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.