Villeneuve-lès-Avignon Things to Do

  • Missing wall of the chapel
    Missing wall of the chapel
    by Nemorino
  • Fort Saint-André from the Chartreuse
    Fort Saint-André from the Chartreuse
    by Nemorino
  • La Chartreuse
    La Chartreuse
    by Nemorino

Most Recent Things to Do in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon

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    Fort Saint-André

    by Nemorino Written May 24, 2014

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    Fort Saint-André is a well-preserved example of fourteenth century military architecture. It is located on the top of Mont Andaon, the highest hill in Villeneuve lez Avignon, which it shares with the Abbey Saint-André.

    Construction of the fort was begun on orders of the French King Philippe le Bel (1270-1314) and was completed under his successors Jean II Le Bon (1350-1364) and Charles V (1364-1380). The declared purpose of the fort was to protect the Abbey from the bands of armed robbers that were still common in the South of France. But another reason was that the Rhône at that time was the border between France and the Provence. Villeneuve lez Avignon belonged to France, but Avignon did not, so the French kings wanted to have an imposing fortress at the border to show how powerful they were.

    Second photo: The twin towers at the entrance to Fort Saint-André.

    Third photo: Not all the interior walls of the fort have been preserved, but from their remains you can tell where they used to be.

    Fourth photo: A footpath for walking around inside the walls of the fort.

    Fifth photo: When I saw this opening in the wall, an opening which is wide on the inside and narrow on the outside, I was surprised to realize that I knew the word for it only in German but not in any other language. But on second thought I found this understandable, since medieval fortresses are scarce in America, so my experience of them has been mainly in Germany.

    When I finally looked it up, I found that the word for this in English and French is embrasure (pronunciation here in both languages). In any case, the idea was that an archer using the latest technology (bow and arrow) could shoot arrows through the slit while remaining under cover himself.

    Address: 58 Rue Montée du Fort, 30400 Villeneuve-lès-Avignon
    Directions: Location and photo on monumentum.fr.
    Phone: (33) (0)4 90 25 45 35
    Website: http://fort-saint-andre.monuments-nationaux.fr/en/

    Next: Inside Fort Saint-André

    Fort Saint-Andr�� Fort Saint-Andr�� towers Fort Saint-Andr�� Inside the walls Eine Schie��scharte
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    Inside Fort Saint-André

    by Nemorino Written May 24, 2014

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    I don’t know whether this is an authentic medieval toilet or just a replica, in any case it is located on an upper floor of one of the towers. It is not connected to any kind of sewer system, but just to a sloping hole that soon ends in mid-air, so everything that came out of the toilet just fell down onto the ground next to the wall.

    Second photo: This large fireplace is very similar to the ones that can be seen in the Palace of the Popes in Avignon, on the other side of the river.

    Third photo: This was apparently an oven in the fort’s kitchen.

    Fourth photo: Of course there had to be a chapel in the fort, to keep up the morale of the troops and keep them obedient and submissive.

    Fifth photo: These illuminated cubes show graffiti from various centuries that have been found inside the fort. Apparently some of these were made by soldiers, some by prisoners and some even by bagnards or forçats who were brought here from the prison colony in Toulon to do forced labor in the fort.

    Address: 58 Rue Montée du Fort, 30400 Villeneuve-lès-Avignon
    Directions: Location and photo on monumentum.fr.
    Phone: (33) (0)4 90 25 45 35
    Website: http://fort-saint-andre.monuments-nationaux.fr/en/

    Next: Views from Fort Saint-André

    Medieval toilet in Fort Saint-Andr�� Fireplace in the kitchen Oven in the kitchen Chapel in the fort Graffiti display
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    Views from Fort Saint-André

    by Nemorino Written May 24, 2014

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    From the towers of the fort you can look out over the countryside for many miles or kilometers (or leagues, as they would have said at the time). In the first photo we are looking south towards Avignon, with the Palace of the Popes rising above the rest of the city.

    Second photo: Another view of Avignon and the Palace of the Popes, as seen through the gap between two of the crenellations.

    Third photo: Looking west from the castle walls at La Chartreuse and part of the town of Villeneuve lez Avignon.

    Fourth photo: Another view of Avignon and the Palace of the Popes, from one of the towers of Fort Saint-André.

    Fifth photo: A girl taking a photo of her boyfriend on the walls of Fort Saint-André.

