Medieval Avignon: France’s Bridge to the Past

As you travel up or down the Rhône on French Waterways: Highlights of Burgundy, Beaujolais & Provence, a striking sight comes into view: Avignon. Among the distinguishable landmarks in this medieval city are the Pont d’Avignon and Palais des Papes, both of which are attractions that will make this city a highlight of your French river cruise.

Pont d’Avignon

The lyrics to the traditional French children’s song “Sur Le Pont D’Avignon” state “Sur le Pont d’Avignon, l’on y danse,” or, “On the bridge of Avignon, they dance on it.” Looking at the bridge, you may wonder how any group of people could ever dance on it, considering it’s very narrow. Luckily, the Cruise Director on your French river cruise can tell you about the song’s origins: The original lyrics to the song were “SOUS le pont d’Avignon,” or “UNDER the bridge of Avignon.” This means that the dancing in the song actually took place on La Barthalasse, one of the largest river islands in Europe that extends under where the bridge once spanned.

You may also notice that, while the Pont D’Avignon is quite elegant, it really isn’t much of a pont anymore. After centuries of flood damage, only four of the bridge’s original 22 arches are still intact, stopping the bridge well short of reaching the other side of the Rhône. This will certainly make the Pont d’Avignon one of the more unique bridges you’ll ever see.

Palais des Papes

Following the election of Pope Clement V, the first French pope, a Papal Residency was established Avignon’s Dominican monastery. While he and his successor, Pope John XXII, lived in a monastery, Pope Benedict XII decided that he wanted his own papal residency, and razed the episcopal palace to construct the Palais des Papes in 1335.

Now, many centuries later, the Palais des Papes — or “Palace of the Popes” — remains the world’s largest Gothic structure, with nearly 20,000 people still living within its ramparts, as well as Avignon’s most renowned attraction. You’ll have the opportunity to explore this massive fortified palace for yourself during an included tour.

Main square in Avignon

The Rhône River port of Avignon is among the highlights of our French Waterways: Highlights of Burgundy, Beaujolais & Provence river cruise. Aside from its ancient landmarks, you’ll enjoy the romantic squares, the restaurants, and the easygoing atmosphere of this history-rich Provençal city.

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