Most visitors to Avignon will undoubtedly want to visit the Palace of the Popes (Palais des Papes); it’s the main tourist attraction within the city walls.
Built to serve as the palace of the Avignon Popes, this immense 14th-century Gothic structure (the largest of its kind) is comprised of two adjoining buildings – in essence a collection of towers – referred to as the ‘Old Palace’ and the ‘New Palace’, and along with several other sites in the ‘Historic Centre of Avignon’ is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The palace served for over six decades as the residence of the popes, and during the Western Schism as the palace of the ‘antipopes’. In later years, the complex housed the Vice-legates and served as a barracks for the French military.
Owing its construction to several French popes, most notably Benedict XII, who built the “Old Palace” on the site of the former Bishop’s Palace, and Clement VI whose additions became known as the “New Palace”, the multi-level fortress features an austere exterior with high stone walls, numerous crenellated towers,
and – above the main entrance – twin turrets, which were reconstructed in the early 20th century.
Inside, you’ll walk along sloping passages, narrow stairways, through arched doorways and into the over 25 rooms open to visitors. Among them are:
Le Grand Tinel – this long narrow room, with barrel-vaulted ceiling and casement windows with stone bench seats, is the former banquet hall of the popes.
The far wall features a massive stone fireplace.
The Consistory – this former meeting hall where the Pope received official dignitaries was once decorated with paintings (they were destroyed by fire in the early 15th century) and features plain stone walls and houses displays of models and architectural elements, including a scale model of the palace and a set of wooden cupboard doors.
The Escalier d’Honneur – this wide Italian-style processional or ceremonial stairway, restored in the 17th century, leads from the Courtyard of Honor to the Great Chapel;
Camera Paramenti (Parement Chamber) – once decorated with tapestries, this room served as a private meeting room for the Pope and his cardinals and as a waiting area for visitors. The room also served as a ceremonial room for newly nominated cardinals and those receiving the Golden Rose from the pope.
The Pope’s Tower consists of several floors, among them are: