Palace of Popes in Avignon, France
The first day we arrived in lovely Avignon, France to board the MS Lord Byron and we were so excited to finally be able to get our opportunity to experience a river cruise along the French Wine Region. Upon boarding, the staff introduced themselves and explained what it is we were to do next which was “just relax!”. So,we checked in which was very easy and then made our way to the cabin. The steward introduced himself and then gave a brief tour of the ship. The ship is comprised of 5 decks. There are 3 decks for cabins, a sun deck and another platform for viewing. As I mentioned before it is so easy to navigate and make your way around even on the first day.
The first evening was mainly just to get used to ship and your new surroundings. We had our first meal in the main dining room and the food was fantastic! We then found our way to the lounge for a night cap to listen to music and wind down for the evening. We then met our first Canadian friends and have enjoyed our conversations since then.
The next morning after a nice breakfast which is either buffet style or light fare which includes coffee and pastries we gathered our belongings to begin our day in the city. The guests were divided in 3 different groups to begin our walking tour of the day. The groups ranged between 30-35 people who are ready to take on the day. It is a very relaxed leisure pace which is always led by a local tour guide who specializes in the region.
So now about the region. Avignon, a city in Southeastern France’s Provence region is set on the Rhone River and it was the seat of the Catholic popes between 1309 – 1377. The first stop was world heritage site by Unesco, the Saint-Benezet Bridge which attracts more than 300,000 visitors per year.
According to the local story, Bénézet was a local shepherd who was visited one night by God telling him to construct a bridge over the Rhone River. At first, when he told his vision to the locals, they ridiculed him and did not believe him. But Bénézet was a very convincing man with a natural ability to make people listen to him and after a short time, many of them came to believe in Bénézet’s vision.
It is said that at the moment when he was ridiculed and he suddenly lifted a huge stone in the air which proved that he was telling the truth. The construction started in 1177 and historians believe that it was initially a wooden structure made from oak.
At that time, it was the only way for the people of the Mediterranean and Lyon to cross the river. Throughout the centuries, Avignon was often flooded by the Rhone River and the bridge collapsed several times. Originally, it consisted of 22 arches but only four of them have survived to date. This was a spectacular sight to see and the history behind this structure is just amazing.
We then proceeded on to the next marvel which was the Palace of the Popes. For most of the last 1500 years, the Catholic church has had at its head a pope, and the pope has been the Bishop of Rome. Yet the first thousand years of the Papacy included centuries of strife and turmoil, during which the popes, as well as being the spiritual leaders of the Catholic church, were also temporal rulers, major players in the geopolitics of Europe; they were princes with their own states and their own lands, even their own armies.
Their power was like that of kings, if not greater. The medieval Papacy ruled directly over the Papal states in central Italy, and was a highly influential player in the affairs of European states in general.
So, they reigned in Avignon from 1271 to 1377. The magnificent structure housed several Popes in that era. The walls are still standing today and many events are held within those walls. Were we able to see how they prepared their meals for the many feasts. The banquet halls and it has many small chapels within the structure that the Pope would hold mass for small groups of people. One room that I found to be very interesting was the Pope’s bedroom. It still had the same fresco paint on the all and the lovely tile for the time period. Unfortunately, a large proportion of the paintings that once decorated the walls of the palace have been lost in the course of time, but several of them remain, including notably the ceiling frescoes of the prophets in the Grand Audience room, the hunting scenes in the Pope's chambers, and the decoration of St. John's and St. Martial's chapel, which survive as masterpieces of late medieval wall paintings.
That concluded our 3 hour guided tour of the day so we then proceeded to head back to the ship for a quick lunch and to freshen up a bit so we can go back into the lovely city to enjoy the market and city centre. So, after a brief break we ventured back into the city centre which was an easy 10 minute walk. We enjoyed the shopping, the people watching and having a beverage or two.
So back to ship to rest for dinner and to enjoy lovely another evening on the ship. We are looking forward to mingling with the others tonight and resting up for tomorrow. However, it was a great relaxing and enjoyable day.
Merci and Goodnight!!
Dock 10 Travel