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Avignon History

Avignon’s history is one of acrimony. Fought over, occupied and the centre of papal and political intrigue, this city only became part of France in the late 18th century.

Although civilisation here dates back as late as 4,000 BC, it was the arrival of the Romans, followed by Christianity, that turned Avignon into one of Europe’s biggest and most important settlements. Its key position on the Rhone meant it was squabbled over by Gothic, Saracen and Frankish tribes throughout the early Middle Ages, before the papacy arrived in 1309.

Chosen by Pope Clement V as his preferred seat instead of Rome, popes stayed in the city until 1377, when a schism in the church saw church leaders installed in both cities. The Papal Palace, still Avignon’s most remarkable building and first built as a fortification in 1252, played home to the popes. From here they administered power throughout Christendom, also ensuring the surrounding region became renowned for its wine, especially around the area of Chateauneuf du Pape.

Although Avignon remained a papal enclave, the city inevitably lost some of its lustre after the church returned to Rome in the early 15th century. After endless invasions and sieges, Avignon eventually became part of France in 1791; two years after the country’s revolution began. The city grew beyond its walls over the following one hundred years, its population booming during the inter war period, before being occupied by the Nazis during WWII.

The post–war years saw the city gain cultural significance through its annual theatre festival, founded in 1947, with the historic centre earning UNESCO world heritage status in 1995. Crowned Europe’s City of Culture in 2000, Avignon has become a hub for contemporary art, thanks in large part to a €100 million gift of artworks by gallery owner Yvon Lambert.

Did you know?
• Avignon holds two arts festivals each year. The official Festival d'Avignon (‘Festival In’) as well as the smaller ‘Festival Off’, which features unknown works.
• The Pont d’Avignon, also known as Pont St Benezet, dates back to 1177, part of it still standing today.
• The original Avignon Roman Forum stood where Place de l'Horloge does today.

Featured Hotels

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La Mirande

Opposite the Palais des Papes, this former cardinal's palace from the 14th-century is all sophistication and attention to detail. The rooms are delightful, and the hotel's restaurant is one of the best in town. The sumptuous décor has been chosen with flair and imagination. Expensive, but this is luxury with charm and personality.

Hotel de l'Horloge

Well placed on the main square, this handsome old 4-star hotel is in the midst of all the life of the town. Noise is not usually a problem, but if you're concerned, ask for one of the quieter rooms at the side. Rooms are small but comfortable and attractively decorated.

Novotel Avignon Centre

Well positioned just outside the gateway into the walled city, the Novotel has easy road and rail access, an underground car park, a decent restaurant, swimming pool and spa, as well as bright, spacious, comfortable bedrooms. And it is only 10 minutes' walk to all the attractions of the city.

Hotel de Blauvac

This small, inexpensive hotel is just off the place de l'Horloge in a sensitively converted 17th-century mansion. It feels redolent with history, especially in the rooms with mezzanines and walls of massive exposed stone blocks. A warm welcome and 16 very basic but comfortable rooms make this a fine, well-placed budget choice.

Hotel Splendid

The Splendid offers six simple, well-kept, brightly decorated little rooms. It occupies an ordinary terraced house in a quiet residential street within the city walls, opposite the garden of an old cloister. It's well placed for anyone arriving by train, as it's just a few minutes' walk up the street from the station.

Hotel Colbert

The Colbert's arty style, with bright decor, pictures on the walls and unusual breakfast plates, are all the product of the creative and generous spirit of hosts Patrice and Annie. Rooms are tiny but adequately equipped. Access is very convenient, and all the sights and city centre are just minutes away.