It has been immortalised in song. It has been included in a UNESCO World Heritage designation. It isn’t even a WHOLE bridge. And it all started with a young shepherd throwing a rock into the river. This is the legend of the Pont d’Avignon in Avignon, France. To be correct, its real name is Pont Saint-Bénézet, named after the stone-throwing shepherd.
Legend has it that Bénézet, the young shepherd in question, was guided by voices to accomplish the mission of building the bridge. Although ridiculed at first, he proved his divine inspiration by miraculously lifting an enormous block of stone and throwing it in the river as foundation for the bridge.
After no less than 18 miracles, the support for Bénézet and his project was secured, and he formed a Bridge Brotherhood to oversee its construction. After his death, he was entombed on the bridge itself, in the small Saint Nicholas Chapel, standing on one of the bridge’s surviving piers on the Avignon side.
The bridge was built between 1177 and 1186, probably upon pilings from a former Roman bridge. In its heyday, the bridge boasted 22 arches and spanned 900 metres.
Sur le Pont d’Avignon
On y danse, On y danse
Sur le Pont d’Avignon
On y danse tous en rond
Destroyed during the Albigensian Crusade in 1226, the bridge was rebuilt in stone and raised – the chapel reveals the successive levels. A drawbridge connects the bridge to a fortification, built in the 14th century and raised in the 15th century, which controlled access to and from the bridge. The bridge was repeatedly damaged by flood waters and continually repaired. In 1668 it was deemed to be too dangerous and was closed to traffic.
Today, only four arches of the original 22 remain. You can reach it through the fortification and drawbridge after paying an entrance fee. The surviving part of the bridge, together with the Palais des Papes and Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms constitute a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1995.
There’s a lot to see, do and taste in Provence, like the dark and powerful Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine from the vineyards a bit north of town. If you want to know more About France or learn some Useful Information, check out those pieces.
- Avignon Tourist Office website
- Pont Saint-Bénézet on Wikipedia
- UNESCO description of the World Heritage Site