Sur le Pont D’Avignon, l’on y danse, l’on y danse
Sur le Pont D’Avignon, l’on y danse tout en rond
These words and the catchy little tune that goes with them always invade my head when I hear mention of the French city of Avignon.
So, when I set off on the TGV from Paris, bound for Avignon, the capital of the Département of Vaucuse, on the banks of the Rhone, in Provence, Le Pont d’Avignon, or the the bridge of Avignon was on the top of my tourism “to dos”.
The bridge most commonly known as Le Pont D’Avignon, is, in fact, Le Pont Saint-Bénézet. It is named for Saint Bénézet, a local shepherd boy who, in 1171, was commanded by angels to build a bridge across the Rhone between Avignon on the right bank and Villeneuve-lès-Avignon on the left. At first he was mocked and his proposed bridge was seen as a foolish dream. However, when he miraculously lifted a giant rock and proved his divine inspiration, wealthy sponsors opened their purses and construction began.
Completed in 1185, the bridge was originally 900 metres in length but it suffered several collapses during floods and had to be rebuilt several times. Over the centuries it became increasingly dangerous until, finally in the great flood of 1668, much of the structure was swept away. Le Pont Saint Bénézet was never repaired. Only four of the original 22 arches still stand and the bridge extends only about two thirds of the way into the Rhone.
Nonetheless, the Pont Saint Bénet remains a “must see” It is an Avignon icon and a shrine to the saint himself who lies buried there in a small chapel.