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Bridge of Avignon



The Bridge at Avignon is known throughout the world due to the classic song "Sur le Pont d'Avignon". Built between 1177 and 1185 as a wooden bridge, it was for a long time the only bridge across the Rhône south of Lyon. Demolished after the fall of Avignon in 1226 by Louis VIII of France it was rebuilt as a stone bridge in 1234 but was completely abandoned in 1680. Today only four of the original 22 arches remain.  

The Avignon Bridge is known throughout the world due to the classic song "Sur le Pont d'Avignon". 

Built between 1177 and 1185 as a wooden bridge, it was for a long time the only bridge across the Rhône south of Lyon. Spanning between Avignon and Villeneuve-lès-Avignon.

Due to its strategic importance, it was closely guarded on both sides of the river. The right bank, which was controlled by the French crown, was overlooked by the fortress of the Tour Philippe-le-Bel built at the beginning of the 14th century.

On the Avignon side, the bridge passed through a large gatehouse built in the 14th century and underwent major modifications in the 15th century. This passed through and over the city wall and can still be visited today.



The bridge itself was approximately 900 m (980 yds) in length, the arches are segmental rather than semi-circular in shape a design that was typically used in Roman bridges. This gave birth to the hypothesis that the bridge was built on the foundations of a Roman bridge that had existed there during Roman times. 

The bridge was almost completely demolished after the fall of Avignon in 1226 when Louis VIII of France laid siege to Avignon.  It was partially rebuilt in 1234 but by 1644 the bridge was missing four arches, and a flood in 1669 swept away more of the structure. The whole project was completely abandoned in 1680 as the arches tended to collapse each time the Rhône flooded making it very expensive to maintain.  From then until the beginning of the 19th century the river was crossed by ferry. Between 1806 and 1818 a wooden bridge was built to cross the river. The section across the Avignon branch was replaced by a suspension bridge in 1843. This was demolished in 1960 with the opening of the Edouard Daladier bridge.

Originally the bridge was made up of twenty-two arches resting on stone piers. The spacing between the piers varied between 37 m (121 ft) and 52 m (171 ft). The bridge was only 4.9 m (16 ft) in width, including the parapets at the sides.  Today only four arches and the gatehouse at the Avignon end of the bridge have survived. Of the remaining arches, the largest span is 35.8 m (117 ft) between the third and fourth piers. 

The bridge also holds the remains of the small Chapel of Saint Nicholas, named after the patron saint of the Rhône boatmen, this sits on the second pier of the bridge. It was constructed in the second half of the 12th century but has since been substantially altered. It consists of a building in Gothic style built on the remains of a previous Romanesque chapel. It consists of two floors, each with a nave and an apse. 


The exterior of the chapel indicates that it has undergone rebuilding with the windows being sealed up.  The nave is covered with stone roof tiles which rest on a series of corbels. The simple rectangular upper chapel with its barrel-vaulted roof was consecrated in 1411. The lower chapel with its apse decorated with five arches dates from the second half of the 12th century. At some stage, probably during the 13th century, a floor was inserted into the structure. 

The apse inside the upper chapel dates from the 16th century. It was in here that the remains of Saint Bénézet were once held. These had been moved there in 1674 from the church of the Celestins but were lost during the period of the French Revolution.

Saint Bénézet was never canonized but is believed to have been a real person and legend says that it was he who was responsible for the building of the bridge. Tradition states that he was a shepherd boy who while tending his flock when he heard the voice of Jesus Christ asking him to build a bridge across the river. It is said that he "proved" his divine inspiration by lifting a huge block of stone. Having won support for the project he formed a Bridge Brotherhood to oversee its construction. After his death, he was interred on the bridge in a small chapel standing on one of the bridge's surviving piers on the Avignon side. The remains of which can still be seen today.



              All  Photographs were taken by and are copyright of Ron Gatepain

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