Sur le Pont d’Avignon
The Pont Saint Bénezet, known more commonly as the Pont d’Avignon is a UNESCO World Heritage site made popular by the children’s song “Sur le pont d’Avignon”.
The original bridge was constructed in the 12th century. It is said that Saint Bénezet was a shepherd who came to Avignon and claimed that God had told him that a bridge needed to be built across the Rhône river. The townspeople mocked him, until finally the mayor told him that they would build the bridge if he personally laid the first cornerstone. The stone the mayor indicated was a huge rock hewn from a boulder and left over from some other construction which had just completed. It was clear that this stone could not be lifted by a single person. Bénezet did not hesitate, and went over to the rock to move it into place. Witnesses claimed that the boulder began to shake and vibrate as Bénezet approached it, and that he easily lifted it up and put it into place. The town agreed to build the bridge, and Bénezet created the Bridge Brotherhood to manage the construction.
The original bridge lasted for 40 years, but was destroyed during the crusades when Louis VIII of France laid siege to the Avignon. After the siege, he had a new bridge built with 22 stone arches. The Rhone river can have high waters and many violent floods (definitely troubled waters) were encountered over the years, and the new stone bridge was damaged, or partially destroyed, several times. Eventually, in the 17th century, the bridge was no longer repaired and was left abandoned…a bridge to nowhere. Today, only 4 of the 22 arches remain.
The current bridge has two chapels, one on the upper level of the bridge and one on the lower level, about 1/3 of the way across from the Avignon side. Popes or Bishops who were passing on the bridge would stop at one of the chapels for prayer, and would leave a gold coin for alms. Some of the popes would travel with a large entourage and would bring a full set of gold and silver candles, chalices etc. for their prayer sessions.
While we went to Avignon specifically to see the bridge, we were pleasantly surprised to find a fully intact medieval walled city. The city used to be the centre for Christianity in the 14th century with several Popes taking up residence in the city. Each successive Pope built onto the construction of the previous ones and the outcome was a beautiful Papal palace.
Of course, what visit to le Pont d’avignon would be complete without dancing to the song? If you would like to host your own karaoke party and include this timeless hit, click here!
Here are Zoe and Mikhaila dancing “Sur le Pont”!
If you are in the area, Avignon is a lovely place to visit. You can find visitors information here.