The rain poured down as we climbed the stairs up the back wall of the Popes’ Palace. Up, and up, and up, the popes sure must have enjoyed their view overlooking the Rhone River. Brian and I weren’t going to let a bit of rain spoil our parade. We put on our rain jackets (over our clean clothes and freshly showered selves) and stepped outside deciding that a rainy day was actually the perfect setting for a 14th century palace tour. The Popes’ Palace, Palais des Papes, is the largest Gothic palace in the world. It’s construction was completed in less than twenty years, during the 14th century, initiated by Pope Benedict XII. At the time of construction, Rome was no longer the center of Catholic Christianity following the great schism of eastern and western churches. France and England, however, had formed two rivaling powers. Avignon’s location as a permanent residence was largely a political decision. Avignon belonged to the King of Naples, Charles II of Anjou, who was a faithful ally to the pope; logistically the city was adjacent to land that had been church land since 1274. With the installation of the pope, Avignon became quite cosmopolitan and saw a tremendous increase in population. The Popes’ Palace was home to eight succeeding popes after Benedict XII’s reign. During the 15th century, the presence of the popes made Avignon the capital of the Medieval western world.(Brian and I learned much during an audio tour of the palace, but the above information that I’ve shared was referenced from Avignon-et-Provence.com to ensure an accurate summary. It had been a long tour with much to absorb!)Views of the courtyard. Our tour began here, we skipped between raindrops to cross the courtyard to begin the “downstairs” portion of the palace.
We walked through the popes’ private living quarters, and the chamberlains’ private living quarters. Each of the walls in the rooms would have been decorated with elaborate frescoes from floor to ceiling. Religious relics were hidden beneath the floor in the popes’ living quarters. There were chambers where important tax documents were kept and coined money was securely hidden in floor spaces. Only the popes and chamberlain could access these chambers. The popes were quite extravagant during this era. In the stag’s room, remnants of boldly colored frescos depicting fishermen, falconers, imaginative flora, birds, and fauna decked the walls where the popes would have lounged. The floors were completely hand-painted tile. One of the staff common rooms housed the largest fireplace I have ever seen; in the photo below the bench is actually inside of the fireplace and to the right a baking oven. The length of the fireplace was that of the entire room!
The dining hall hosted hundreds of guests for feasting. The popes sat alone at a raised table at the head of the room. The kitchen was actually an oven; an entire room where the floor would be lined from wall to wall with grills for cooking meat, fires burning directly below on the stone floor and smoke exiting through the circular, chimney ceiling. Only the butcher and the pope were allowed to touch the carving knife. Food was brought from around the world and oddities were served to impress, such as gold leaf encrusted roasted fowl. All of the silverware and place settings were counted at the end of the event and no guest was allowed to exit the dining hall until all serving ware was accounted for.
Returning outdoors, we crossed another courtyard to begin the “upstairs” portion of our tour.
Atop the palace wall we had a nice view of Avignon.
The walls of the cathedral would have been hung with emerald green tapestries.
At the end of the palace tour, the rain had lightened but we were chilly from time spent inside the palace in damp clothes. We perused the gift shop, which was toasty warm, then walked through the center square of Avignon on our way back to Detour. Quite naturally, we stopped at a bakery to pick up a baguette for the next morning’s breakfast.