“Sur le Pont d’Avignon
L’on y danse L’on y danse
Sur le Pont d’Avignon
L’on y danse, tous en rond.”
The English translation reads;
“On the bridge of Avignon
We’re all dancing, we’re all dancing
On the bridge of Avignon
We’re all dancing round and round.”
(This was even featured in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Chain of Command.”).Because of this connection to our past, we were determined to make a road trip to Avignon while visiting France.
Avignon sits a bit over 65 miles northwest of Marseilles, on the Rhône River. Archeological excavations have indicated that the earliest settlement here was around 5000 years ago, as a stronghold for the Gallic tribes of Cavares. After eventually becoming the Roman city of Avenio, it was often fought over as an important prize because of its strategic location. During the 12th century, Avignon obtained its independence from Rome and became a flourishing trade center.
King Louis VIII’s forces occupied the town during the 13th century. One hundred years later, it fell under the ownership of the Duke of Anjou, who owed his allegiance to the Pope. Clement V chose Avignon as the new seat of the Papacy because it was more centrally located within Christendom than Rome; plus the situation in Italy was unsettled. During 1348, the town was bought by Clement VI from Queen Joan of Provence. Avignon remained the sole capital of the Catholic Church until 1377, as well as one of the Papal residencies during the Great Schism (1378 to 1417). Like most of Europe during this period, the town experienced frequent outbreaks of the plague. A severe flood in 1755 put three quarters of the town under water.
In 1791, Avignon was annexed by the French National Assembly. When that occurred, the Palace of the Popes’ (the largest chateaux in the town) interior was wrecked. Twenty-eight years later, the famous Avignon bridge ( made of wood) across the Rhône River was completed. This was replaced by a stone bridge in 1909. When this section of the Rhône River was widened to improve ship navigation, it was decided that the bridge was not suitable for expansion to the new shore line ( that is why the bridge only goes part way across the River today). The old city wall of Avignon is the second longest continuous wall in the world, after the a Great Wall of China.
Throughout the 20th century, the town grew exponentially, with the population almost doubling by 1975. Today, tourism is a major industry for the town.