Pont D'Avignon / Pont Saint Bénezet, Avignon

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Rue Ferruce 04 90 85 60 16

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  • The Bridge of Avignon
    The Bridge of Avignon
    by Nemorino
  • Avignon in 1700 by Robert Bonnart
    Avignon in 1700 by Robert Bonnart
    by Nemorino
  • On the bridge
    On the bridge
    by Nemorino
  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    The Bridge of Avignon

    by Nemorino Updated Jul 4, 2014

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    The Bridge of Avignon
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    Probably all French children learn the song “On the Bridge of Avignon” at a tender age, and most people learning French the world over also have to learn it – I know I did.

    Sur le pont d’Avignon
    L’on y danse, l'on y danse,
    Sur le pont d'Avignon
    L'on y danse tout en rond.
    It’s all about people dancing on the bridge. There are verses about how the handsome gentlemen ‘go like this’, the beautiful ladies ‘go like this’, the officers ‘go like this’, etc. If for some reason you would like to hear the song, there is a typically cutesy rendition on YouTube.

    Since the bridge is actually quite narrow, there isn’t much room to dance on it, so the theory is that people used to dance under it (sous instead of sur in French) on the island or islands that the bridge used to cross between Avignon and Villeneuve lez Avignon, 900 meters to the north.

    The bridge was built nearly eight hundred years ago. Since then the Rhône River has changed its course several times, rearranging the islands and destroying parts of the bridge. Currently there is only one big island between the two channels of the Rhône, and only a fragment of the bridge is still standing – slightly more than one-ninth of the original bridge.

    The official name of the bridge is Pont Saint Bénezet. According to legend (or hagiography) Bénezet was a shepherd who lived from about 1163 to 1184 AD. The story goes that Bénezet had a vision during an eclipse of the sun in 1177, in which Jesus appeared and told him to build a bridge over the Rhône River at Avignon.

    (There really was an eclipse of the sun on the morning of April 16, 1177 but that was in 1177 BC = Before Christ. In 1177 AD there were no solar eclipses that were visible from anywhere in Europe. In my opinion the most likely candidate for Bénezet’s eclipse would be the one on the morning of September 13, 1178 AD, which was visible in Avignon as a partial eclipse from 10:13 to 12:50.)

    Since nobody believed Bénezet’s crackpot story, he started building the bridge all by himself. He began by lifting a huge stone into place, which was immediately hailed as a miracle by the gawking onlookers and helped him get funding for the completion of the bridge. He later performed seventeen other miracles (the blind could see again, the deaf could hear again, cripples could walk again, hunchbacks had their backs straightened – all the usual miracles), which qualified him for sainthood after his early death.

    Second photo: This is the entrance to the bridge, from a modern entrance building where you pay your admission (5 Euros as of 2014, or 4 Euros if you get a reduction, for example with an Avignon Pass), and get your audio-guide in one of eleven languages. You have your choice of German, English, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, Russian, Polish, Portuguese, and oh yes, French.

    Third photo: There are no people dancing on the bridge in this photo, but I did see a little girl dancing and singing the song, obviously quite thrilled to be right there on the bridge. And a group of teenagers also danced a few steps, but only long enough to get their pictures taken by their friends.

    Fourth photo: Looking back towards the Palace of the Popes.

    Fifth photo: When you leave the bridge you of course have to “Exit through the gift shop” (which always makes me laugh because it was the title of a turbulent film by the street artist Banksy). On the wall of the gift shop there is a floor-to-ceiling sign with the tune and the refrain of the famous bridge song.

    Address: 36 Boulevard de la Ligne, 84140 Avignon
    Directions: Location and photo on monumentum.fr
    Website: http://www.avignon-pont.com/en/content/discover


    Next: History of the bridge

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    History of the bridge

    by Nemorino Updated Jul 4, 2014

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    From bank to bank
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    In the entrance building leading to the bridge there is (as of 2014) a small exhibit on an interdisciplinary research project, involving archeologists, historians, architects and geomorphologists, which is intended to fill in the gaps in the history of the bridge.