    Address: 58 Rue Montée du Fort, 30400 Villeneuve-lès-Avignon
    Directions: Location and photo on monumentum.fr.
    Phone: (33) (0)4 90 25 45 35
    Website: http://fort-saint-andre.monuments-nationaux.fr/en/

    Next: Abbaye Saint-André

    View from Fort Saint-Andr�� View from Fort Saint-Andr�� Looking down at the Chartreuse Avignon from Fort Saint-Andr�� On the walls of Fort Saint-Andr��
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    Abbaye Saint-André

    by Nemorino Written May 24, 2014

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    In 1999 the owners of the site of the Abbey Saint-André celebrated the one thousandth anniversary of the founding of the abbey, since 999 was the year the abbey was officially recognized and approved by the Pope Grégoire V.

    Actually the abbey was founded somewhat earlier than that, since it had already been endorsed in 982 by the Bishop of Avignon.

    Four about four centuries this was an extremely rich and powerful abbey, with huge land holdings on the right bank of the Rhône and the revenues from over two hundred priories throughout the region of Languedoc – Provence.

    In those days, being the Abbot of the Abbey Saint-André must have been the equivalent of being the CEO of a hedge-fund today – a way of becoming extremely rich at other people’s expense.

    This did not go unnoticed at the time. In 1388 the inhabitants of Villeneuve lez Avignon refused to swear allegiance to the Abbot, who didn’t even live there and was in effect an absentee landlord.

    The abbey went into a decline after that, but continued to exist until the French Revolution, when it was disbanded. On September 3, 1792, the monks were ordered to disperse. The abbey’s buildings were used for a while as a military hospital, then sold and for the most part demolished.

    Today the site of the abbey is private property, but the gardens and the remaining buildings are open to the public and are in good condition. As of 2014, the price of admission is six Euros (or five Euros if you have an Avignon Pass).

    Address: Rue Montée du Fort, 30400 Villeneuve-lès-Avignon
    Directions: At the top of Mont Andaon, next to Fort Saint-André.
    Phone: +33 4 90 25 55 95
    Website: http://www.abbayesaintandre.fr/

    Next: La Chartreuse

    Abbey Saint-Andr�� Abbey Saint-Andr�� Courtyard of the Abbey Garden of the Abbey Avignon from the Abbey
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    Inside the Chartreuse

    by Nemorino Updated May 18, 2014

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    About one third of the Chartreuse building is open to visitors, including the Chapel of the Frescos with the remains of authentic wall paintings by Matteo Giovannetti (1322-1368), a painter who also created frescos in the Palace of the Popes in Avignon. (Giovannetti was a friend of the poet Petrarch, who lived in Avignon at the same time.)

    Third and fourth photos: In this “Cell of the Sacristan” there is a wall plaque with the story of an American aviator who bailed out of his plane and landed here during the Second World War. The plague reads:

    On August 8, 1944, at 9 o’clock in the morning, the American aviator Louis CAPAWANA, whose aircraft had just been shot down, fell into this courtyard. But his parachute got snagged on the chimney and he was not able to disentangle himself.

    Despite a considerable German presence, VILLENEUVE being the headquarters of their 19th Army, the caretaker of the CHARTREUSE, Georges PUEL, assisted by several young people, managed to disentangle him and hide him in the home of Madame VASSE in one of the houses of the cloister of the cemetery.

    The Organization of Resistance of the Army, which had a guerrilla band in the region, managed to smuggle him out of the CHARTREUSE and, eight days later, enabled him to return to CORSICA, where his unit was located.

    According to a French website called aerosteles.net, the plane was on a mission to bombard railway and highway bridges near Avignon when it was shot down. Three of the six crew members were killed. The other three managed to parachute to the ground, where one was immediately taken prisoner by the Germans. The other two were aided by the local population and the “Vigan-Braquet” guerrilla band.

    Another website, the blog of Dick Keis, adds that Louis Capawana’s rescuers took him to the home of a family with a young daughter. “They changed his American uniform for a pair of French blue work overalls. To cover his true identity, they then put their daughter in his arms to make him look like her father” so he would not be recognized by the Germans who were searching for him.

