Monday, October 29, 2012

The Papal Palace

"Sur le pont d'Avignon. . ."
The Papal Palace
Years ago on our first visit to Avignon, I ended up driving across the main plaza between restaurants and their outside seating.  The waiters had to pull the menu boards out of the way for me to pass.  I was mortified at my faux pas though the waiters seemed unfazed.  This time, we didn’t even enter the old city in the car but rather parked outside the wall and walked in.  Much better plan.

Avignon secured a position on the map and in the travel books with the relocation of the papal court in the 14th century.  The papacy stayed for about 100 years when the pope (Gregory XI) was persuaded to return to Rome.  When that pope died in Italy, an Italian pope replaced him.  The French cardinals returned to Avignon and elected a French pope, Clement VII, which resulted in a nasty division over control of the catholic church and its riches.  Peace was made with the election of Martin V in 1417, and Avignon remained the property of the church until the French revolution in 1791.  

Sano di Pietro mid-1400s

Giovanni di Paolo mid-1400s

Bartolomeo Caporali mid-1400s

Taddeo di Bartolo 1362
At the Musée du Petit Palais, we saw stunning exhibit of Italian art created at the time the popes were ensconced in Avignon.  The pieces were arranged in chronological order, which made the distinctions among the styles much easier to understand.  The pictures I admired enough to add here are all from the mid-1400s.  I have a thing for the Virgin Mary--despite my Humanist leanings.

Phil and I had a coffee at the little café in an open courtyard.  Soon after the coffee arrived at our table, we were forced to move inside as the skies opened up threatening to dilute our coffee.  The deluge didn't last long, we finished our coffee and returned to where we had left the exhibit and to catch up to Cindy.

Hôtel de Ville
The weather changed enough to enjoy lunch outside--probably in about the same spot I barreled through years ago--under a broad umbrella.  The rain was on a brief holiday, so we were cozy.  The restaurant was located on the plaza that sports the neo-classical Belle Epoque Hôtel de Ville (city hall).  The  Hôtel de Ville was built in the 19th century as a replacement to an older building. The 14th century Gothic clock tower (Tour de l'Horloge) remains from the original structure and was incorporated into the construction of the Hôtel de Ville.

Cleaning the Duke
The Papal Palace might have been a repeat of our previous visit but surprised us with some new room configurations and presentations. Each visitor enjoyed a self-paced audio tour--something new.  The rooms themselves were more well appointed and individual pieces and explanations seemed more complete and understandable.  See the photo of the clean duke--Louis II de Bourbon and his dog and the painstaking cleaning of the remainder of the statuary by this friendly and chatty fellow.  
The Grand Tinel is a room used for grand feasts, including the coronation of a new pope or appointment of a cardinal.  "Tinel" is derived from the Latin word for barrel or cask.  In 1342 Clement VI received 3,000 guests to enjoy a repast including a jaw-dropping amount of food.  

The Grand Tinel
The meal included (warning here to you vegetarian readers) 1,023 sheep, 18 cattle, 101 calves, 914 kids, 60 pigs, 10,471 hens, 1,446 geese, 300 pike, 46,856 cheese and 50,000 tarts.  Did I say "jaw dropping?"  I wonder what they enjoyed with their aperitifs. . .

Before leaving the Palace, we made our way up to get a bird's-eye view of the Virgin Mary atop the cathedral.

Leaving the Papal Palace
Welcome by the trompe l'oeil
The exit from the Papal Palace is a narrow and somewhat claustrophobic path carved out of rock, which opens onto a trompe l'oeil of windows with characters resembling historical figures. 

October is a better month to make a visit as some say that Avignon is the most frequently-visited monument in France; and most of those visitors make an appearance in the summer.  Unless Clement's ghost sets out a feast for you, perhaps you should consider a cooler season.

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