    One thing they want to find out is why the Avignon bridge was repeatedly damaged and finally destroyed by the flood waters and the shifting channels of the Rhône River, while the Saint-Esprit Bridge, 40 km upstream, was able to survive intact through the centuries.

    Second photo: When the Bridge of Avignon was first built, it was the only bridge over the Rhône between Lyon and the sea, so it was very important for commerce and for the many pilgrims going to Santiago, Spain.

    During the fourteenth century, when the Papal Court was located in Avignon, several of the wealthy Cardinals preferred to live on the other side of the river in Villeneuve lez Avignon, rather than in Avignon itself, because in Villeneuve the air was thought to be cleaner and safer. This was an important consideration in a century when the Plague might break out at any time. For the Cardinals it was convenient that the bridge was still intact at that time, since it still crossed the Rhône on 22 arches to connect Avignon with Villeneuve.

    Third photo: In the Calvet Museum in Avignon there are several paintings showing the condition of the bridge in various centuries. This one is from the year 1700 and was painted by Robert Bonnart (1652-1733).

    Fourth photo: This one is by Paul Huet (1803-1869). It shows Avignon in the year 1834, with some squalid but picturesque ruins in the foreground and a surprisingly intact bridge barely visible in the distance.

    Fifth photo: Also from the Calvet Museum, this painting by Isidore Dagnan (1790-1873) shows the four arches of the bridge that still exist today.

    Address: Pont Saint-Bénezet, 36 Boulevard de la Ligne, 84140 Avignon
    Directions: Location and photo on monumentum.fr
    Website: http://www.avignon-pont.com/en/content/discover

    Next: The Rhône River

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  • black_mimi99's Profile Photo

    Pont St Bénezet (St Bénezet Bridge)

    by black_mimi99 Written May 14, 2014

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    Pont St B��nezet
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    'Sur le pont d'Avignon on y danse, on y danse ...' - the melody of the 19th-century song still draws visitors to the famed bridge that is formally known as the Pont St Bénezet, after the shepherd whose heavenly vision and determination led to the bridge being built. Spanning the two channels of the River Rhône and the island in between ( Ile de la Barthelasse ), the bridge was built between 1177 and January 1185. Originally made of wood, it had to be continuously rebuilt, as it was the only crossing, providing a link between the Mediterranean and Lyon, an important trade hub in the Middle Ages. The river finally won the day, washing away the bridge in the mid 1600s. Today, only four of its original 22 arches and the tiny Chapelle St Nicholas remain. This delicate Romanesque chapel, dedicated to St Nicholas, patron saint of barge men, should not be missed. A small museum, situated beneath the ticket office, contains images of the bridge in former centuries.

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    Chapelle Saint-Nicolas

    by MM212 Updated Jul 20, 2013

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    Chapelle Saint-Nicolas, Jul 2007

    The church built over Pont d'Avignon is in fact split into two chapels. The Romanesque-style lower level is Chapelle Saint-Bénezet, which dates from the 12th century and once held the relics of its namesake saint. Above it is Chapelle Saint Nicolas, the Gothic church dating from the 13th century. Much like the bridge underneath, the two chapels lie in ruins.

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    A famous half bridge

    by solopes Updated Feb 19, 2013
    Avignon - Bridge
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    Once used as part of the most important pilgrimage routes between Italy and Spain, this bridge became very important during the popes' presence, linking the several palaces used by the bishops.

    Technically, it meant some progress, with wider arches than in roman architecture.
    Frequently collapsed by flooding and reconstructed, it was abandoned after one more destruction in 1668.
    The song, maybe more famous than the bridge, was composed in 1853 for an operetta, inspired in a medieval song "Sus le pont d'Avignon" with a different music

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  • Maryimelda's Profile Photo

    Pont d'Avignon

    by Maryimelda Updated Feb 6, 2013

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    The very famous Pontd'Avignon is also known as the Pont St Benezet as legend has it that a young shepherd called Benezet commenced building the bridge after having an apparition from God requesting that he build a bridge across the Rhone.

