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FRANCE: The Palais des Papes

Avignon, Palais des Papes by JM Rosier
The Palais de Papes (Pope’s Palace) in Avingon, France is one of the largest and most important Gothic buildings in the world. Acting as both a fortress as well as a palace, this 'alternate' papal residence was the seat of Western Christianity during the 14th century. The 10 feet thick walls, portcullises and watchtowers emphasize the castle-like look of the palace.

Avignon Palace 15th Century
The Palais is actually made up of two buildings: the old Palais of Benedict XII which sits on the impregnable rock of Doms, and the new Palais of Clement VI, the most extravagant of the Avignon popes.

It was built when Pope Clement V refused to go to Rome after his election in 1309 and so instead of moving into to the Popes traditional home of the Vatican  

He chose instead to install himself - along with the Holy See and the central governing body of the entire Catholic Church - temporarily in the Dominican Convent at Avignon.

This situation arose from the conflict between the Papacy and the French crown.The next seven Popes were to reign there until the election of Pope Martin V in 1417.

Clement's successor, John XXII (1316-34), moved to the former bishop's palace, which he converted into a Papal Palace, on the Rocher des Doms, alongside the cathedral.

Benedict XII (1334-42) gradually demolished this building and replaced it with what is now known as the Old Palace, covering the northern part of the present monument, a structure that took the master-builder Pierre Poisson eighteen years to complete.

It was Benedict's successor, Clement VI (1342-52), who was to complete the ensemble, under the direction of Jean de Louvres, who brought with him from the Ile-de-France the high Gothic style than prevailing there.

Clement entrusted the interior decoration to the famous Italian Painter Matteo Giovannetti from Viterbo, who worked on the Chapels of St John and St Martial while waiting for the New Palace to be completed. He also supervised the work of French and Italian Painters on other halls and rooms within the palace.

Avignon had been sold to Clement VI in 1348 by Queen Joan of Naples and Sicily, and it was to remain the residence of the Italian Papal legates for nearly four hundred years after the Papacy had returned to Rome.

Palais de Papes in 1617
They were expelled at the time of the Revolution, when the people of Avignon, which had benefited markedly from its long association with the Papacy, opted to join France.

The Palais de Papes was now obsolete, although it remained under papal control (along with the surrounding city and Comtat Venaissin) for another 350 years. The Palais gradually deteriorated despite a restoration in 1516. 

When the French Revolution broke out in 1789 it was already in a bad state. However, the Palais was to deteriorate further when when it was seized and sacked by revolutionary forces.

In 1791 it became the scene of a massacre of counter-revolutionaries, whose bodies were thrown into the Tour des Latrines in the Palais Vieux.

The Palais was subsequently taken over by the Napoleonic French state for use as a military barracks and prison. Under the anti-clerical Third Republic it was further damaged by the military occupation when the remaining interior woodwork was cleared away for use of the structure as a stables.

 The frescos were covered over and largely destroyed, which ironically  ensured the shell of the building's physical survival. It was only vacated in 1906, when it became a national museum.

It has been under virtually constant restoration ever since, and since 1995, the Palais des Papes has been classified along with the historic centre of Avignon, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, under cultural criteria i, ii and iv.

For related articles click onto:
FRANCE: The Palais des Papes
FRANCE: The Versailles Gardens
PARIS: The Arc de Triomphe
PARIS: The Eiffel Tower
PARIS: The Louvre
PARIS: Where is the Eiffel Tower?
PARIS: Where is the Louvre?
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