathedral. During the 14th century, this became the world’s most important church, home to seven different popes.
|Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral|
The Popes' Palace is a historical palace in Avignon, one of the largest and most important Medieval Gothic buildings in Europe. One time fortress and palace, the papal residence was the seat of Western Christianity during the 14th century. Six papal conclaves were held in the Palace, leading to the elections of 6 French popes, Benedict XII in 1334, Clement VI in 1342, Innocent VI in 1352, Urban V in 1362, Gregory XI in 1370 and antipope Benedict XIII in 1394.
It all began back in the 13th century from the conflict between the papacy and the French crown, culminating with Philip IV of France's killing of Pope Boniface VIII, and after the death of Pope Benedict XI, forcing a deadlocked conclave to elect the French Clement V, as Pope in 1305. Clement V declined to move to Rome, remaining in France, and in 1309, he moved his court to the papal enclave at Avignon, where it remained for the next 67 years.
|Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral and Palais des Papes|
Built in less then 20 years starting in 1335, the Popes' Palace is the amalgamation of two buildings: the old Palace of Benedict XII which sits on the rock of Doms, and the new Palace of Clement VI, the most extravagant of the Avignon popes. Not only is the final combination the largest Gothic building of the Middle Ages, it is also one of the best examples of the International Gothic architectural style.
|Palais des Papes|
Come along with us as we visit the Palais des Papes. Inside, you’ll walk along sloping passages, narrow stairways, through arched doorways and into over 25 rooms that are open to visitors.
The central courtyard was completed in 1347 when Clement VI added the New Palace's south and west wings. In the center, you can see the well that Clement VI created on the site that was once the former Audience Chamber of John XXII.
Benoît XII Cloister, also known as the Court of the Old Palace, is named for Pope Benedict XII. It is a serene green space enclosed by a double-arcade, the upper level of which is a blind-arcade.
|Benoit XII Cloister|
As I mentioned previously, the palace served for over six decades as the residence of seven popes, and then during the Western Schism as the palace of two antipopes. In later years, the complex housed the Vice-legates and served as a barracks for the French military.
|Palais des Papes|
|Pope's Palace Corridor|
The Grand Tinel was the feast room! Measuring 160 feet (48 meters) long, five seatings, each with four courses, were served here. Normally, the pope sat alone at the south end inside his papal cathedra and if a visiting dignitary were dining with him, his guest would be alongside; however, on a lower platform.
|The cavernous Grand Tinel or Feast Room|
The Kitchen Tower was added to the palace during the reign of Clement VI. It features an impressive cone-shaped chimney in the ceiling.
|The Kitchen Tower Chimney|
|Not a pope, but our friend John|
|Plaster effigies of prominent figures in the Sacristy from during the papal rule in the palace|
The Consistory, a meeting hall where the Pope received official dignitaries was once decorated with paintings (they were destroyed by fire in the early 15th century) and features plain stone walls and houses displays of models and architectural elements, including a scale model of the palace and a set of wooden cupboard doors.
|"Passion of the Christ" sculpture inside the Consistory|
An architect, Jean de Louvres, was commissioned by Clement VI to build a new tower and adjoining buildings, including a 52 m long Grand Chapel, seen below, to serve as the location for papal acts of worship.
|The Grand Chapel, where the Avignon popes worshiped|
Chambre des Notaires, the Notary Room seen below, houses 19th-century portraits of the nine Avignon popes painted by Henri Serrur.
The Escalier d’Honneur, the Stairway of Honor, is a wide Italian-style processional or ceremonial stairway, restored in the 17th century, leads from the Courtyard of Honor to the Great Chapel.
|Stairway of Honor|
The residency of the Popes in Avignon ended on September 13, 1376, when Pope Gregory XI abandoned Avignon and moved his court to Rome (arriving on January 17, 1377). Despite this return, following Gregory's death on March 27, 1378, the breakdown in relations between the cardinals and Gregory's successor, Urban VI, gave rise to the Western Schism.
This started a second line of Avignon popes, regarded as illegitimate and known as antipopes. The second and final Avignon antipope, Benedict XIII, lost most of his support in 1398, including that of France; following five years of siege by the French, he fled to Perpignan on March 11, 1403. The schism ended in 1417 at the Council of Constance, after two popes had reigned in opposition to the papacy in Rome.
|Palais des Papes Tower|
We finished our visit to the Palace and walked down to the neo-classical town hall known as the Hôtel de Ville on Place de l'Horloge. It was built in the 19th century as a replacement for an older building. Only the 14th century clock tower remains from the original structure. The Gothic clock tower seen below, which gave the square its name, was incorporated into the construction of the later Hôtel de Ville.
|14th century Bell Tower of the Hôtel de Ville|
If you are going to be in the area this year, and want to visit the Popes' Palace, it is probably preferable to do so first thing in the morning or in Spring or Fall as I have heard from friends that it is very hot and you will sweat profusely during your visit. Enough said.
Have a great week. Hope to hear from some of you.