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2020-08-21 12:14:26

Palace of the Popes in Avignon: a century-long ā€œvisiting sessionā€ of popes

Palace of the Popes in Avignon: a century-long ā€œvisiting sessionā€ of popes

Avignon is a French ancient city in Provence on the banks of the Rhone River. The medieval charm of the historic city center, the ancient Avignon Cathedral, a fragment of a 12th century stone bridge, and the delightful nature of southeast France attract hundreds of thousands of tourists.

But the main magnet of this city is the historical monument of the XIV century, the Avignon Papal Palace. The Gothic architectural monument today rises on a hill above the city, just as it did 600 years ago. Since 1947, the famous Avignon Theater Festival has been held on its territory.

Avignon Pope: in the 14th century, the head of the Catholic Church is no longer Roman

The beginning of the XIV century was stormy for the Papal States (the future Vatican). In Rome, the spheres of influence of the richest clans are being redistributed, the poorest strata are being drawn into strife. The sacred area also goes. The papal administration seeks help from the French throne, endangering its independence. In 1309 a Frenchman became Pope Clement V.

The French king Philip IV the Handsome, taking advantage of the moment, adds the authority of the Catholic Church to his military might: Pope Clement V and his entourage move to Avignon, France. In Avignon, the Pontifical Government is housed in the Episcopal Palace and the old Dominican monastery.

For almost 70 years, the Pope ruled the Catholic Church from Avignon, then for another 30 years the Avignon residence was a stronghold of schism and opposition to the Papal government in Rome. 8 Popes were chosen in Avignon under the influence of the French throne. The last two were already alternative, in Rome at that time they chose their own. Alternative, double Popes are called "antipopes".

Even after the complete submission of the Avignon popes to the Roman popes in 1408, the “decapitated” anti-Pope opposition did not give up in Avignon for a long time: all passions subsided only by 1417.

During the stay of the Papal residence in Avignon, the city grew and became rich. Parishioners' money came here from all over Europe, Avignon was under construction, the population was growing. Popes, who were not indifferent to luxury, encouraged art and crafts - the city was changing.

After the final return of the Papal authorities to Rome, Avignon was still owned by the Catholic Church through its representative, and the bishop moved to Palace of the Popes.

The Papal Chambers: Building a Palace Step by Step from Benedict XII to Urban V

The bishop's palace in Avignon did not correspond to the desire for greatness and luxury of the rulers of the church. In addition, the Pope did not feel safe in the episcopal palace and monastery. The third Pope of Avignon Benedict XII ordered to demolish the bishop's residence and build a palace on this hill, worthy of God's representative on earth.

The successors of Benedict XII did not remain aloof from architecture, adding new buildings or improving the palace to their own taste. By the standards of the XIV century, a huge castle grew instantly - in less than 30 years (such large-scale medieval buildings were usually built over the centuries). The record time of construction was provided by practically unlimited funds of the church authorities - the whole of Europe built the palace.

For 29 years (1335 - 1364), thanks to the efforts of the Popes, the following were built:

  • Old palace
  • New palace
  • Big chapel
  • Two large towers
  • The front yard.

The first palace (later the Old) was built under Benedict XII, who cares about greatness and security. The palace, surrounded by a powerful protective wall, has become an impregnable fortress on a hill. The walls of the Old Palace, more than 3 m thick, were not destroyed either by guns or by time.

The new palace next to the Old was built by the successor of Benedict XII, Clement VI. The Avignon residence has already established itself in its rights, besides, strong walls have already protected the population of the Palace of the Popes, so the New Palace came out more graceful. The combined area of the palace is over 11,000 sq. M.

Clement VI was also the initiator of the construction of a special chapel for the ceremony of electing the new Pope. A chapel 52 meters high was built, painted with luxurious frescoes, and consecrated in honor of Saint Martial. The Avignon popes compared themselves to the saint whom Saint Peter sent to serve in Gaul. Since this chapel was not the only one in the palace, they began to call it the Bolshoi.

Innocent VI decorated the building with 2 monumental crenellated towers with a square base. There are 12 towers in the palace, but these 2 are several times larger than the others. Pope Urban V arranged the interior space, after which the Parade Courtyard appeared in the palace.

The interior decoration of the Palace of the Popes and church premises amazed the imagination of contemporaries. Paintings on walls and ceilings, panels and furniture made of precious woods, carpets, art objects filled the premises of the palace. The Pope's throne was made of white marble.

Luxurious palace - place of execution - barracks (stable) - museum

During the French Revolution (late 80s - early 90s of the 18th century), the palace was plundered, many interior items were destroyed. The rebels used the papal palace as a prison, and here they executed those who tried to resist them. Precious art objects burned down in the fire. In the 19th century, Napoleon's soldiers set up barracks and stables here.

And only in 1906, the French government organized a museum here and began to restore the palace. Frescoes and wall paintings have survived only in fragments - in the halls and the Great Chapel - but the walls of the palace stand indestructible, allowing one to appreciate the beauty of Gothic medieval architecture.

* Palace complex of the XIV century

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Egor Eremeev
Current material has been prepared by Egor Eremeev
Education: Westminster University (Business & Management), London.
Egor studied and lived in the UK for 8 years and graduated from the university of Westminster. He is currently the co-founder and the director of business development at Smapse Education and personally visits foreign schools and universities, interviews students studying in those institutions.
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