Vieux Avignon is still a beautiful town, with its famous bridge of song ("Sur le pont d'Avignon"), its highly regarded summer festival, and of course the Palais des Papes, where the Popes made their home during most of the 14th century. Avignon was where Petrarch supposedly met Laura, in the convent church of Ste-Claire. The papal singers based in Avignon in the late 14th century sang the very complicated chansons in the ars subtilior style.
Apparently the 700th anniversary of the arrival of the papacy in Avignon, on November 14, 1305, was celebrated this year. On the surface, this might not seem like something to celebrate -- in poems addressed to Pope Benedict XII, Petrarch called the notoriously corrupt French papal city "Babylon on the Rhône," and Saint Catherine of Siena asked Gregory XI to return to Rome, too, which he did, in 1378, and he was the last French pope -- but it makes sense. To mark the anniversary, the city opened a new museum in the Palais des Papes, the Musée de l'Œuvre, a type of museum often associated with cathedrals, dedicated to the history of the building process. Anne-Marie Romero wrote a review (Le Palais des papes, écrin de son musée, December 16) for Le Figaro (my translation):
Faced with the imposing mass of this austere and majestic building, so emblematic of the Middle Ages, it's true that visitors feel lost. From the court to the gallery, from the tiny bedrooms to the grand staircases, they proceed without understanding anything about the function of the places they see. "The proof of this is that they always ask the guides the same questions," states curator Dominique Vingtain. "You can't blame them for this because the Palais des Papes, occupied by nine supreme pontiffs from 1305 to 1403, constituted a permanent construction sight for a century, because each pope wanted to destroy, enlarge, or embellish the work of his predecessor." [...]I have not visited Avignon during the festival, but the Palais des Papes must make a stunning backdrop for it. Maybe next summer...
The last part of the museum, of which Dominique Vingtain is particularly proud, concerns what became of the palace after the popes left. In the Chambre du Camérier and the Chambre des Notaires, facsimiles of Etienne Martelange's engravings, from the Laincel album (17th century), paintings, and drawings give witness to the renovations in the 17th and 18th century and the destruction of the Revolution. The so-called «Glacière» massacre [of seventy-some royalists, named for one of the palace's many towers, where it happened], perpetrated in 1791, had conferred such a negative image on the building that, in 1792, the city had intended to destroy it at one point, allowing rumors to circulate, completely fallacious, that there was a tribunal of the Inquisition inside it. The building was transformed into a barracks, then a prison, and it was not until the era of Napoleon III that it was decided to restore this unbeloved masterpiece from its ruin, but with such little enthusiasm that it was not until the end of the century that Henri Nodet truly undertook the task, and in 1906 it finally opened its doors to the public.