    In any event, the bridge was commenced in 1177 and was the only bridge across the Rhone between Lyon and the Mediterranean. This was also a contributing factor of sorts to the decision to relocate the Pope to Avignon. The bridge was also home to a small chapel dedicated to St Benezet.

    The bridge over several centuries, suffered many severe blows which destroyed much of it more than once. In 1668 a devastating flood blew much of it away and it was at that point, rendered out of use. Only four of the arches remain today and although the St Benezet Chapel is still located on the bridge, the mortal remains of the saint have been removed for fear that they would be lost if the bridge and chapel were to collapse.

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  • CatherineReichardt's Profile Photo

    L'on y danse, l'on y danse ... and other cliches!

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Apr 12, 2012

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    Pont St B��n��zet, Avignon
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    I think that if I'd travelled to Avignon to see the bridge immortalised in the childhood ditty, I'd have been pretty disappointed, but fortunately there's so much more to this lovely town.

    That's not to say that Pont St Bénézet (to give it its official name) is without interest, but - at least for me - much of its charm is in its history rather than its appearance. It's a perfectly nice bridge built across the Rhône to link Avignon to Villeneuve-lès-Avignon ... except that there's rather a lot of it missing. To be precise, following a huge flood in 1668, only four of the original 22 spans are intact. If this sounds odd given that the remaining four arches stretch almost halfway into the river, remember that what you can see is only the southern channel between Avignon and Barthlasse Island which sits in the middle of the Rhone - the bridge would also have extended across the northern channel to Villeneuve, where it presumably connected somewhere near the tower of Philip le Bel in Villeneuve-les-Avignon.

    This stretch of the river is notoriously difficult to span, and the final destruction of the bridge was merely the last in a series of collapses which had beset the structure since its completion in 1185.

    Several other members have already ably explained who St Bénézet was in the first place, so I won't bore you with repetition.

    The trivially minded - such as myself - may be interested to know that the famous first line of the ditty ('Sur le pont d'Avignon, on y danse, on y danse') is a corruption of the original: the present version talks about dancing ON ('sur') the bridge, whereas the original version makes mention of dancing UNDER ('sous') the bridge. These same lightminded people will also probably enjoy the unusual experience of looking at a town map which features a bridge that only stretches part of the way across the river. Not that this will make any difference to the price of eggs, but such is the irrelevant and addictive charm of trivia!

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  • CatherineReichardt's Profile Photo

    A rather good war memorial

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Dec 7, 2011

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    War memorial, Avignon

    This memorial is located close to Pont St Bénézet, and appears to commemorate some sort of victory.

    Sadly I didn't have time to inspect it at closer quarters, so have no idea of what it commemorates (and have disappointingly not been able to find out more, despite my best efforts). If you happen to know, then please illuminate me!

    One thing I can tell you is that it has a splendid, snarling lion crouching at its base. Not one of those wimpy heraldic things - this one has serious attitude and looks like he'd take your arm off given half the chance!

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  • hquittner's Profile Photo

    Remnants of the Bridge of St. Benezet

    by hquittner Written Feb 8, 2011

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    Famous Bridge of Avignon

    The Pont St.Benezet is the most famous site in Avignon for a trivial reason. It was completed in 1185 and was composed of two spans with 24 arches. It was quite narrow, only wide enough for a cart and totally unsuited for dancing. It was initially destroyed during the Albigensian War in 1226 and was rebuilt in 1234 but larger while the chapel was on the remaining original part of the bridge and was enlarged with the bridge reconstruction. It fell down to its present state in 1680. It is possible to walk on it from 9am to noon and 2-6 pm except Tuesday, entry fee. We did not walk down.

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  • cjg1's Profile Photo

    The Famous Bridge of Avignon

    by cjg1 Updated Apr 9, 2009

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    This bridge was the inspiration of Saint Bénézet; a local shepard boy who claims angels visited him and told him to build the bridge. The bridge once spaned the banks of the Rhone river. Now only the Avignon side of the bridge is intact. The Avignon side of the bridge has a chapel and the grave of Saint Bénézet.

