a hunger we all experience from time to time.
Who wouldn't be seduced by visions of a calmer, more centered life?
Dreams of a fresh start rewind over and over in our heads,
the chance to recharge our batteries and beat the blues.
The grass is always greener .....
Imagine life in 1309, the apex of of a politically charged Catholic Church,
its Italy-centric reign bitterly fought over by a house divided.
With the election of the first ever french pope, the holy father
and his entourage picked up and flew the coop
in search of a better quality of life.
Abandoning Rome and its tiresome politics, the pontiff, his
companions, and most of the church wealth headed to the promised land.
A chance to turn over a new leaf and win back peace of mind.
Those pearly gates of Provence may not have been the doorway to heaven
but in those turbulent times, it may have felt like an escape from hell.
At least, it started out that way....
"You may think the grass is greener on the other side, but if you
take the time to water your own grass it would be just as green."
a majority of french cardinals, thereby putting
a lock on a long succession of non-Italian popes.
When french King Philip IV made advances to the new pope,
Clement and the church power-brokers, sick of being at each others'
throats in politically charged Rome, were ready for a new "career path".
Vatican City* was left to smolder as The Church headed for sunny Provence.
*It wasn't referred to as The Vatican or Vatican City at that time,
but for purposes of explanation, we'll refer to today's brand name.
Consider the stress we mortals feel when we make a big about-face -- new
career, remodeled house, buying a new set of wheels ..... whatever the move,
change brings about a mix of pain as well as the rosy promise of possibilities.
And that's probably what the wily Pope felt as he was
wooed and won by the ambitious french king.
Who knows if the Pope's move to Avignon was the right one,
but what I can confidently say is that a trip to the
wonderful walled city is a very very very good idea.
Its most distinguishing feature is the Palace of the Popes,
referred to as Palais des Papes.
This is not the Vatican.
If you're expecting Rome, you may as well
go home -- but that would be a big mistake.
Avignon's palace is a thrilling masterpiece of showmanship.
When you visit, the first thing you'll see is Place du Palais, a huge
open space that shows off the fortress/castle to its greatest advantage.
You'll feel the power and weight of the pope's authority the minute
you set eyes on its massive walls and towers.
The Palais des Papes began as an old church palace
which soon outgrew its ecclesiastical court.
Before long, the succession of popes updated and grew this house of God,
its massive stone walls a mix of varying design.
Papal chambers, ceremonial halls and thoughtful exhibits will take
you back to the restless days and nights of Christianity's mother church.
Enormous church wealth was spent to insure the papacy got its just due.
Imagine the audacity it took to re-write church history.
The magnitude of moving from Rome to Avignon may have been as
thunderous as when God created the earth -- although I very
much doubt the papacy ever got the chance to rest on day seven....
As a matter of fact, they had seventy years to "get it right" and
when all was said and done -- well, it wasn't done and that's how
The Great Papal Schism* began.
*the reign of two popes, one in Rome & one in Avignon
"The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain."
a certain formidable power, the basic framework remaining intact.
Filled with frescoes, large scale models and tile-work, you'll marvel over
the strength of its 10-foot thick walls and overwhelming proportions.
With very little furniture and still fewer artifacts, it's the scale of the place,
the outrageous visual magnitude of the structure that provides a priceless look
at what it must have felt like to live a day in the life of a pope.
Outweighing any thoughts of what's gone missing, you'll recognize
power, wealth and scholarship in a privileged setting.
And the history!
From The Black Death to widespread famine, all seven Avignon popes
had to fight for every breath of power and influence while those in Rome
jacked up their struggle to wrestle away control from the french base.
There were good times as well.
In France, the papacy was re-organized, advancing more centralized power.
Missionary work expanded, paving the road for a renewed push for
university education and many other enlightened movements.
The palace -- as well as the high walls that surround the city --
were custom-built to make Avignon a virtual fortress.
For some perspective, picture the parking lots
that surround today's city walls.
Now try to imagine them as they once were --
moats that preserved the safety of the medieval city.
