Palais des Papes in Avignon


Palais des Papes
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The Palais des Papes (English: Papal palace, lo Palais dei Papas in Occitan) is a historical palace in Avignon, southern France, one of the largest and most important medieval Gothic buildings in Europe. Once a fortress and palace, the papal residence was the seat of Western Christianity during the 14th century. Six papal conclaves were held in the Palais, leading to the elections of Benedict XII in 1334, Clement VI in 1342, Innocent VI in 1352, Urban V in 1362, Gregory XI in 1370 and Antipope Benedict XIII in 1394.

The Palais is actually two joined buildings: the old palais of Benedict XII, which sits on the impregnable rock of Doms, and the new palais of Clement VI, the most extravagant of the Avignon popes. Together they form the largest Gothic building of the Middle Ages, it is also one of the best examples of the International Gothic architectural style. The construction design was the work of two of France’s best architects, Pierre Peysson and Jean du Louvres and the lavish ornamentation was the work of two of the best students of the School of Siena (Italy), Simone Martini and Matteo Giovanetti.

In addition, the papal library housed in the Palais (the largest in Europe at the time with over 2,000 volumes), attracted a group of clerics passionate in the study of "belle-lettres", amongst them the founder of Humanism, Petrarch. At the same time, composers, singers and musicians were drawn to the Great Chapel of the Palais. It was there that Clement VI appreciated the Mass of Notre-Dame of Guillaume de Machaut, there that Philippe de Vitry at the pope’s invitation presented his Ars Nova and there that Johannes Ciconia came to study.

Due to its immense size, the Palais was also the place where the general organisation of the Church began to change. It facilitated the centralisation of services and the adaption of operations in order to suit the needs of the papacy, creating a truly central administration for the Church. The manpower of the Curia (Church administration), while 200 at the end of the 13th century, surpassed 300 at the beginning of the 14th century and reached 500 people in 1316. To this were added over 1,000 lay officials working within the Palais.

Despite this, the Palais became obsolete when the papacy found it necessary to return to Rome. The hope of reuniting Latin and Orthodox Christians, along with the achievement of peace in the Papal States in Italy, made the case of returning stronger. Added to that was the strong conviction of both Urban V and Gregory XI that the seat of the papacy could only be the tomb of St Peter. Despite strong opposition from the Court of France and the College of Cardinals, both popes found the means to return to Rome, the first, on 30 April 1362, the second on 13 September 1370. This time, the return was absolute.

In the following centuries, the Palais lost all of its former glory, despite it serving as the seat of two anti-popes and many cardinals. It retained, however, a “work of destruction” aspect that French poets and writers such as Charles Forbes René de Montalembert have referred to over the centuries, with its powerful sense of beauty, simplicity, grandeur and immortality.

Since 1995, the Palais des Papes has been classified, along with the historic center of Avignon, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, under cultural criteria i, ii and iv.


The Palais construction began in AD 1252. Avignon became the residence of the Popes in 1309, when the Gascon Bertrand de Goth, as Pope Clement V, unwilling to face the violent chaos of Rome after his election (1305), moved the Papal Curia to Avignon, a period known as the Avignon Papacy. Clement lived as a guest in the Dominican monastery at Avignon, and his successor Pope John XXII set up a magnificent establishment there, but the reconstruction of the old bishops' palace was begun in earnest by Pope Benedict XII (1334–42) and continued by his successors to 1364. The site, on a natural rocky outcrop at the northern edge of Avignon, overlooking the river Rhône, was that of the old episcopal palace of the bishops of Avignon. The Palais was built in two principal phases with two distinct segments, known as the Palais Vieux (Old Palace) and Palais Neuf (New Palace). By the time of its completion, it occupied an area of 11,000 m2 (118,403 sq ft). The building was enormously expensive, consuming much of the papacy's income during its construction.

The Palais Vieux was constructed by the architect Pierre Poisson of Mirepoix at the instruction of Pope Benedict XII. The austere Benedict had the original episcopal palace razed and replaced with a much larger building centred on a cloister, heavily fortified against attackers. Its four wings are flanked with high towers.

The Grand Chapel, where the Avignon popes worshiped.

Under Popes Clement VI, Innocent VI and Urban V, the building was expanded to form what is now known as the Palais Neuf. An architect, Jean de Louvres, was commissioned by Clement VI to build a new tower and adjoining buildings, including a 52 m long Grand Chapel to serve as the location for papal acts of worship. Two more towers were built under Innocent VI. Urban V completed the main courtyard (known as the Court d'Honneur) with further buildings enclosing it. The interior of the building was sumptuously decorated with frescos, tapestries, paintings, sculptures and wooden ceilings.

