Pont d'Avignon

The Avignon Bridge (or the Saint Benezet Bridge), a major element in the history of Avignon, is known throughout the world thanks to the famous song based on this historic monument.

The Bridge

Pont Saint Bénezet
Access from inside the city by the Porte du Rhone, at the end of Rue Ferruce.
Website - tel : 04 90 27 51 16.
Full price / reduced price: €5 / €4.
Free for children under 8 years old.
Combined ticket for the Papal Palace and the Avignon Bridge : €13.50 / €10.50. 
Open daily.
March: 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.;
April through June: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.;
July: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.;
August: 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.;
September and October: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.;
November through February: 9:30 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.

Audioguide in 11 langues (€2).

Built from the 12th century onward, it was repeatedly washed away by floods of the Rhone River, and finally abandoned in the 16th century. Originally, an ancient wooden bridge connected Villeneuve to Avignon. It is on this base that the first bridge was built, whose pillars were probably connected by wooden walkways. It was open to traffic by 1184. But this first Romanesque bridge was almost completely destroyed during the siege of the French during the crusade against the Albigensians in 1226.

At that time the “Avignon Bridge Brotherhood”, born of the influence of Benezet, had 24 members. With their endless innovation and the skillful use of tolls, they began the construction of a Gothic stone bridge over the remains of the structure dating back to the 12th century. Building a bridge over the Rhone was an extraordinary feat. It needed to be able to ensure the passage of merchants and pilgrims who went to Italy and back. The bridge, when completed, made Avignon a cosmopolitan city for trade and passage. The bridge was 915 meters long and had 22 arches.

Construction Techniques 

The arches, including the four that remain, were constructed using a very spectacular technique. They are very open and low-profile, allowing for more space between the piles, 42 meters to be exact, in order for the water to pass without increasing the height. As such, the shape of the bridge is light and elegant.

The Châtelet

The first stone of the present tower was laid June 15, 1414. When you cross the drawbridge, the arms of the city, those of Innocent VIII and legate of Avignon Giuliano della Rovere, can be seen on the facade overlooking the river.

The chapelle Saint Nicolas

The Saint Nicolas Chapel is found on the second pile of the bridge. It has two sanctuaries, on two levels, one dedicated to Saint Nicolas (patron saint of boatmen), the other in Saint Benezet. The first is above the second. At each crossing of the bridge, the Popes used to stop in front of the Chapelle de Benezet (Benezet Chapel) to pray.

The tour Philippe Le Bel

On the other side of the river, that of Villeneuve-Les-Avignon, stands the Tour Philippe Le Bel (Tower of Philip the Fair) on three levels. Though it stands at a height of 27 meters, it is not visible from the bridge, hidden by the trees on the other side. Erected in 1303, it was equipped in 1307 with a fortified gate that connects to the bridge. A watchtower is adjacent to the north and is 7 meters taller. The circular turret that overlooks the tower was added in the 15th century.

The Legend

The legend of Saint Bénezet

In 1177, a young shepherd named Benezet descended the mountains of the Ardeche. He said he was sent by God to build a bridge in Avignon. At first residents took him for a fool, but he insisted that he had heard a voice from Heaven saying: "Benezet, take your staff and go down to Avignon, the capital of the waterfront: you shall speak to the people and tell them they need to build a bridge." Mocked by the inhabitants of Avignon, the shepherd was challenged by the prelate (a clergy member) to load a huge stone on his shoulders and throw it into the Rhone. Without hesitation, and in front of the amazed crowd, Benezet hefted the stone above his head before throwing it into the water, and helped, they say, by divine intervention and even angels bathed in a golden light.

This beautiful legend of Saint Benezet was passed down through many generations, as the construction of the bridge was a challenge to the elements.

The Song

In the 16th century, Pierre Certon, a well-known composer from Paris, wrote a Catholic mass, "Sur le Pont d'Avignon", whose melody is relatively far from the song we know today. The melody of the current version of the nursery rhyme first appeared in 1853 in Adolphe Adam's operetta entitled "L’Auberge Pleine". International success came a few years later with another operetta, debuted in 1876, which was eventually called "Sur le Pont d'Avignon".

The residents of Avignon, did not, in fact, dance on the bridge, its narrowness allowing neither music nor dancing. However, the formation of islands, especially that of Barthelasse, incited the development of picnic areas and taverns that transformed the banks of the Rhone in a place of relaxation and leisure in the 19th century. So, the inhabitants of Avignon did indeed dance … though it was more under the bridge than on it.

Lyrics of the song

"On the bridge of Avignon
We all dance there, we all dance there.
On the bridge of Avignon
We all dance there in a ring.
The handsome gentlemen go like this
And then like that
On the bridge of Avignon
We all dance there, we all dance there.
On the bridge of Avignon
We all dance there in a ring.
The pretty ladies go like this
And then like that"

Visiting with the Family

Permanent exhibition on the history of the bridge is featured on the ground floor of the Chatelet.
Museum "The bridge refounded": movies, 3D display and touch pads (French and English) to see the bridge as you've never seen!
For children, an interactive audio guide specially created for young audiences from 8 to 16 years old (french).

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