For more than 450 years Avignon was under the rule of the Church.
(left) Pope Clement VI in a XVIIth century engraving; (centre) Tour de la Campane; (right) coat of arms of Pope Clement VI
It was Roma Gallica i.e. the Rome of France as it was written in the medallion under the portrait of Clement VI, the most important Pope who lived in Avignon. It was reunited to France in 1791, but in just a few years all signs of the previous rule were destroyed. For ten years Religion was banned and the Revolutionary Government systematically fought every symbol of faith. After this period the knowledge of having destroyed masterpieces of art and memories of the past prevailed, but very little was left.
Papal Avignon seen from Pont Saint-Benizet
When wandering in delightful Avignon you have to bear in mind you are generally seeing heavily restored or even rebuilt monuments and palaces.
A window with a coat of arms of Pope Pius V
The Palace lost all its furniture and statues and served as a barracks. Only a few frescos have survived under repainting and now testify to the history of the building.
(left) Palais de la Monnaie; (right) coat of arms of Pope Paul V
The Palais de la Monnaie (the Mint Palace) was originally built during the pontificate of Paul V and its façade is dedicated to his coat of arms and heraldic symbols. Although heavily restored, it retains its late Renaissance Italian appearance. One can imagine that the eagle of the Borghese family managed to survive as a symbol of Napoleon. The decoration is quite sophisticated as you can see from the details of the dragon.
The Borghese Dragon
(left) Chartreuse du Val de Bénédiction; (centre) detail of the monument to Pope Innocent VI; (right) terms of lending at the time of Pope Clement XIII
A few miles away from Avignon, on the other side of the river Rhone, Pope Innocent VI built a large
Carthusian charterhouse where he was buried. It was confiscated and in a few years it fell into abandonment. Today it houses an interesting centre on old scripts
and it is a moving experience to visit it, because restoration has been kept
to a minimum. The tomb of the Pope has been returned to the chapel of the church.
To find other signs of the past one can visit the Mont-de-Piété where they keep the old registers with the terms of lending.
Map of the region around Avignon in a 1580 fresco at Galleria delle Mappe Geografiche in the corridors of Palazzo del Belvedere in Rome
The rule of the Popes did not cover Avignon only, but also the nearby countryside (and this before Avignon was bought from the Dukes of Provence), which has always been a distinct entity, known as the "Comtat Venaissin".
(left) Coat of arms of Comtat Venaissin; (right) stained glass in
the Cathedral of Carpentras with the coat of arms of Pope Eugenius IV
The symbol of the district is very similar to that of the Papal State and it shows that the keys are made of silver and of gold. It is a rare evidence of the history of the region.