In the spirit of visiting everywhere I can before leaving France, I decided to join the tour to Avignon last Saturday. Apparently, it is known as the land of violent winds, a fact I wish I had known before embarking on this journey. Avignon is popular for the papal palace (palais du papes) with its attendant impressive structures, and the Saint Benezet bridge (pont du Saint Benezet). Let me give you a brief history/legend of how this bridge came to be (this may not be completely accurate, as I am recounting what I heard a week ago, but here goes): Benezet was a shepherd boy, and one day, while he was tending his flock, God said to him, “Benezet, go down to Avignon, and tell them to build a bridge across the Rhone river”. He obeyed, and when he got to Avignon (I think the place he went to was in or around the papal palace), he met a clergyman (I don’t remember if it was the pope or not) holding a service, and told him what he had heard. The clergyman burst out laughing, and told him that if he really heard from God, he should “lift up that stone, and lay the first foundation”. This stone in question had posed a problem to the engineers and builders, as it simply could not be moved, no matter how much they tried. They had since learned to build around it. Anyway, Benezet didn’t hesitate for a second (perhaps he didn’t know the stone was supposedly immovable), and moved to lift the stone, as the crowd stared in disbelief. Of course he was able to lift it, and people were amazed, and this attracted sponsorship to build the bridge.
The bridge originally had 22 arches, and was very important in papacy, trade, and other relations between Lyon and Avignon. However, it was destroyed too many times by flooding (Avignon has suffered way too many floods, according to history), and despite all the hard work that went into rebuilding it each time, only 4 arches remain today. This means the bridge doesn’t link Avignon to anywhere anymore; it’s just a legendary artifact. There are 2 chapels on the bridge, 1 is the chapel of St Nicholas, where bargemen used to go and pray (he’s their patron saint, I think), and the chapel of St Benezet, where he was originally interred (poor boy died at only 25 years). There’s a folk song about the bridge, called sur le pont d’Avignon.
Anyway, so we tried to explore Avignon a bit. It appears that most shop owners there think they reside in Monaco or something. I say this because I live in an expensive town, but this Avignon is more expensive L
After Avignon, we went to see the Fontaine de Vaucluse, where the Sorgue River takes its source. This is a really tiny town, where they apparently like home time a lot. I say that because we got there at about 15.00 or 16.00, and people were already closing shop. Hian.
Yes, the Sorgue River. It comes from the base of a sheer cliff partly surrounding the town, but no one knows where exactly in the mountain, because no one has been able to go all the way in. I’m sure someone will, eventually. It is claimed that it comes from a large underground network of waters, and its steady flow, even in summer, continues to baffle scientists (I wonder why).
There is a Paper Mill here also, dating back to the 15th century, and they have done an impressive job of keeping its originality for the benefit of tourists (because surely, no one actually mass produces paper that way anymore, no?).
Sorry, there are no pictures of the Saint Benezet bridge,my fingers were freezing and I have no desire for them to fall off anytime soon. Here’s a google picture anyway
Fontaine de Vaucluse
That’s the source of the river.