This morning, May 20, we awoke to sunny skies and the fierce wind of Provence known as le Mistral here in Avignon. Our first order of business was a visit to the famed Palais du Papes (the Papal Palace), which for almost 70 years was the seat of the Vatican from 1309-1377. Then began what I remember as a truly confusing period of European history when Pope Gregory XI moved the Vatican back to Italy. The French did not approve and elected their own pope, so the world had two popes until 1417. History books refer to this period as the Great Schism. Interestingly, the papacy has never been held by a French-born pope from that day forward. You can draw your own conclusions about that!
The Palais and its papal apartments are the largest Gothic structure in the world, measuring over 15,000 square meters. This place is simply massive, soaring 165 feet above the town. To make matters worse, after Pope Benedict XII built the first palace (from 1335-1355), Pope Clement VI decided it wasn’t grand enough, so he built the New Palace, which included some truly luxurious apartments for himself. Luckily, we had a really good guide to explain this incredible collection of buildings to us. Then Jim and went off to enjoy lunch in town.
From Jim’s perspective, the highlight of the day was our afternoon bus trip to the Pont du Gard — the Roman remains of the elevated aqueduct system which took water from Uzés to Nimes for over 500 years. The aqueduct span over the river Gardon is an engineering marvel, stretching 160 feet tall in three tiers and 900 feet long. It is constructed entirely of un-mortared limestone blocks quarried locally. There is a very good museum at the site, and of course, the views of this marvel are spectacular!
Upon our return to the ship, we were pleased to find that the wind had died down some, and we immediately headed up to the top of the ship to enjoy cocktail hour and the sunset over Avignon.