    Address: 17 Allée des Mûriers, Villeneuve lez Avignon
    Directions: Location and photo on monumentum.fr.
    Phone: +33 4 90 15 24 24
    Website: http://www.chartreuse.org/

    Next: Tower of Philippe le Bel

    The Chapel of the Frescos The Chapel of the Frescos Cell of the Sacristan Story of the American aviator A ceiling in the Chartreuse
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    La Chartreuse

    by Nemorino Written May 18, 2014

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    Near the entrance to Fort Saint-André I saw a sign for pedestrians pointing to “Chartreuse 15 min.” – which surprised me because the Chartreuse I knew was a mountainous region near Grenoble, over two hundred kilometers north of Villeneuve lez Avignon. I also knew ‘Chartreuse’ as a sticky-sweet liqueur that I used to drink sometimes out of politeness when I was in that part of France. The color of that liqueur is also known as Chartreuse -- a nauseous yellowish green or greenish yellow color. Whether the nausea came from the color or the liqueur I can’t decide. Probably both.

    But what I did not know was that Chartreuse was also the name of an old monastery in Villeneuve lez Avignon – best known today for the fact that an entire wall is missing from the chapel, which gives it a quaintly ruinous appearance, though the rest of the building is in fact not in ruins at all but has been restored and is now kept in good repair.

    Anyway, when I had finished touring the fort and the abbey, I got on my bike and coasted down the hill to the Chartreuse. I had to circle the entire complex before finding the entrance, but I finally found it, showed my Avignon Pass and paid the reduced admission fee of € 6,50. If for some reason you don’t have an Avignon Pass you would have to pay € 8,00, as of 2014 – but since the Avignon Pass is free there is no reason not to get one.

    It turns out that in the Middle Ages this Chartreuse was the center of the Order of the Chartreux, a huge business and religious operation that was founded in the 14th century by Pope Innocent VI. During my visit I learned that there were two kinds of monks in the Chartreuse: the ‘fathers’, who spent their days praying, reading, writing, preaching and generally giving the operation its religious veneer, and the ‘brothers’, who took care of the business side, for instance by collecting rents from the downtrodden peasants who lived and worked on the order’s extensive land holdings.

    This was a successful business model for several centuries, but by the 18th century the order had gone into a decline. It was finally abolished during the French Revolution, but the building was preserved.

    Now the Chartreuse building is the home of the Centre National des Écritures du Spectacle, whose mission is “to host playwrights and drama groups in order to allow them to pursue their creative work and research.”

    Address: 58 rue de la République, Villeneuve lez Avignon
    Directions: Location and photo on monumentum.fr.
    Phone: +33 4 90 15 24 24
    Website: http://www.chartreuse.org/

    Next: Inside the Chartreuse

    Missing wall of the chapel Fort Saint-Andr�� from the Chartreuse La Chartreuse La Chartreuse La Chartreuse
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    Tower of Philippe le Bel

    by Nemorino Updated May 2, 2014

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    Philippe le Bel (1268–1314), known in English as Philip the Fair, was crowned as King Philippe IV of France at the cathedral in Reims on January 6, 1286.

    During his reign he was constantly at odds with the pope, Boniface VIII, over such issues as whether the king was allowed to collect taxes from the French clergy. Philippe IV was also instrumental in getting a later pope, Clement V, to move the papal court to Avignon, where it stayed for sixty-eight years.

    The tower was built in 1302 on orders of Philippe IV, to control the north end of the Saint-Bénezet Bridge, which connected Villeneuve with Avignon. At the time this was also an international border of sorts, because Villeneuve belonged to the Kingdom of France but Avignon did not.

    The tower is now open to the public, but in the off-season only in the afternoons from 2 to 5 pm. So I didn’t go up because I got there too early, and on my way back it was too late. Which was unfortunate, because the views from the top of the tower are quite impressive.

    In the summer they have longer opening hours: 10:00 to 12:30 and 14:00 to 18:00, but closed on Mondays. Admission as of 2014 costs € 2.30.

    Second photo: Looking back at the tower from the street Montée de la Tour. (Note that cars are parked in every conceivable space. But at least there is a speed bump.)

    Third photo: The same street, going down the other side of the hill towards the town center. (At this point the street is quite narrow, so there is not a single car in this photo.)

    Address: 37-43 Montée de la Tour, 30400 Villeneuve-lès-Avignon
    Directions: Location and photo on monumentum.fr.
    Phone: 33 (0)4 32 70 08 57
    Website: http://www.tourisme-villeneuvelezavignon.fr/


    Next: Hill of the Mourgues

    Tour Philippe le Bel Tour Philippe le Bel Mont��e de la Tour
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    If monasteries were like this, I'd have signed up!

