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Palace of the Popes'




The Palace of the Popes’ in Avignon became the Papal residence between 1309 to 1377 when the Papal Curia moved there from Rome by Pope Clement V.  Today it consists of the two main buildings: The Old Palace, constructed in the Romanesque style by Benedict XII between 1334 and 1342 and  the New Palace of Gothic design and constructed by Clement VI between 1342 and 1352. It covers an area of 15,000 square meters and is one of Frances most visited monuments.  

The construction on the building of what was to become the palace of the popes began in AD 1252, although it wasn’t to become the residence of the Popes until 1309 when Gascon Bertrand de Goth, a French Cardinal, was to become Pope Clement V. Upon his election in 1305, he was unwilling to face the violent chaos of Rome and gave way to the pressure from the French King Philip IV and moved the Papal Curia to Avignon, beginning the period that was to become known as the Avignon Papacy. This period lasted until 1376 during which seven successive popes resided in Avignon, all of which were French. At that time Avignon was part of the Kingdom of Arles, part of the Holy Roman Empire.

It was during this period that the great fortified Papal Palace of Avignon was built. With most of the work be carried out between 1335 and 1364. Its purpose was not just as a spiritual symbol and residence for the pope but also of military importance being located in the highly strategic position beside the only bridge over the Rhône between Lyon and the Mediterranean Sea. Consequently, it has a fortress like appearance.

The Palace that we see today consists of the two main buildings.  The Old Palace constructed in the Romanesque style by Benedict XII between 1334 and 1342 while the New Palace is of Gothic design and constructed by Clement VI between 1342 and 1352. It covers an area of 15,000 square meters.

In 1377 Gregory XI re-established the papal capital in Rome, although cardinals of the Sacred College in Avignon selected their own pope, who assumed the vacant Avignon seat. This marked the onset of the Great or Western Schism and resulted in a situation that was to continue until 1417 when the Catholic Church was united again under one pope.

During the French Revolution (1789- 1799) the building was severely damaged with sculptures and furniture being destroyed or removed. In 1810 the building became a barracks resulting in further damage and destruction of the frescoes and artefacts.

It ceased to be used to garrison troops in 1906 and has undergone various restoration work since that time. In 1969 a project was begun to restore the main parts of the complex.

The main façade has an elegant five-sided tower at the corner of the facade while over the entrance are two defence towers (as shown in the main photograph above). These were toppled during the siege of Avignon by Louis XV in 1770 but were rebuilt in 1933 with the use of documentation showing what they would have looked like.  Above the entrance is the coat of arms of Pope Clement VI. This part of the structure is known as the Porte des Champeaux.

On entry one is led into the main courtyard known as the Court d’Honneur (Honour Courtyard) which was completed by Pope Urban V.


This is a vast space enclosed by the stone walls which consists of the wings, which housed the Grande Chapelle and the lodgings for the Grand Dignitaries. In the time of the Popes, the Courtyard was known as the Palace Square and separated the Old and New Palace.
From the courtyard a tour will normally lead on to the Hall of the Consistory.  This is a large hall where the Pope convened meetings with the Cardinals or received sovereigns and ambassadors and was were the supreme council and court met in the 14th century.


The room contained many beautiful frescoes which were destroyed when the wing was destroyed by fire in 1413, after which it became known as the burnt room.  Within the hall against the far wall are two wooden statues and paintings of the nine popes who lived in the palace while along the side wall are Gobelin tapestries.

As with the Hall of the Consistory, the room above, the Grand Tinel, was also destroyed in the fire. 

This is one of the largest rooms in the palace, measuring 155.5 by 32.5 feet.


This was the room for feasting and banquets. The room has six large vaulted windows overlooking the garden with five smaller ones positioned above them. Originally the hall's ceiling was blue with gold stars, but following its reconstruction after the fire, it was provided with a timber ceiling.

A number of chapels and anti-rooms can be visited, as can the popes bed chamber, many of their interiors containing frescoes and tapestries, although photographs are not allowed in the rooms containing these. 

The kitchen of Clement VI was constructed in 1339 and consisted of three floors.

The room, square in shape, is covered by pyramidal vaulting and a chimney rising up and shaped like an upside-down funnel.

The North Sacristy, is also known as the Pope’s Sacristy, has a pointed arch ceiling and the room contains casts of statues of kings and cardinals.


The South Sacristy is also known as the Vestment Room being the room that the pope used to prepare for ceremonies.  Today the room contains casts of the tombs of Clement V, Clement VI, Innocent VI and Urban V.


The Salle de la Grande Audience or Great Audience Hall or Chamber is 169 by 51 feet in size and reaches over 35 feet high. This is entered through the superbly sculptural portal which contains intricate designs and sculptures.


The chamber housed the Apostolic Court of Audience which was a permanent judicial body. Its ruling was final and could not be appealed against. In 1816, when used as a barracks, the room house two hundred men. 

Listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995. The Popes' Palace is the largest medieval fortress and Gothic palace of Europe and is one of the 10 most visited monuments in France with 650,000 visitors per year. 



              All  Photographs were taken by and are copyright of Ron Gatepain

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