The south of France is quite beautiful and there are regions like Provence that for many years have attracted visitors from all over the globe. I have spent many happen times here as I grew up very close to Marseille and whenever I can, I return here to delight in the food, the wine and the lovely lifestyle.
One of my favourite haunts is Avignon because it is not only a gorgeous town but it has some amazing history too, one of these being the incredible building called the Palais de Papes. The building overlooks the town and the Rhone River. It dominates the skyline and is an amazing edifice both on the insides and out. This impressive medieval Gothic structure is one of the largest and most revered symbol of the church in the whole of Europe. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and visitors can take tours around the interiors of the palace where it houses many artefacts from times long past. I certainly marvelled at the fantastic frescos and interiors which are to say the least sumptuous.
The palace was in fact built in two stages during the 14th century when Rome was in turmoil and Pope Clement V moved to Avignon. It was a difficult time for the Popes and Avignon offered them refuge. Pope Benedict XII is responsible for the first stage of the building of the magnificent palace and the building continued to be augmented by his successors as time passed. The Old Palace and the New Palace when finally finished occupied an astounding 2.6 acres and cost an absolute fortune to build.
The palace was sumptuous but it was also fortified against any attackers with four wings and high towers which really does reflect the unease of the period. When I visited the Palais des Papes, I was completely overwhelmed at the enormity of the building and especially the Grand Chapel where the popes of Avignon actually worshipped. The pomp and glory of those days is still very evident with amazing wooden ceilings and glorious frescos which are truly stunning.
The Palais de Papes was home to the popes through the troubled times in Rome and they remained in Avignon right up until 1377. It was then that they returned to Rome but this was the start of a time when 2 antipopes, namely Clement VII and Benedict XIII made Avignon and the Palais des Papes their seat of power till 1403. But they had remained prisoners in the Palais for 5 years because Geoffrey Boucicaut and his army occupied the city during this period of French History.
These tumultuous times left the Palais in a bad state and over the next few decades it fell into even more disrepair. The French Revolution of 1789 saw the Palais invaded and seized by the revolutionaries. Massacres of counter-revolutionaries took place in the Palais and the bodies of those slain were thrown down into the Tour des Latrines in the Vieux part of the Palais.
During the Napoleonic times, the Palais des Papes was turned into barracks for the army and was used as a prison. The magnificent building was used as such right up until 1906 when it was finally turned into a museum. From this date to the present time, a huge program of restoration has been carried out to restore the Palais des Papes to its former glory.