The Popes’ Palace, one of France’s top ten most popular attractions, is a Unesco World Heritage Site and receives 650,000 tourists annually. The greatest medieval stronghold and largest gothic palace in all of Europe, this 15,000m2 marvel of a monument is a potent representation of the impact of Western Christianity in the 14th century.
The Popes’ Palace, which was constructed over a period of fewer than 20 years beginning in 1335, is the result of the union of two palaces constructed by two popes: Benedict XII, who built the Old Palace to the east and north, and his successor Clement VI, who built the New Palace to the south and west.
The history of the Palais des Papes
In the year 1252 AD, work on the Palais got underway. When Gascon Bertrand de Goth assumed the role of Pope Clement V in 1309 and relocated the Papal Curia to Avignon under the so-called “Avignon Papacy,” he did so because he did not want to live in the violent instability of Rome.
Pope John XXII established a splendid facility at the Dominican convent where Clement resided as a guest. Still, Pope Benedict XII (1334–42) started work on the old bishops’ palace in earnest, and his successors carried it out until 1364. The location was the old episcopal palace of the bishops of Avignon, on a natural rocky outcrop at the northern edge of Avignon, overlooking the river Rhône.
The Palais, also known as the Old Palace and the New Palace, was constructed throughout two significant periods (New Palace). It took up 11,000 m2 of space (118,403 sq ft) when it was finished. The papacy spent a significant portion of its money on extraordinarily expensive buildings during construction.
Pope Benedict XII gave the architect Pierre Poisson of Mirepoix the order to build the Palais Vieux. The austere Benedict demolished the previous episcopal residence and replaced with a considerably larger structure centered on a cloister that was highly protected against invaders. High towers surround each of its four wings.
The residence of Papes in Avignon
The popes left Rome in 1273 because they could no longer feel secure, unhindered, and autonomous there. Clement V settled in the papal country of Avignon in 1309. The city is advantageous for trade because it is situated in the center of the historical Christian world. The Saint-Bénézet bridge across the Rhône serves as a border crossing for Italy, Provence, and Spain.
This city, which has 5,000 residents and was first inhabited by Clement V, was significant in the Middle Ages. After that, he resided in the Friars Preachers’ Dominican convent. Part of the Sacred College of Cardinals made Avignon their official residence during the pontificate of Clement V. Following the pope’s passing, the city’s bishop was chosen and assumed leadership. John XXII decided to settle at the episcopal palace he had long called home, which was situated in a secure area of the city. The location afterwards served as the Palais des Papes‘ current location.
Architecture of the Papes in Avignon
The Palais is one of the most significant buildings in the world and the largest Gothic palace in all of Europe, with a floor area of 15,000 square meters (160,000 square feet). Viollet-le-Duc, a writer, referred frequently to the Palais and emphasized its strengths, such as the thickness and height of its towers, the sturdiness of its crenelated walls, the use of arches for support on its façades. The structure of Palais des Papes and its towers are as follows:
Clément VI stadium
The studium is also known as the “chamber of the deer” because of the justly acclaimed 14th-century murals that decorate the walls and ceilings and portray courtly hunting scenes. Even if the subject matter is typical of modern secular art, it is as out of the ordinary for a study room as it is for a chamber in the papal residence. The frescoes were likely created by French painters who were either heavily influenced by Sienese art or received assistance from Simone Martini and Matteo Giovanetti, who both worked as Clement’s court painters.
The Great Tinel
This space is used mostly as a greeting area. There is nothing remaining of these ornaments, which are now covered in tapestries against a starry blue background. The palace was destroyed by fire in the 14th century, although many damaged areas have since been repaired or reconstructed.
The cardinals gathered in this room during the conclaves to choose a new pope. The space was blocked off, especially for the event, with only a tiny opening to supply all the required food. The temporary walls were torn down following each conclave, exposing a vaulted space that led out to the remainder of the palace.
The Saint-Martial chapel, which is on the second floor of the Saint-Jean tower, depicts key events from Saint Martial’s life through paintings. In 1344 and 1345, Matteo Giovanetti worked there. The painting should be viewed from top to bottom when being read.
Matteo Giovannetti oversaw the Saint-Jean chapel, which is situated beneath the Saint-Martial chapel, from 1347 to 1348.
The Gardens of the Papes in Avignon
An improved understanding of the Palace of the Popes, an important historical monument that is a component of the UNESCO World Heritage, as well as a new draw for tourists.
The tryptic of the Gardens at the Palace of the Popes is now complete with the joining of the Papal Garden and the Palace Garden. On September 14, 2018, Urban V Orchard was officially opened and is reachable without going to the Palace.
The new pontifical gardens, however, are included with a Palace tour. They have been rearranged in the Palace Garden (1250 m2) and the Papal Garden (662 m2), both of which are gardens.
Temporary exhibitions of the Papes in Avignon
The Palais des Papes has been a venue for temporary exhibitions since 1947. Exhibits have honored the works of notable artists like Pablo Picasso, Nicolas Mignard, and Alfred Lesbros. These exhibitions cover a wide range of subjects, and the Palace swiftly rose to prominence as a venue for cultural activities over time. The foundation of the current Avignon Festival was laid at the very first significant presentation of the monument.
The event “Passages d’une rive à l’autre” (“Passages from one bank to the other”), which was organized with the involvement of the Departmental archives of the Vaucluse department, took place between June 2000 and April 2001 at the Palais des Papes and traced local life and the distinctiveness of the city of Avignon. The Venasque Triptych was celebrated and displayed from November 2018 to April 2019 along a trail emphasizing the historical, artistic, and technical aspects of the piece.
The paintings of the artist Ernest Pignon-Ernest were displayed from June 2019 to February 2020 as part of the “Ecee Homo” exhibition organized by the city of Avignon. The information panels explain his artistic, philosophical, and political philosophies. The public is given access to about 400 images, collages, charcoal drawings, and ink drawings created by the “street art” pioneer.