The popes departed Avignon in 1377, returning to Rome, but this prompted the Papal Schism during which time the antipopes Clement VII and Benedict XIII made Avignon their home until 1403. The latter was imprisoned in the Palais for five years after being besieged in 1398 when the army of Geoffrey Boucicaut occupied Avignon. The building remained in the hands of antipapal forces for some years – it was besieged from 1410 to 1411 – but was returned to the authority of papal legates in 1433.

Although the Palais remained under papal control (along with the surrounding city and Comtat Venaissin) for over 350 years afterwards, it gradually deteriorated despite a restoration in 1516. When the French Revolution broke out in 1789 it was already in a bad state when it was seized and sacked by revolutionary forces. In 1791 it became the scene of a massacre of counter-revolutionaries, whose bodies were thrown into the Tour des Latrines in the Palais Vieux.

The Palais was subsequently taken over by the Napoleonic French state for use as a military barracks and prison. Although it was further damaged by the military occupation, especially under the anti-clerical Third Republic, when the remaining interior woodwork was cleared away for use of the structure as a stables – the frescos were covered over and largely destroyed – ironically this ensured the shell of the building's physical survival. It was only vacated in 1906, when it became a national museum. It has been under virtually constant restoration ever since.


The Palais is today a palace of culture and primarily a tourist attraction, attracting around 650,000 visitors per annum, putting it regularly in the top ten most visited attractions in France. It also houses a large convention centre and the archives of the département of Vaucluse, which include a research centre on the papacy of Avignon, organised jointly by the École française de Rome and the institut de recherche et d'histoire des textes.

With its size, architecture and historical significance, the Palais regularly serves as an exhibition centre. The first major exhibition was initiated by René Char and in the Grand Chapel between June 27 and 30, 1947. Entitled "Exposition de peintures et sculptures contemporaines" (Exposition of contemporary painters and sculptors), it was the starting point for what would later become the Festival d'Avignon.

The courtyard of the Palais des Papes is a central performance location during the Festival d'Avignon In, which holds every year in July. It is also the site of many cultural and economic events (exhibitions, shows, conventions...)

The Palais is also home to the International Congress Centre which was established in 1976 and today hosts a large number of events annually. These include congresses, parliaments, symposia, reunions and other gatherings, with the largest room, the 'Grande Audience', able to hold up to 700 guests.


With 15,000 m2 of floor space, the Palais is the largest Gothic palace in all of Europe and, due to its many architectural merits, one of the most important in the world. These merits were highlighted by Viollet-le-Duc, author of “Dictionnaire raisonné de l’architecture française du XIe au XVIe siècle” (Dictionary of French Architecture in from the 11th to 16th Centuries), who referred extensively to the Palais, including the thickness and height of its towers, the strength of its crenelated walls, the use of arcs for support on its façades and its ability to withstand heavy and drawn-out sieges.

The towers

The palais des Papes and its towers – from the east
1 – "tour de Trouillas"
2 – "tour des Latrines" or "de la Glacière"
3 – "tour des Cuisines" (kitchen tower)
4 – "tour Saint-Jean"
5 – "tour de l'Étude"
6 – "tour des Anges" or "tour du pape"
7 – "tour du Jardin" (garden tower)
8 – "tour de la Garde-Robe"
9 – "tour Saint-Laurent"
10 – "tour de la Gache" (derrière)
11 – "tour d'angle" or "tour des Grands Dignitaires" (under)
12 – "tour de la Campane"

Clément VI studium, also called "la chambre du cerf"

The studium, or private study of Clement VI, is commonly called the chambre du cerf (room of the deer), on account of the justly-celebrated 14th-century frescoes, depicting courtly hunting scenes, that decorate the walls and vaults. The subject matter, while common in contemporary secular art, is as unexpected in a room supposedly dedicated to study, as it is for a room in a papal apartment. The frescoes were probably painted by French artists, who were either highly influenced by Sienese art, or assisted by Simone Martini and/or Matteo Giovanetti, both of whom served as Clement's court painter.

The Great Tinel

This room was used primarily as a reception room. Covered with tapestries on starry blue background, there is actually nothing left of these sets. Indeed, a fire that destroyed the palace in the 14th century; many parts have been restored or rebuilt.

