Built to house and protect France’s 14th-century popes, one of Europe’s largest Gothic palaces dominates Avignon’s skyline and cultural life.
The monumental Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) served as a fortress, residence, administrative center and place of worship. Heavily fortified with its turrets, high towers and thick walls, the palace was the headquarters of the Catholic Church during the 14th century when Rome was torn by political infighting. Today the palace is one of the most visited monuments in France and is the much-loved cultural center of modern day Avignon.
One of the biggest buildings constructed during the Gothic period, the palace is about the size of four cathedrals. The high-ceilinged rooms and vast scale are a testament to the wealth and power of the Catholic Church. After the popes left Avignon, the palace was subsequently used as a military barracks and prison before becoming a museum in 1906.
There are more than 25 rooms to explore, and while many have been stripped of their furnishings, there is still much to see. To help you visualize what the palace would’ve looked like during the 14th century, rent a multimedia audio guide which are synchronized with films in different rooms that use 3-D imaging techniques.
The palace is filled with fabulous frescos. Examine the nature-inspired frescoes in the Papal Chamber, and depictions of the life of Saint Martial in the Saint Martial Chapel. View hunting and fishing scenes in the Stag Room, the chamber that served as Pope Clement VI’s study. Then venture onto the rooftop terraces for lofty views of the palace, the Rhône River and the city of Avignon.
The Palais des Papes is on the Place du Palais des Papes next to Avignon Cathedral. Regular guided tours are available throughout the year for an additional fee. Some are themed, such as "The Popes and their Pets" and "Secret Palace" tours and take you to rooms not open to the general public. For more details and to make a reservation, go to the palace’s official website. The palace grounds also host concerts and festivals throughout the year.
The Palais des Papes is open every day of the year.