"Palais des Papes: fortress and corporate HQ" Top 5 Page for this destination Palais des Papes - Popes' Palace Tip by CatherineReichardt
Palais des Papes - Popes' Palace, Avignon: 56 reviews and 127 photos
I've put off writing this Avignon tip until last, as frankly I don't know where to begin describing something as large and wonderful as Palais des Papes!
Let's just start by saying that all the positive pre publicity that you may have read about the place is true - it is a truly extraordinary place, and justifies a trip to Avignon solely on its own merits (although there are many, many other wonderful things to do once you're here).
The Palais des Papes is most commonly described as the 'largest Gothic palace in Europe', which, whilst accurate, is also misleading. It may have housed the papal court for 60 years - which would have been every bit as majestic as that of any monarch - but make no mistake that this was first and foremost a fortress that was designed to defend the Pope from harm at a time when there were any number of people who would dearly have loved him to have suffered a life threatening misfortune. For more on the history of the Papal Schism that prompted the construction of this Palace in the first place, please see my Avignon introductory page.
Pope Benedict XII ordered that the old episcopal palace of the Bishops of Avignon be razed and replaced with a much larger and more heavily fortified complex. I love the pared down architectural style of the palace - starker still due to some comprehensive redecorating undertaken during the French Revolution which destroyed most of the original interiors. The fact that it was constructed relatively quickly means that it has a fairly consistent and harmonious style, unlike some palace complexes which have evolved over longer time periods and end up as architectural mongrels.
Following the French Revolution, the Palais was used during the Napoleonic period as a prison and a barracks. In recent times, a section has been modified to create a conference centre, which must provide a valueable stream of revenue, and also means that the place retains a vibrant air of purpose.
The entrance fee - €10.50 (€8.50 with an Avignon Card) at the time of writing in October 2011 - may seem steep, but it's actually excellent value for money given how long it will take you to explore the complex at leisure (I would allow yourself two hours as a minimum and more if you're a history buff). The admission fee includes audio self tour equipment, and the commentary is absolutely excellent and very well thought out. For example, there is a commentary on each and every one of the Antipopes, but you can choose whether or not to listen to this degree of detail, meaning that people can customise the tour to match their level of interest.
Bear in mind that there is quite a lot of stair climbing involved, so unfortunately the complex would be challenging for those with limited mobility.
Address: Place du Palais
Phone: 04 90 27 50 73
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