©Valentin Pacaut The Explorers

Saint-Bénézet Bridge in Avignon

The Saint-Bénézet bridge is one of the emblematic monuments of Avignon and is one of the privileged witnesses of the history of the city in the medieval period. Today classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this bridge which spanned the Rhône River represented, when it was built, a real technical feat. Devastated many times by the Rhône’s waves and by men, the work has lost some of its superb quality. The four arches that still stand proudly over the river and the Saint-Bénézet chapel attract many visitors every year who come to discover this bridge, whose name is known all over the world.

The construction of the Pont d’Avignon or the bridge of Avignon

Legend has it that a young shepherd named Bénezet once heard a voice from heaven. Following God’s instructions, he came down from the Ardèche mountains to speak to the inhabitants of Avignon and tell them that a bridge had to be built. The young man was taken for a madman and a high ecclesiastical dignitary challenged him to carry a block of stone on his shoulders and throw it into the Rhône. Before the eyes of a stunned crowd, Bénezet lifted an enormous stone and threw it into the water, helped by angels encircled with a halo, and divine intervention.

At the time, the Rhône served as a border with the Kingdom of France. The construction of the Pont d’Avignon, which began in 1177 and was completed in 1185, created a border post. The speed of the work was soon attributed to divine intervention. The use of this bridge, which followed a sinuous route, was specific. The four meters wide did not allow two carts to pass at the same time, so goods had to be transported by boat. However, the Saint-Bénézet bridge greatly simplified exchanges, it made it possible to control traffic and to levy tolls. For a long time, the bridge was the only one to allow this crossing between Lyon and the Mediterranean Sea. The massive arrival of population and pilgrims led to a sudden development of the papal city.

An unfinished bridge?

Originally, the Pont d’ Avignon spanned the Rhône. It consisted of 22 arches and was 920 meters long. Wars and floods repeatedly damaged the structure, which was rebuilt several times. Over the decades, the riverbed changed, and the arches collapsed one after the other. The bridge was opened and closed again and again for repairs until 1669, when a new flood of the Rhône caused most of the arches to fall down. After this event, the Saint-Bénezet bridge was abandoned because it was too expensive to maintain. The structure was then practically identical to the one we know today: it now has only four arches.

It was not until 1812 and the Industrial Revolution that a new bridge, this time made of wood, was built over the impetuous waters of the Rhône.

Saint-Bénézet chapel

During the construction of the Pont d’Avignon on the remains of Roman abutments, a chapel was built on the third pillar under the Saint Nicolas Chapel. The construction of the chapel, in Romanesque style, took several decades and was never really completed according to historians. The relics ofSaint Benezet were kept there for a long time, before being distributed in several religious buildings.

A famous nursery rhyme

“Sur le pont d’Avignon, on y danse, on y danse”

In the 15th century, many popular songs that accompanied weddings evoked the Pont d’Avignon. The famous melody known in France today appeared in 1853 with Adolphe Adam’s operetta: L’auberge pleine. In 1876, it was an international success with the operetta “Sur le Pont d’Avignon” (On the Bridge of Avignon). The nursery rhyme of the Saint-Bénezet bridge then toured the world.

In reality, the bridge was too narrow to allow the dancers to perform the farandoles and sarabands that were in vogue at the time. This is why sometimes “sus le pont d’Avignon”, meaning “under the bridge of Avignon” is heard, as the inhabitants danced on the banks that border the building.

Prepare your visit

The Saint-Bénezet bridge can be visited every day of the year, the opening schedule varies according to the season:

  • From November 2 to February 29: from 9:30 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.
  • March: from 9:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
  • From April to June: from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
  • July: from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
  • August: from 9:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
  • From September 1 to November 1: from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Audio guides and touchscreen tablets are available at the reception desk in French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Polish and Portuguese. The tablet is a real mine of information for visitors: testimonies of the archaeologists and historians who took part in the research on the bridge, augmented reality panorama of 1350 and 1650, photos, commentaries, etc.

The site is accessible to people with reduced mobility (PRM) and has parking spaces reserved for people with disabilities.

In the museographic space “Le Pont retrouvé”, you will discover the results of the numerous researches carried out by scientists in order to solve the enigmas represented by the Pont d’Avignon. Immerse yourself in the 3D representation of the bridge to discover the crossing as it was in 1550.

Website: http://www.avignon-pont.com/fr

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