    There is also a popular song "Sur le pont d'Avignon" about the bridge that is popular with children of the town.

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    Le Pont Saint-Benezet

    by Tom_Fields Written Jan 4, 2009

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    This way to the bridge
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    The old song "sur le pont d'Avignon, on y danse, on y danse" is about this bridge. Somehow, the word "sour", which means under, was changed to "sur", or on. Legend has it that Benezet was a shepherd boy who heard a voice from Heaven that commanded him to build a bridge over the Rhone. An angel gave him the strength to lift a huge boulder and carry it to the river. There, he said, the bridge would be built. The bridge was completed in 1185.

    In 1226 it was mostly destroyed. Despite a reconstruction effort, it was abandoned for good in 1680. Today, only a small part of it remains. This includes a tiny chapel overlooking the river, where Benezet (who never became a real saint) is buried.

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  • rexvaughan's Profile Photo

    Pont d'Avignon

    by rexvaughan Updated Jul 15, 2008

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    Pont Saint-Benezet

    Evidently I am one of the few people on earth who did not sing about this bridge as a child but it seems to have been known around the world. Maybe we were just backward in Oklahoma in the 1940s. It spans the Rhone River between the old town of Avignon and Villeneuve-les-Avignon on the left bank. Only four of the initial 22 arches remain. It was initially built between 1171 and 1185, with an original length of some 900 m (2950 ft), but it suffered frequent collapses during floods and had to be reconstructed several times. Several arches were already missing (and spanned by wooden sections) before the remainder was damaged beyond repair in 1660.

    The bridge's construction was inspired by Saint Benezet, a local shepherd. The legend says that Jesus Christ appeared to him and told him to build the bridge. He went to the bishop and was ridiculed but proved his story by lifting a huge stone that 30 men could not lift and placing it as the foundation for the first arch. Then the local moneyed leaders backed the project After his death, he was interred on the bridge itself, in a small chapel standing on one of the bridge's surviving piers on the Avignon side.
    The chapel was also was home to the bargemen for worship until it became unsafe and a new chapel was built at the entrance to the bridge in the 18th Century.

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  • sirgaw's Profile Photo

    The Saint Bénezet Bridge

    by sirgaw Written Mar 10, 2008

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    Better known as the Bridge of Avignon it is a UNESCO World Heritage Listed site. Construction started in 1177 and the bridge was added to and used until a flood washed away some of the bridge in 1633.

    There is an interpretive centre and a kids zone featuring the famous nursery rhyme where a CD can be made - fun for adults too

    A combined entrance fee to both the Papal Palace and the Bridge of Avignon is available - cost in high season 11.50 € or 9 € for seniors - audio guide (a must) included

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    Pont Saint-Bénezet

    by MM212 Updated Jul 11, 2007

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    le Pont d'Avignon
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    More commonly referred to as le Pont d'Avignon, this broken bridge was made famous by the song "le Pont d'Avignon"... (on y danse tous en rond...). It was first built in the 12th century to connect the city of Avignon with Villeneuve-Lès-Avignon, across the river Rhône, and then rebuilt a century later. In the 17th century, a great river flood destroyed half of the bridge and it was never rebuilt thereafter. A small chapel in ruins (chapelle Saint-Nicholas) lies on the bridge.

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  • roamer61's Profile Photo

    Pont St Benezet

    by roamer61 Written May 31, 2007

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    This historic bridge first built in the 12th Century was later rebuilt in the 13th and restored in the 15th. A flood of the Rhone washed part of it away in the mid 17th Century. The bridge was originally built for both foot and horse. A small chapel dedicated to St. Nicolas, the patron saint of boatsmen, is situated midway.

    According to legend, in 1177, a sheperd named Benezet was told to build this bridge by an angel. It was 8 years later that in fact construction was begun.

    Admission to the bridge is included with entry to the Palais des Papes.

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