Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Avignon, Papal Palace in Provence (part 2)

For about 100 years, the city of Avignon was transformed by the unexpected presence of the papacy. During the initial 70 years of that sojourn, the resident pope was recognized as the supreme pontiff throughout Christendom, but after the schism, Europe was confused by the conflicting claims issued by two popes, the one residing in Rome and the other remaining in Avignon.

The present palace is but a shadow of its former glories, for it was once the jewel of the church, occasionally attempting to vie with kings and dukes for attention and legitimacy. I nevertheless enjoyed wandering the echoing stone halls, chambers and cloister walkways, imagining what it might have been like to be a monk--or even a menial servant--surrounded by the glories of the 14th-century world. Diplomats, couriers, guards (one statue is barely visible in the top of a tower), abbots, and enterprising rascals looking for political advantage all strode through these halls. I am particularly interested in the various stone window seats. These seem ideal places to sit while waiting to be presented to some official, or a good location to read (while observing what is happening and possibly straining to overhear whispered conversations). Without glass, those stone seats could admit refreshing breezes in the heat of summer or fail to keep out the cold fierce mistrals for which Provence is well known.

Although the stone work is both impressive and reassuring, seeing a mason repairing an old structure reminds me that once a building is constructed, it immediately calls for corrections and repairs.

Below the papal palace, which is essentially a fortified castle, spreads the river and its countryside. The palace always required non-religious support staff, so the town thrived. Today its main industry seems to be tourism, with cafes everywhere, alluring stores and markets. [All of my Avignon pictures were taken with the Canon G9. For other photographs on the Avignon palace, click on Avignon, part 1).