Avignon is a French commune in southeastern France in the départment of the Vaucluse bordered by the left bank of the Rhône river.
The site of Avignon was settled very early on; the rocky outcrop (le Rocher les Doms) at the north end of the town, overlooking the Rhône River, may have been the site of a Celtic oppidum or hill fort.
Avignon, written as Avennio or Avenio in the ancient texts and inscriptions, takes its name from the Avennius clan. Founded by the Gallic tribe of the Cavares or Cavari, it became the centre of an important Phocaean colony from Massilia (present Marseilles).
Under the Romans, Avenio was a flourishing city of Gallia Narbonensis, the first Transalpine province of the Roman Empire, but very little from this period remains (a few fragments of the forum near Rue Molière).
During the inroads of the Goths, it was badly damaged in the fifth century and belonged in turn to the Goths, the kingdoms of Burgundy and of Arles, in the 12th century. It fell into the hands of the Saracens and was destroyed in 737 by the Franks under Charles Martel for having sided with the Arabs against him. Boso having been proclaimed Burgundian King of Provence, or of Arelat (after its capital Arles), by the Synod of Mantaille, at the death of Louis the Stammerer (879), Avignon ceased to belong to the Frankish kings.
At the end of the twelfth century, Avignon declared itself an independent republic, but independence was crushed in 1226 during the crusade against the Albigenses (the dualist Cathar heresy centred in neighboring Albi). After the citizens refused to open the gates of Avignon to King Louis VIII of France and the papal Legate, a three month siege ensued starting on 10 June 1226, and ending in capitulation by Avignon on 13 September 1226. Following the defeat, they were forced to pull down the ramparts and fill up the moat of the city.
On 7 May 1251 Avignon was made a common possession of counts Charles of Anjou and Alphonse de Poitiers, brothers of French king Saint Louis IX. On 25 August 1271, at the death of Alphonse de Poitiers, Avignon and the surrounding countship Comtat-Venaissin (which was governed by rectors since 1274) were united with the French crown.
Avignon and the Comtat did not become French until 1791. In 1274, the Comtat became a possession of the popes, with Avignon itself, self-governing, under the overlordship of the Angevin count of Provence (who was also king of "Sicily" [i.e., Naples]). The popes were allowed by the count of Provence (a papal vassal) to settle in Avignon in the early 14th century. The popes bought Avignon from the Angevin ruler for 80,000 florins in 1348. From then on until the French Revolution, Avignon and the Comtat were papal possessions, first under the schismatic popes of the Great Schism, then under the popes of Rome ruling via legates and vice-legates. The Black Death appeared at Avignon in 1348; killing almost two-thirds of the city's population.
In 1309 the city, still part of the Kingdom of Arles, was chosen by Pope Clement V as his residence, and from 9 March 1309 until 13 January 1377 was the seat of the Papacy instead of Rome. This caused a schism in the Catholic Church. At the time, the city and the surrounding Comtat Venaissin were ruled by the kings of Sicily of the house of Anjou. The French King Philip the Fair, who had inherited from his father all the rights of Alphonse de Poitiers (the last Count of Toulouse), made them over to Charles II, King of Naples and Count of Provence (1290). Nonetheless, Phillip was a shrewd ruler. Inasmuch as the eastern banks of the Rhone marked the edge of his kingdom, when the river flooded up into the city of Avignon, Phillip taxed the city since during periods of flood, the city technically lay within his domain.
Avignon is commemorated by the French children's song, "Sur le pont d'Avignon" ("On the bridge of Avignon"), which describes folk dancing. The bridge of the song is the Saint Bénézet bridge, over the Rhône River, of which only four arches (out of the initial 22) remain which start from the Avignon side of the river. In fact people would have danced beneath the bridge (sous le pont) where it crossed an island (Île de Barthelasse) on its way to Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. The bridge was initially built between 1171 and 1185, with an original length of some 900 m (2950 ft), but it suffered frequent collapses during floods and had to be rebuilt several times. Several arches were already missing (and spanned by wooden sections) before the remainder were destroyed in 1660.
- Avignon Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral, and a national monument of France, located in Avignon, above the Palais des Papes. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Avignon. The cathedral is a Romanesque building, mainly of the 12th century, the most prominent feature of which is the gilded statue of the Virgin Mary which surmounts the western tower. Among the many works of art in the interior, perhaps the most beautiful is the mausoleum of Pope John XXII, a masterpiece of Gothic carving of the 14th century.
- City Ramparts, built by the popes in the 14th century, still encircle Avignon and they are one of the finest examples of medieval fortification in existence. The walls of great strength are surmounted by machicolated sattlements, flanked at intervals by thirty-nine massive towers and pierced by several gateways, three of which date from the fourteenth century. The walls were restored under the direction of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.
- La Fondation Calvet is an art foundation in Avignon, France, named for Esprit Calvet, who left his collections and library to it in 1810. The foundation maintains a museum and a library, with state support. The original legacies of paintings, archaeological items, coins and medals, and medieval sculpture have been added to by many other legacies, and a significant deposit of works of art from the Louvre. The archaeological collections and medieval sculpture are now housed separately in the "Musée Lapidaire" - once the chapel of the Jesuit College. The main museum is in an 18th century city mansion, to which modern buildings have been added; the Library bequeathed by Calvet, and the important collection of over 12,000 coins and medals, have moved to a different location in the city.
- The Pont Saint-Bénezet, also known as the Pont d'Avignon, is a famous medieval bridge. The bridge originally spanned the Rhône River between Avignon and Villeneuve-lès-Avignon on the left bank. It was built between 1171 and 1185, with an original length of some 900 m (2950 ft), but it suffered frequent collapses during floods and had to be reconstructed several times. Over the centuries, it became increasingly perilous as arches collapsed and were replaced by rickety wooden sections. The bridge was finally put out of use by a catastrophic flood in 1668, which swept away much of the structure. It was subsequently abandoned and no more attempts were made to repair it. Since then, its surviving arches have successively collapsed or been demolished, and only four of the initial 22 arches remain intact today.
- The Palais des Papes is a historical palace in Avignon, one of the largest and most important medieval Gothic buildings in Europe. Since 1995, the palais des Papes has been classified along with the historic center of Avignon, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, under cultural criteria i, ii and iv. The Palais construction began in AD 1252. The site, on a natural rocky outcrop at the northern edge of Avignon, overlooking the river Rhône, was that of the old episcopal palace of the bishops of Avignon. The Palais was built in two principal phases with two distinct segments, known as the Palais Vieux(Old Palace) and Palais Neuf (New Palace). By the time of its completion, it occupied an area of 11,000 m² (2.6 acres). The building was enormously expensive, consuming much of the papacy's income during its construction. The Palais Vieux was constructed by the architect Pierre Poisson of Mirepoix at the instruction of Pope Benedict XII. The austere Benedict had the original episcopal palace razed and replaced with a much larger building centred on a cloister, heavily fortified against attackers. Its four wings are flanked with high towers.