Just steps away from our hotel, La Mirande, stands the grand Palais des Papes. In a country rife with historic and architectural wonders, the Palais is a standout on both counts.
I don’t especially keep up with Papal comings and goings, so I was unaware that for an entire gap-tooth century or so, the Popes departed Rome for Avignon. Lots of Byzantine political intrigue behind the move, but for Polloplayer purposes, we only need to know that, once in Avignon, the succession of Popes there were highly interested in the safety of extremely thick walls. Thus, the immense and majestic Palais des Papes:
Photography is not permitted in the rooms where there are frescoes, but I found this example of by artist Matteo Giovanetti, whose significant work from the 1300’s is featured throughout the Palais. Most of the art, artifacts and tapestries that once graced the Palais have been lost through fire and war-time looting.
For a negligible fee, you can wander all around the Palais – there is a staggering amount of information about the Palais itself and the seven popes who resided there before the “Western Schism” staredown between Avignon and Rome. With the election of Pope Martin V in Rome, the fortunes of Avignon receded, which was a good thing for author Dan Brown all of us who hope to visit Rome (hint to the CE!).
A most memorable aspect of our visit to the Palais was an art installation entitled “Ponts”, which happened to end the day we were there. It featured many literal and figurative interpretations of bridges across water and humanity.
My eyes generally glaze over at the mention of “multimedia presentation” which can too often be synonymous with “boring amateurs at work” but I am so glad we did not miss the heart-rending “Invisible Bridges” audio-visual masterpiece by Gianfranco Ianuzzi in a chapelle of the Palais, billed as a “wish to overcome barriers and build bridges”.
Later that evening, we sat at restaurant Le Moutardier du Pape in the square and ate dinner while the sun went down and lights came on to illuminate the Palais. A pair of what appeared to be wandering guitarists strolled through the square and played to the lush acoustics there, but otherwise the only sounds were the respectfully hushed voices of diners in the square and the occasional clink of wine glasses in a toast to the moment. Here’s to the Popes!