Avignon before and after the Popes

Photo by Ashwin Vaswani on Unsplash

The job description of the Pope has changed every century, in the 13 and 14th century the Pope was a not only a religous but a political force to be meddled with.

Photo by Roelf Bruinsma on Unsplash

Avignon (the g is silent) is a small fortified city in France, it’s warm nearly all year round, and is surrounded by wonderful farmland and vineyards. It sits on the Rhone river, a massive fleuve that that connected the Mediterranean Sea with Switzerland, which means that in the past it was the fastest way of brining goods inland.

Avignon was always a political and economic powerhouse even before the installation of the papacy.

The city has always been fought over,

  1. For it’s territorial strength and geography.
  2. Because of its strong defensive position on the very steep and menacing cliff of the Doms overlooking the Rhone river,

The city was often an independent republic going so far as to even close its doors to the king of France in 1226.

The city eventually lost to the King because of flooding, after which the king sentenced the city to a defenceless state, and ordered:

The ramparts must be ripped apart and you must stay indefensible for 20 years!

The city didn’t care and a year later then began reconstruction. The city was constructed as a small city of dense streets, composed of roman style building facades and arches which can still be occasionally found today if you know what to look for.

Photo by Xuan Nguyen on Unsplash

Economically, when the bridge Saint-Benezet was installed in the 12th century, it allowed for taxes to be taken from ships that crossed the Rhone.

This meant that the city controlled the flow of goods all the way up to Switzerland.

The taxes allowed for the accumulation of massive wealth, many churches were financed, an investment that cost a fortunes at the time. This meant that internationally, Avignon was a rich and prospering city that held trade and artisanal work in high regard.

Socially, the city was composed of mainly artisans, millers and farmers in the surrounding regions supported by the artificial streams that led away from the Rhone.

This small but flourishing society was governed by the local Council of Avignon who were composed of two types of men:

  1. Prud’hommes — Wise men like lawyers and writers
  2. Milites — Men of military might like knights

These men made up an authoritative council of 8, of which half were milites and the other half were Prud’hommes.

This allowed for the city to run in a democratic manner without external direction even when it was officially ruled by a large and ever-changing number of political groups.

First controlled by Raymond VII (French)

Then the power was given to Anjou and Alphonse of Poitiers, (Italian)

Later passed to Philip the 3rd, (French)

Then, finally to Charles the 2nd of Naples.(Italian)


In 1309, a tension was reached between Rome and France and the king decided to give Avignon to Anjou. This allowed Anjou to bring in a Pope,

Pope Clement V came to live at Avignon and led turned Avignon into a Papal city for 8 iterations of popes.

The evolution of Avignon was rapid and marks the progression of political change in the Roman empire.

After King Philip of France indirectly causes the death of Pope Boniface VIII,

Clement the V decides to stay in Avignon as the first French pope.

When the pope comes to Avignon, he soon decides that the city needs a change in color and tone and so he instructs for new works of architecture.

Works like the new and old papal palace erected including the new and grand ramparts that surround the larger city.

This is also complimented by the many religiously guided works that offers Avignon a gothic tone which can be inferred as the papal consult of Avignon being tied more closely with France than with the Roman powers.

Photo by Jossuha Théophile on Unsplash

These changes in politics and construction meant an increase in population and economic power for the city.

Due to the connection maintained between a few Roman cardinals and Italy, many artists open workshops in Avignon, allowing for the arts to flourish.

It becomes a place for intellectual exchange where ideas are shared, and plays are watched together by people of different cultures.

Photo by tiim on Unsplash

But this economic revolution was not only artistic in nature but included specializations of artisans in goldsmithing, clothing and other works that we may not immediately think of, when speaking of an intellectual revolution.

Gradually, the population of the city changed to house more religious clerks and cardinals who lived either in the palace with the pope of the period or in the surrounding churches like the

church Saint-Pierre, Saint-Genies, Saint-Didier, Saint-Agricol and Saint-Etienne.

Lots of Saints.

Saints were men who died as high ranking officials of the church which meant they were entitled to buildings in their honor.

Unfortunately, these changes did not stick around and after some time a different period gripped the times and a big schism between the French and Italian church took place.

Pope Gregory XI returned to Rome from Avignon but soon died leaving both the French and the Italians to form enclaves, selecting two popes: one French and one Italian.

This is not normal, there must only be one pope at one time.

As the schism continued, the people of Avignon felt divided.

The division led to the imprisonment of the last French Pope Benoît XIII in his papal palace.

The palace was sieged by the people Avignon and even parts of the Saint-Benezet bridge were burned to no avail. After five years Pope Benoit XIII fled in the dark and never came back, ending the papal period of Avignon. Though admittedly this left the people of the city a little dumbfounded due to their partial economic dependence on the papacy. A large portion of the economy was made to accommodate the needs the pope including banking, artistic workshops and other similar things.

The city did not decay and instead became one of the wine capitals of France, a cultural powerhouse and produced an endless number of plays.

Currently there are hundreds of plays within the 3 km² sized city.

The papacy left it’s mark on Avignon, and Avignon changed the papacy.

Photo by Mickael Tournier on Unsplash

If you like my writings, come back in a little while for a little more. Every-time it’ll be a little different!




astronaut runner doctor person. give or take a bit.

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Tony Mach.

Tony Mach.

astronaut runner doctor person. give or take a bit.

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