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Aug 3, 2012

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    The monastery of Chartreuse du Val de Benediction (what a mouthful) was the largest Carthusian monastery in France during the Middle Ages, and a veritable advert for the monastic lifestyle!

    The monastery was founded by Pope Innocent VI in 1352 who owned an estate here when he was a cardinal and he donated the land to the order to found the monastery once he became Pope, thus gaining enormous celestial brownie points. Innocent took up permanent residence here ten years later (see my other travel tip).

    Like many other religious institutions, the monastery took a battering in the French Revolution and fell into disrepair. Happily, most of it has since been restored to its former glory, and is the focus of cultural events - the day I was there, for example, there was some sort of film festival on. I was also highly amused to note that some of the cells are available for hire by writers, and I for one think that it would be a delightful place to retreat to catch up on my backlog of VT pages still waiting to be completed!

    If you consider the hardships of everyday peasant life during this period, it's not hard to see why there were so many recruits to the religious life in the Middle Ages - probably not all of which were motivated by a burning religious vocation. Granted, life was disciplined and regimented, but provided that you were willing to sign up to poverty, chastity and obedience, in return, you were rewarded with relative security and were fed and housed in a manner that would have been way beyond the means of the peasantry. Still, living in the shadow of Fort St Andre on a river that was a boundary between antagonistic territories held by quarrelsome dukes and kings mustn't have been all that comfortable, and it seems no accident that the exterior walls of the complex are well fortified.

    The cloisters of the monastery are gorgeous and very serene, giving the impression that life here was contemplative and unhurried. Domestic touches such as the well, washhouse and a kitchen garden full of herbs hint of a tranquil lifestyle and even the bits that are now in ruins are picturesque!

    Monastery Chartreuse du Val de Benediction

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    Strain to see prisoners carvings on the floor

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Aug 3, 2012

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    One of the more touching aspects of For St Andre is looking at the carvings made by prisoners on the stone floors. These are protected by glass and highlighted with little spotlights, but can be quite difficult to make out until you get your eye in, which rather adds to the experience (and might be a good way to keep kids occupied for a few minutes).

    Not surprisingly, the themes are primarily religious, given that most of these poor sods must have been in fear of their lives.

    I did pause to wonder what they used to carve these, as I can't imagine that prisoners would have been afforded ready access to sharp objects ...

    Prisoner's carving on the floor, Fort St Andre Prisoner's carving on the floor, Fort St Andre

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    Pay your respects in the Belvezet chapel

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Oct 27, 2011

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    To describe the Belvezet chapel in Fort St Andre as tiny would be understating the case - which leaves me to conclude that the garrison in the fort were either an ungodly lot, or went to Mass elsewhere!

    The chapel is so understated that you could be forgiven for missing it. Which would be a shame, as it is an understated gem of stark, clean Romanesque lines that is very much in keeping with its fortified surroundings - a chapel of warriors who had no time for frippery.

    Apparently it was used as a parish church until the 14th century (must have been a small parish!), but sadly this no longer seems to be a place of worship. However, it's not hard to imagine it as a place that people would have retreated to an attempt to invoke divine intervention in times of strife.

    P.S. The official guide (in English) helpfully informs me that "on the left of the entrance. the gallery stairs are remarkable for the absence of a central newel" ... if you have any idea of what this means, please let me know, as it sounds interesting!

    Tiny chapel at For St Andre

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    Be intimidated by the imposing Fort St Andre

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Oct 25, 2011

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    It's hard not to be impressed, intimidated and otherwise awed by Fortress St Andre ... the embodiment of the fortress that little boys - and girls - envisage when they play games of medieval knights in armour ... hence my rather fanciful travelogue as an exercise in childish make believe (hell, it's my leisure time, so I'm allowed to play)!

    To understand why such effort was expended on Fort St Andre, it's necessary to realise that for a very long time, this was the border between the jurisdiction of France and that of Provence (then a separate territory). Any hill commanding a good view over the river was always going to be prime real estate in terms of fortification, so when the French King Louis XIII signed a treaty with the abbot of St Andre over Andaon Hill in the 13th century, the outcome was a fait accompli!

    The town of Villeneuve had been founded by Philip le Bel a few decades previous, and was fortified by Jean Le Bon (kings over this period seem to have been notable for either their virtue or good looks!) in light of the conflict associated with the Hundred Years War. The fortress continued to have immense strategic importance until 1481, when Provence was incorporated into the kingdom of France (by which time those pesky Antipopes over the river had also thankfully gone away).

