Posted: 2009-08-11

Palais des Papes

Raise your hand if you think that the popes have always lived in Rome.  Wrong!  For 100 years, the popes ruled over the Catholic Church while they lived in Avignon, France.  Pope Clement V came here in 1309 after being invited by King Philip who said he wanted to protect the pope from the anarchy in Rome.  It seems that this generous invitation also allowed King Philip to extend his power over the Catholic Church because he now had the church’s “headquarters,” if you will, in his backyard.  Sneaky monarch.  Nine popes ruled from Avignon before the papacy was re-established in Rome.

The Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) was built to house the pope, his cardinals, staff, servants, and members of the pope’s court.  These court members were kind of like the pope’s groupies.  Between 600 and 700 people lived in this palace, and the building’s enormous size is testimony to everything that was taking place within the walls.  In addition to living quarters, the palace includes a treasury room where the Church’s money and gold was stored, 2 chapels, dining hall, kitchen, reception halls, guest quarters, courtyards, and roof terraces.  What was even more impressive was learning that the whole palace was constructed in a span of 20 years.  This is what happens when the Pope says that he wants a new house!

A view of the palace from the other side of the Rhône River - you can see the medieval wall of the old city with cars parked in front, then houses and other buildings are between the wall and the palace

The palace seen from the public plaza in front - note the “train” to carry tourists around the old town

The main entry

This corner of the building gives you an idea of the shear size of the palace - look how tiny those people are!

I like this little alley along the side of the palace

The gold Virgin Mary statue beyond is on top of the church next door

Today, the building looks much different than it did in the 14th century.  When the papacy moved back to Rome, everything went with it - furniture, art, tapestries.  Today the building is empty.  Additionally, there was a fire in 1413 which destroyed much of the wood ceilings and frescoes.  Then the military used the building during the 1800s and whitewashed over everything.  However, it was still fun to tour the building and imagine what life was like during the popes’ occupancy with all of the hustle and bustle of life in the building. 

The large chapel

The dining room - the wood ceiling was restored in the 1970s

The large dining hall was only used for ceremonial feasts to celebrate holy days and the like.  The audioguide did tell us that there was at least one ceremonial feast which had to be celebrated outside of the palace because of its size.  The feast was in honor of the coronation of one of the popes, and the list of food for the meal included the following:

100 oxen
600 pigs
9,000 baby goats
7,000 chickens
3,900 other fowl
39,000 eggs
95,000 loaves of bread
plus lambs, calves and other types of birds and mammals that I don’t remember.  Yowza!

Me listening to the audioguide

-Julia Abbott


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