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Pont d'Avignon [fr]Bridge Avignon Saint Bénézet

The Saint-Bénézet bridge - Pont d'Avignon

History of the Pont d'Avignon and the legend of Saint-Bénézet

The four elegant Romanesque arches of the Pont Saint Bénézet have become the city's emblem, thanks to the famous contine that has popularized it around the world. The Avignon bridge has made twice the fortune of the Provençal city. According to legend, this bridge that crossed the arms of the Rhône was built in the Middle Ages thanks to a simple shepherd, a child, the shepherd Bénézet (little Benoît), who gave him his name. The only stone bridge over the Rhône between Lyon and the Mediterranean Sea, it then made the fortune and power of the city of Avignon, built as an almost independent Commune, under the distant and benevolent suzerainty of the Counts of Toulouse

History of the Pont d'avignon

The bridge was built on the initiative of the shepherd Benezet, who gave it his name. This simple shepherd from Vivarais managed to convince the city's notables and collected the necessary funds for its construction. Work began in 1177, at the probable location of an ancient ruined Roman bridge, the work was completed eight years later in 1185.

The Romanesque bridge has 22 arches and is 947 metres long, crossing both arms of the Rhône up to the Tour Philippe-le-Bel in the village of Saint André, soon to be called Villeneuve. Its pavement is 4 metres wide.

plan aux personnages

Extract from the 16th century characters' plan - Avignon public library

It was a monumental work for the time. It is the only stone bridge over the Rhône between Lyon and the Mediterranean Sea. It attracts travellers, merchants and industrialists. The taxes collected on goods make the fortune of the Commune of Avignon.

The bridge was partially destroyed in 1226 after the siege of Avignon by King Louis VIII of France. But it is quickly rebuilt. The religious order of the Pontifical Friars, created by Saint Bénézet, is responsible for the maintenance and renovation of the bridge, which is often damaged by the floods of the Rhône river.

drawing of the Saint Bénézet bridge by Father Martelange 17th century

Then why was the Pont d'Avignon destroyed? In the 17th century, the bridge was damaged and required constant repairs, which were soon too expensive. The stone arches washed away by the floods were replaced by wooden footbridges, then the bridge was permanently abandoned. In 1674, its last arches threatened to collapse, so much so that the relics of Saint Bénézet were moved from the Saint Nicolas chapel to the church of Les Célestins. Many times repaired, the bridge was expensive to maintain for the inhabitants of Avignon, and was finally abandoned a few centuries after its construction to the destructive floods of the Rhône.

Today there are still four arches, consolidated in the 19th century, with the Saint Nicolas chapel, dedicated to the brotherhood of the Nautonniers. He became an icon of Avignon. Its fame brings many visitors every year.

Pont d'Avignon in 1840 - anonymous - Calvet Museum of Avignon

Digital reconstruction of the Pont d'Avignon in the Middle Ages

Saint Bénézet

Saint Bénézet Bannière

Saint Bénézet - banner of the brotherhood of the portefaix - 1779

Saint Bénézet Statue

Statue of Saint Bénézet

Saint Bénézet vitrail

Stained glass window of Saint Bénézet in the collegiate church of Saint Didier

Saint Bénézet is a child, a simple shepherd of the Vivarais - in the mountains of the Ardèche. At the age of twelve, he had a vision: Jesus Christ ordered him to build a bridge over the Rhône. He immediately went to Avignon and addressed the bishop of the city directly during his sermon in the cathedral. To overcome the scepticism of the bishop and the audience, he lifted a huge stone and threw it into the Rhône where it would serve as the foundation for the first pier of the bridge. Convinced of the divine will, the inhabitants supported the young shepherd and helped to build the bridge.

In fact, Bénézet was not the builder, but rather a fundraiser, endowed with an exceptional charisma. He founded the order of the pontifical brothers (brothers of the bridge), in charge of collecting the money necessary to accomplish his divine plan. They peddle the beautiful legend that is supposed to touch the hearts of the faithful and generate a surge of generosity.

Benezet died of exhaustion in 1184, at the age of only 19, a year before the completion of his work. His remains are stored in the Saint Nicolas chapel on the bridge. It is the subject of strong popular devotion, and although it has never been officially canonized, it has been considered holy since the 13th century. In 1674, in front of the dilapidated state of the bridge, his remains were transferred to the cloister of the Celestines, then in 1854 to the church Saint Didier in Avignon.

Saint Bénézet Gisant

tomb of Saint Bénézet - Collegiale Saint Didier in Avignon © VF

The song "Sur le Pont d'Avignon"

We don't really know the origin or the author of the song "Sur le pont d'Avignon". Perhaps it dates back to the time of the guinguettes that settled in the 19th century under the ruined arches of the bridge on the island of Barthelasse. The song, covered by Adolphe Adam in an operetta at the end of the 19th century, became a nursery rhyme whose success went around the world. Thus, the old Romanesque bridge built by the shepherd Bénézet has once again made Avignon famous in our time.

On the bridge of Avignon
Everyone is dancing
On the bridge of Avignon
Everyone is dancing in a circle.
The handsome men go like this.
And they go like that.

On the bridge of Avignon
Everyone is dancing
On the bridge of Avignon
Everyone is dancing in a circle.
The beautiful women go like this.
Then they go like that.

On the bridge of Avignon
Everyone is dancing
On the bridge of Avignon
Everyone is dancing in a circle.
The gardeners go like this.
Then they go like that.

On the bridge of Avignon
Everyone is dancing
On the bridge of Avignon
Everyone is dancing in a circle.
The tailors go like this.
Then they go like that.

On the bridge of Avignon
Everyone is dancing
On the bridge of Avignon
Everyone is dancing in a circle.
The wine-grower go like this.
Then they go like that.

On the bridge of Avignon
Everyone is dancing
On the bridge of Avignon
Everyone is dancing in a circle.
The lauderers go like this.
Then they go like that.

Sur le pont d'Avignon
Sur le pont d'Avignon

and so on ... with a bit of imagination you can invent new verses and sing for hours

Practical informations

Website of the Pont d'Avignon on which you will find on this website the updated information: opening hours and prices: avignon-pont.comPont d'Avignon

Coming to Pont Saint-Bénézet

GPS coordinates: N 43° 57' 14'' -   E 4° 48' 17'' 

Coming by car: The nearest car park (about 300 meters) is the Parking du Palais des Papes (for a fee). The free parking relays on Ile Piot (on Ile de la Barthelasse), and the Parking des Italiens are located 15 minutes walk (1.3 km) from the Pont d'Avignon

Enjoy your tour of Avignon :

Stroll in Avignon - Pope Palace square - Popes Palace - Petit palais - Mint - Horloge square - City Hall - Theatre - Rocher des Doms - Saint Bénézet bridge - City walls - Ceccano palace - Saint Didier church - Roi René street - Teinturiers street - Saint Pierre church - Notre-Dame-des-doms Cathedral - Hôtel de Vervins - Banasterie street - Barthelasse island - Green Wall

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