"Religion is regarded by the common people as true,
by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful."
Seneca the Younger, Roman Philosopher
Following his untimely death, the pontiff was succeeded by Urban VI,
a despot despised by all the french cardinals.
The Great Papal Schism, the period when one pope resided in Rome
and the other in Avignon, had begun --- and oh what a ride.
At one point (1409 in Pisa), a third pope was elected!
French Pope Clement VII and the detested Pope Urban VI
took turns excommunicating each another.
Scandal! Slander! Shame!
It gives new meaning to the slang "a holy mess".
By 1429, the Avignon papacy ended once and for all, paving the way for absolute control in Rome and the eventual emergence of an invincible Vatican City.
"There is no great religion without a great schism.
All of them have it.
And that's because you're dealing with something called faith.
And faith is not something you can prove; faith is personal opinion.
..... when you're dealing with something with certainty, like, y'know,
science or logic, you don't have the--there's no wiggle room;
that's why history is not filled with warring math cults, y'know,
because you can settle the issue; you can prove something to be right or wrong,
and that's the end of the argument: next case.
Whereas, when you're dealing with faith, you can forever argue your point,
or another point, because you're dealing with intangibles.
Personally, I think, faith is what you ask of somebody
when you don't have the goods to prove your point."
Thomas Quinn, author
Overlooking the Rhone and its famous bridge, this park on a bluff offers
great views of neighboring town Villeneuve-les-Avignon,
marking the spot where Provence ends and Languedoc begins.
Wander among the rocks and green space to get your fill of today's city flavor.
You'll discover quiet grottoes and a chance to rest your weary feet.
Notre Dame des Doms, a 12th century Romanesque cathedral, is unmissable
with its gilded statue of the Virgin Mary perched on high.
It boasts a magnificently ornate tomb, two organs as well as
a marble throne left by one of Avignon's popes.
spoil us for Egyptian, Roman and Etruscan history.
Definitely a must-stop for museum-nerds (like me).
Set in a lovely mansion, the Musée Angladon offers a haven for serious art lovers. Paintings by Manet, Degas, Picasso, Cezanne and Van Gogh offer
a more modern beauty in the heart of the ancient city.
are filled with unmistakable provencal character.
Perfectly sized, Avignon is somewhere in between a large town and a
small city -- thoroughly walkable, with a vast array of diverse entertainment.
Everywhere you turn, you'll see typical Provence at play --- people watching
at its best -- strolling, sipping café coffees, slurping ice cream cones.
The area around the Opera offers fantastic people-watching.
Little pockets of parks and squares such as Les Halles
covered food market will tempt you to stay forever.
Rue Teinturiers and Place Carmes should not be missed.
Flowers are abundant as well as fantastic food and drink.
We took the opportunity to enjoy a Vietnamese dinner off the beaten path on a shady residential street -- spring rolls, lacquered duck... a delightful change of pace.
These little peeks at how real people live are reason enough to travel.
Admiring their magnificent 17th and 18th townhouses, feeling the history
that's inside these ancient walls, you're sure to make some very special memories
as you sip your Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine -- which, by the way,
was introduced by Pope Clement V in the days of the Avignon Papacy.
about it, Avignon is a perfect reflection of what you've come to see.
It's time well spent, a powerful reminder of France's fascinating history
as well as an optimistic tribute to the future.
Just like the celebrated city enclosed by ramparts,
our hosts made us feel alive, secure, and special.
Our adventures included feeding a turtle, the hungry
house pet of the home we rented for five days.
Hanging out on the flower filled patio, sipping wine (Cotes du Rhone of course!)
and talking about everything and nothing is what lazy days of travel are meant to be.
Medieval ramparts, palaces and popes are one thing -- but it's the personal side,
the daily experiences that make for a memorable time in a special place.
And Avignon certainly is an exceptional treat, one that drips with smashing flashes
of inspiration and out of the ordinary experiences -- making us feel like we belonged.
Make like a pope and head for animated Avignon.
Stir the pot, roll with the punches -- and enjoy your very own transformation.