"" Writer's Wanderings: A Visit To The Avignon Palais des Papes

Saturday, May 06, 2023

A Visit To The Avignon Palais des Papes

 Our breakfast this first morning in Avignon was typical French, Breads, cheese, bananas, jams, a little cereal, yogurt and a coffee machine that made Americano albeit a small Americano. I missed my Starbucks filtered coffee. We ate a little and set off to the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes). 

During the time of the Catholic schism, the popes resided in Avignon, seven of them throughout the 14th century. It is one of the largest medieval Gothic structures in Europe. Built over many years and redesigned by several popes who made additions and changes, it grew into a huge structure with immense banquet halls and chapels and well, everything a pope could imagine he needed.

At one time the Papal library held over 2000 books. The staff numbered 1500 by 1316. It all became irrelevant when the papacy returned to Rome.

The whole structure is over 160,000 square feet and has towers, walls and arches designed to withstand bombardment. And it's all built on solid rock as you can see when you walk around it.

In my research and planning for this trip, I knew that we had to buy a combination ticket for the palace and the famous half bridge that extends into the Rhone River. I quickly purchased our tickets before breakfast. I worried that I might be too late but there was no problem getting a time slot to visit at ten. 

We arrived too early so we took advantage of the time and climbed up to the gardens that are just outside the palace and overlook the rivers. Before I go on, I have to tell you that we awoke to winds that were 25-27 mph and I believe gusting more. One of the guests who had been out for an early walk warned us that the bridge was going to be very windy. The gardens were as well. There wasn't a lot blooming but it had nice plantings and some rock gardens. The view was worth the climb.

As ten o'clock neared, we walked down to the entrance to the palace and were ushered in after a security check of my tiny purse. We were issued small tablets that had a lanyard and told that they would start upon entering the first room. 

Before we could get to the first room though we had--you guessed it--steps to climb. It was a temporary staircase I believe since it looked like there was some construction going on. 

The moment we entered the first room, we had to go to a Histaport, a box that had a circle on top of it. When you scanned the circle with your Histapad, you got the printed commentary on the room. It would then give you a picture, an artist's rendition of what the room would have looked like back then. If you held it up and aimed it at a wall, little dots would appear that you clicked on and it would explain what was in the picture. You could scan the whole room that way and if you were game, could try to find the hidden treasure in each room. The kids were loving the treasure hunt. So was Bob.

We wandered through several large halls. One was a huge banquet hall. There was a large kitchen that had a chimney that rose a good 30 feet up. The cooking fire would be set on the floor and the whole room became an oven more or less. 

Some of the private papal rooms still had the murals painted on them. One of the pope's liked the idea of hunting but apparently only to look at on his walls. We were not allowed pictures in the rooms with paintings.

I found the treasury rooms interesting. They hid a lot of important documents and treasures and moneys in the floors. Imagine trying to remember where all of it was. I guess someone forgot some of it because when they were restoring the palace, they found some things stashed away.

The room where the conclaves took place was again amazing in size. You could only imagine what it must have been like filled with bishops and those with high positions in the church as a pope was installed. My thought as I climbed the stairs that a pope would have to get to the hall was how did you do all that in heavy robes?

For an extra charge you could go through the papal garden in a center court. We passed on that not because we were saving money but rather more steps.

The tour of the palace took us almost two hours to complete. Once you enter in your time slot, there is no limit to how long you take to see it all. I guess some would read faster than others. 

We still had most of my GPS My City walking tour to finish along with the bridge visit but we were already feeling the effects of what we'd walked and climbed all morning. It was time for coffee and a chair. We found a nice little cafe and got Americano coffees which were a little bigger and better than the breakfast ones and I couldn't pass up an opportunity for a crepe with Nutella. 

Coffee and snack finished, it was time to move on.

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