During conclaves, it is in this room that the cardinals met to elect a new pope. For the occasion, the room was walled and only a small opening was left open to provide all the necessary food. After each conclave, the walls were destroyed, revealing a vaulted room opening to the rest of the palace.

The chapels

Saint-Martial chapel

Located on the second level of the Saint-Jean tower, the Saint-Martial chapel relates through painting the main parts of Saint Martial's life. Matteo Giovanetti worked there in 1344 and 1345. The reading direction of the painting should be made from top to bottom.

Saint-Jean chapel

From 1347 to 1348, Matteo Giovannetti was in charge of the Saint-Jean chapel, located under the Saint-Martial chapel.

This chapel is actually closed to the public because it is being renovated.

Art exhibitions at the Palais des Papes

The Palais des Papes regularly hosts art exhibitions. The tradition began in 1947, when the art critic Christian Zervos and the poet René Char organised an exhibition of the likes of Matisse, Picasso, Braque and Mondrian. The exhibitions shown since then include two exhibitions of Picasso (in 1970 and 1973), the comprehensive 2000 exhibition “La beauté in fabula” and, more recently, the exhibition “Les Papesses” (2013) and single exhibitions of Miquel Barceló (2010) and Stefan Szczesny (2014).

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Street view


All days at 09:00-19:00


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09.10.2017 Craig
It's worth a couple hour visit. Much of the original Interiors are gone and now replaced currently with some modern art. Peculiar but not offensive :-) I recommend passing on the audio guides. The exhibits throughout the palace all have cards in multiple languages available to understand the exhibits.
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06.10.2017 Janice
Impressive building outside and inside. Well worth the entry fee. Such an interesting place and packed with history. Information guides in each room in multi languages.
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18.09.2017 Miss
+JMJ...Phenomenal tourist attraction! Visited here in the late 1980s when the ship I was deployed on did a Mediterranean Cruise. For leisure experiences, tours are scheduled for ship crew. At the time, I didn't realize it's religious aspects, but admired the vastness of the building and its architecture. Yet, no matter a person's religious affiliation, visiting this historical monument is worth every moment.
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03.09.2017 Jan
Amazing place, extremely interesting. The audio tour is well done and only costs 2€. We spent 4 hours here! Buy the combo ticket for the palace and bridge to save a little money. Great photos!
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05.07.2017 Tim
I somehow expected more of the palace itself. It's been turned into a sort of space for modern art. However, there is a rich history behind the place that is very interesting. I recommend getting the audio guides or at least reading all the placards.

