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Europe's Largest Gothic Palace Was Once Home to Popes

Located in the sunny south of France, picturesque Avignon was once the seat of power for the Catholic Church. The historic center of Avignon is known for its architectural and cultural significance, both of which largely stem from its brief stint as the seat of the papacy.Avignon’s role as residence of the popes was relatively short-lived: the Avignon papacy – or “Babylonian captivity,” as some dubbed it – was controversial within the Church and lasted only from 1309 to 1377, but it left behind a lasting imprint on the city.Beginning in 1335, a magnificent palace was constructed to house the popes. Completed in less than 20 years in two phases, the Palais des Papes is the largest Gothic palace in Europe. The palace also holds a collection of intricate frescoes by the Italian master Matteo Giovannetti.Seven popes occupied the palace before the papacy moved back to Rome in 1377. But the palace in Avignon remained property of the papacy until the French Revolution, when it was seized by revolutionaries. It was later converted into a military barracks and prison under the Napoleonic administration. Today, the property is preserved as a museum and visitors can stroll through its halls and gander at the former private chambers of the pope. The palace is surrounded by other monuments, including the Cathedral of Notre Dame des Doms, which was built in 1150.Nearby is the Petit Palais. It was once the residence of bishops, and now houses an art museum with an extensive collection of works from the Middle Ages and Renaissance.A short stroll from the cathedral is Rocher des Domes, a park with panoramic views of the Rhone. And adjacent to the complex is the remnants of the St. Benezet Bridge, which once spanned the Rhone. Today only four of the original 22 arches remain, but the construction is solid enough that tourists can still stroll along the span. Luckily getting to Avignon is quite easy, and a well-developed tourism infrastructure makes travel simple. The best way to avoid the crowds is to visit in the spring or fall.
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