City in Provence, France, administrative centre of Vauclusedépartement, on the River Rhône, 80 km/50 mi northwest of Marseille; population (2002 est) 86,600. Tourism and food processing are important; other industries include the manufacture of leather, textiles, paper, machinery, and chemicals. Avignon has a significant trade in wine (Côtes du Rhone) and fruit. An important Gallic and Roman city, it has a 12th-century bridge (only half of which still stands), a 13th-century cathedral, 14th-century walls, and the Palais des Papes, the enormous fortress-palace of the popes, one of the most magnificent Gothic buildings of the 14th century. The city is also famous for its annual summer festival of cinema, theatre, and dance.
History Although dating from Roman times Avignon did not rise to importance until the Middle Ages. During the 12th and 13th centuries it was a republic, but subject to the counts of Provence. In 1226 it was besieged by Louis VIII during the crusade against the Albigenses, a heretical Christian sect. Avignon was located in the Comtat Venaissin, a territory that was in the hands of the papacy 1274–1791. From 1309 to 1377, the period known as the Babylonian captivity or exile, Avignon became a papal see. From 1378 to 1408 the French antipopes used the town as their seat. These periods of papal sojourn left an important mark on the city and did much to foster growth and prosperity. The town was administered by ecclesiastical legates from 1411 until 1791, when the papacy lost Avignon in the French Revolution and the town was incorporated into France.
Historic buildings High, crenellated ramparts dating from the 14th century still exist. They were only slightly damaged in World War II. On the north side of the city is the Promenade du Rocher des Doms, now a public garden, rising steeply from the river. The 12th-century St-Bénézet bridge, immortalized in the folk-song ‘Sur le Pont d'Avignon’, still exists, but has been in ruins since 1669. It is flanked by a Romanesque chapel (1234–37). The archiepiscopal cathedral of Notre Dame des Doms, dating from the 12th century, stands beside the Palais des Papes, which comprises Le Palais Vieux (1334–42) to the north and Le Palais Nouveau (1342–52) to the south.
Palais des Papes, Avignon
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