There is a 7 minute movie on the first floor. Don't miss it!
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20.06.2017 Katarina
Impressive building that saw a lot of history. Audio-guide is good and they offer expositions of different art all year round. Several bars and toilets available. Visit as soon as they open.
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17.06.2017 Xavier
One of my Top 10 favourite place to visit in France. Very well conserved for centuries. Built to impress from the outside and quite lavish in the inside.
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03.06.2017 Simone
A must when in Avignon. I recommend to do the ticket with the bridge ("Pont d'Avignon") included, worth it even only economically speaking.
The complex is well kept, has a lot to see and the history is quite amazing. Full rooms to discover and I suggest to take a look outside the windows while inside cause the view on the city is quite amazing.
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30.05.2017 Territory
Outside looks great. Inside shows how it was abandoned & taken over by various groups over the eons (from a prison to army barracks in ww2)
Looks like the Pope sold out with the exhibition pieces strewn throughout the rooms.
As for toilets, the best mens room at a French attraction, The Womens toilets needed a good hosing & disinfect though.
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20.05.2017 Stephen
The palace itself was excellent but the museum of African artifacts displayed on the grounds and inside detract from the overall experience. Views of rooms are often obstructed by massive, unrelated exhibits. Very poor signage and unclear direction to move through the museum. In fact it seemed that there was more signage dedicated to the exhibits than to the history of the palace. And in the most important room, the pope's residence, there was almost no informational displays within the room, and absolutely no information available in languages other than French. Some basic and minor improvements could vastly enhance the overall experience.
 Not bad
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10.05.2017 Roger
A must see place. Massive building in every respect. You need to be fit but well worth the effort.
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22.03.2017 Julz
Everybody should visit here, explore and read the history. It's an amazing place. Surrounding areas also great at every angle . Shops, hotels, famous Restaurants, B&B'S, the walking zone. Place L'Horloge, enjoy a leisurely Coffee here, and take in all the surroundings. The Theatre, LA Marie, the sun seems to always shine here. If you sit on a step outside, watch out, a ghecko will come out of a crack in the pavement and say hello!
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14.01.2017 Kelsey
A historic must see when you are in Avignon. Make sure to take your time to walk the hill to get a panoramic view of Avignon and the surrounding country. Very beautiful and pleasant view. Might not be good for children because of a lot of walking up and down.
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07.01.2017 Franklin
The outside alone is well worth the photo op. A MUST VISIT. Especially for catholics. I not religious and I dont care too much castles when I have seen others in europe that really impress.
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29.12.2016 Paul
Beautiful place. Very grande palace. Well worth a visit. The audio guide was useful too although most of the signage contains English.
06.12.2016 Sergey
Very recommend taking the audio guide (it is in Russian). Excellent exposition of the chronology, history and details of the life of the Avignon popes.
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25.11.2016 E.
Great visit. Get the audio guide, worth the 2 Euros!
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14.11.2016 Aida
Interesting and beautiful place to visit. Amazing views from the terrace near the coffee shop.
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22.09.2016 Olga
Awesome place. Although after the revolution left only the walls, but with a wonderful audio guide and multimedia the Palace come to life before your eyes
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17.09.2016 erick
Great spot, fewer people early in the morning. Inner courtyards are lovely. We took a stroller but checked it at the entrance, easier to walk around that way. Write-ups in English.
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23.08.2016 J
It's impressive and huge but visit gets a bit boring as interiors are mostly empty.
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07.08.2016 Robertao
Church cisma in XIII
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10.07.2016 Denis
It is a part, being at avignon, have to visit.
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09.07.2016 Sergii
Impressive! The Palace is huge!
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11.06.2016 James
Well worth the ticket price.
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07.06.2016 Larisa
Very interesting. There is an audio guide in Russian
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08.04.2016 pedro
Large the way they pitch is different and they connect to the ladder-like stairs were an interesting building. The medieval grandeur of the and depression at the same time felt.
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08.03.2016 carolinec
The audioguide is pretty grim. If you take it, go on the main tracks (such as 3, 8, 16) and prefer the tracks annexes (3 digits), less annoying
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01.02.2016 Ora
Architecture and numerous history
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31.12.2015 Rasha
It's a very nice historical site but nothing to compare to the Vatican. You must take an audio guide and watch different videos.
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06.12.2015 Oceane
Christmas and day telethon. Very beautiful palace and decoration. In the city centre.
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30.08.2015 Alexandre
Main landmark and attraction in Avignon
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15.08.2015 Max
Beautiful historical place to visit without hesitation.
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04.08.2015 Murad
Amazing...imposing structure which makes you shudder...a must see
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26.07.2015 Maureen
Unesco site; world's largest Gothic palace.
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02.07.2015 Helena
Amazing place to be!! ?
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25.05.2015 Pelin
magnisificant building but I had more expectations of the inside.
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11.05.2015 Marina
Wonderful place to visit, even if you're not religious. If you are visiting during the summer, DO NOT MISS the spetacle "les luminessences". Most beautiful and impressive thing I've ever seen
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26.04.2015 Wouter
The halls are empty, unfurnished and most frescos are faded away. Still, the building itself is impressive.
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06.04.2015 Aniol
A fortress with a construction which is rather strange. The museum is well worth it.
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12.03.2015 Sergio
Mandatory visit. The beautiful history of the popes in his passage through Avignon. Worth getting the audio guide.
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20.01.2015 Yana
Very interesting historical place
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18.01.2015 Grazyna
Impressive. You will understand once you are there. Worth a visit.
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01.12.2014 Ze
The papacy in France.
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31.10.2014 Emmanuel
Make a turn around too the small place behing and the cinema La Manutention are very nice
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31.10.2014 Emmanuel
A visit yes, but also do the trick
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24.09.2014 Nick
ausblick vom turm über avignon ist klasse / allround view from the tower over avignon is great
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24.09.2014 Thom
It's difficult to get across quite how huge this place is. Its halls are vast. Follow the signs to the 'cafe and panoramic view' to get some great photos of the area.
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10.09.2014 Fred
go all the way to the top for fantastic views of the Rhone River and the famous bridge
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08.09.2014 Alfons
Very well preserved place to be!
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