    The current fortress was constructed in the 1360s during a period when the region was at the mercy of brigands known as the Routiers, opportunists who exploited the chaos caused by the Hundred Years War for their own gain. The fort was constructed despite the French domestic exchequer having been effectively emptied by the ransoming of John le Bon from the English (who clearly put a high price on his goodness).

    The present complex is remarkable for the fact that it is so intact: doubtless with some restoration, but nevertheless, you have the sense of an intact fortress as it must have been at the height of its influence. I found it particularly charming that a small community still live within the fortress walls, but please observe the signs indicating which areas are out of bounds in order to respect their privacy.

    This is as close as it gets to Little Boy Heaven (with no age restrictions) so allow yourself sufficient time to tour the complex ... but more importantly, to imagine how it must have been!

    Looking up to Fort St Andre

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    The looming presence of Philip le Bel's tower

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Oct 25, 2011

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    Philip le Bel's tower is one of the defining features of the Villeneuve skyline and dates back to the early 14th century.

    Looking at the map, and extending the remaining portion of Pont St Bénézet in Avignon across both channels of the Rhone - and Barthlasse Island in between - I have a hunch that the tower used to stand sentinel over the Villeneuve end of this bridge. Can anyone enlighten me on this point?

    Sadly I can't tell you what the view is like from the top as - due to time constraints - I only managed to walk past.

    Tower of Philip le Bel, Villeneuve-l��s-Avignon

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    Meander through St Andre's Abbaye gardens

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Oct 25, 2011

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    Unfortunately I only had a scant morning to explore the myriad delights of Villeneuve, so I simply didn't have time to explore the charms of the Abbaye within the confines of the Fort St Andre ramparts.

    Apparently the gardens of the Abbaye in particular are stunning and must be a wonderful retreat from the heat of a Provencal summer - if you visit and can confirm that this is so, then why not write a tip? :)

    The Abbaye St Andre, Villeneuve

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    Tomb of the monastery's founder, Pope Innocent VI

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Oct 25, 2011

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    Here lies Pope Innocent VI, founder of Chartreuse du Val de Benediction, and buried in a side chapel of the monastery he founded (see my other travel tip). And when a newly elected Pope chooses to call himself 'Innocent', don't you just have to suspect that he has something to hide???

    Actually he did, because prior to the conclave at which he was elected, all the papal candidates agreed to a 'party line' should they be elected, and as soon as Innocent (formerly Étienne Aubert) became pope, he nullified this gentlemen's agreement!

    Having said that, history has been pretty kind to Innocent. After the profligate, spendthrift papacy of Clement V, who spent money like water, Innocent was a much needed reformer who put a brake on expenditure and generally seems to have tried to downscale the bloated bureaucracy that had developed around the Antipopes of Avignon.

    Legend has it that he protected himself from the Black Death (a terrifying reality of life in the 14th century) by sitting between two fires to dissipate disease-borne miasma (air). And whilst the image of an old man perched between braziers in order to repel disease may be a laughable one in modern times, it is a potent image of the terror that the plague (and its then unknown method of transmission) struck into the hearts of medieval citizens, however humble or exalted.

    Innocent's tomb is a particularly fine confection of Gothic workmanship, and is yet another reason to visit this wonderful monastery!

    Tomb of Innocent VI Tomb of Innocent VI

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    Ponder the basics of medieval ablution facilities

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Oct 25, 2011

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    Maybe it's my Germanic roots showing (and, let's face it, never has a nation been more in touch with its collective bowels!) but toilets fascinate me!

    Modern plumbing, dentistry and antibiotics seem to me to be some of the advances of the last couple of centuries that have added most greatly to our present quality of life. As children, we used to spend the summers at my grandmother's house in Ireland and as she only got connected to mains water and sewerage in the early 1980s, I used to dread using the outside toilet in the daytime (and, worse still, using the po - stored under the bed - at night!).

    But I digress ...

    Fort St Andre offers you the perfect opportunity to appreciate the 'no frills' medieval sanitary infrastructure in the days before Thomas Crapper (yes, that was really his name) invented the flush toilet and simultaneously lent his name to a verb! The main photo shows the 'privy' arrangement, and the second photo illustrates the long drop below ... seems to me that this must have been one of the more effective means of repelling intruders!!!

    Long drop toilet at Fort St Andre Note the long drop toilet on the exterior wall!

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