AVIGNON, a city of south-eastern France, capital of the department of Vaucluse, 143 m. S. of Lyons on the railway between that city and Marseilles. Pop. (1906) 35,356. Avignon, which lies on the left bank of the Rhone, a few miles above its confluence with the Durance, occupies a large oval-shaped area not fully populated, and covered in great part by parks and gardens. A suspension bridge leads over the river to Villeneuve-lès-Avignon (q.v.), and a little higher up, a picturesque ruined bridge of the 12th century, the Pont Saint-Bénézet, projects into the stream. Only four of the eighteen piles are left; on one of them stands the chapel of Saint-Bénézet, a small Romanesque building. Avignon is still encircled by the ramparts built by the popes in the 14th century, which offer one of the finest examples of medieval fortification in existence. The walls, which are of great strength, are surmounted by machicolated battlements, flanked at intervals by thirty-nine massive towers and pierced by several gateways, three of which date from the 14th century. The whole is surrounded by a line of pleasant boulevards. The life of the town is almost confined to the Place de l'Hôtel de Ville and the Cours de la République, which leads out of it and extends to the ramparts. Elsewhere the streets are narrow, quiet, and, for the most part, badly paved. At the northern extremity of the town a precipitous rock, the Rocher des Doms, rises from the river's edge and forms a plateau stretching southwards nearly to the Place de l'Hôtel de Ville. Its summit is occupied by a public garden and, to the south of this, by the cathedral of Notre-Dame des Doms and the Palace of the Popes. The cathedral is a Romanesque building, mainly of the 12th century, the most prominent feature of which is the gilded statue of the Virgin which surmounts the western tower. Among the many works of art in the interior, the most beautiful is the mausoleum of Pope John XXII., a masterpiece of Gothic carving of the 14th century. The cathedral is almost dwarfed by the Palace of the Popes, a sombre assemblage of buildings, which rises at its side and covers a space of more than 1 acres. Begun in 1316 by John XXII., it was continued by succeeding popes until 1370, and is in the Gothic style; in its construction everything has been sacrificed to strength, and though the effect is imposing, the place has the aspect rather of a fortress than of a palace. It was for long used as a barracks and prison, to the exigencies of which the fine apartments were ruthlessly adapted, but it is now municipal property. Among the minor churches of the town are St Pierre, which has a graceful façade and richly carved doors, St Didier and St Agricol, all three of Gothic architecture. The most notable of the civil buildings are the hôtel de ville, a modern building with a belfry of the 14th century, and the old Hôtel des Monnaies, the papal mint which was built in 1610 and is now used as a music-school. The Calvet Museum, so named after F. Calvet, physician, who in 1810 left his collections to the town, is rich in inscriptions, bronzes, glass and other antiquities, and in sculptures and paintings. The library has over 140,000 volumes. The town has a statue of a Persian, Jean Althen, who in 1765 introduced the culture of the madder plant, which long formed the staple and is still an important branch of local trade. In 1873 John Stuart Mill died at Avignon, and is buried in the cemetery. For the connexion of Petrarch with the town see Petrarch.
Avignon is subject to violent winds, of which the most disastrous is the mistral. The popular proverb is, however, somewhat exaggerated, Avenio ventosa, sine vento venenosa, cum vento fastidiosa (windy Avignon, pest-ridden when there is no wind, wind-pestered when there is).
Avignon is the seat of an archbishop and has tribunals of first instance and of commerce, a council of trade-arbitrators, a lycée, and training college, a chamber of commerce and a branch of the Bank of France. It is in the midst of a fertile district, in the products of which it has a large trade, and has flour-mills, distilleries, oil-works and leather-works, manufactures soap, chemicals and liquorice, and is well known for its sarsanet and other fabrics.
Avignon (Avenio) was an important town of the Gallic tribe of the Cavares, and under the Romans one of the leading cities of Gallia Narbonensis. Severely harassed during the barbarian invasions and by the Saracens, it was, in later times, attached successively to the kingdoms of Burgundy and of Arles and to the domains of the counts of Provence and of Toulouse and of Forcalquier. At the end of the 12th century it became a republic, but in 1226 was taken and dismantled by Louis VIII. as punishment for its support of the Albigenses, and in 1251 was forced to submit to the counts of Toulouse and Provence. In 1309 the city was chosen by Clement V. as his residence, and from that time till 1377 was the papal seat. In 1348 the city was sold by Joanna, countess of Provence, to Clement VI. After Gregory XI. had migrated to Rome, two antipopes, Clement VII. and Benedict XIII., resided at Avignon, from which the latter was expelled in 1408. The town remained in the possession of the popes, who governed it by means of legates, till its annexation by the National Assembly in 1791, though during this interval several kings of France made efforts to unite it with their dominions. In 1791 conflicts between the adherents of the Papacy and the Republicans led to much bloodshed. In 1815 Marshal Brune was assassinated in the town by the adherents of the royalist party. The bishopric, founded in the 3rd century, became an archbishopric in 1475.
See Fantoni Castrucci, Istoria della città d'Avignone e del Contado Venesino (Venice, 1678); J. B. Joudou, Histoire des souverains pontifes qui ont siégé à Avignon (Avignon, 1855); A. Canron, Guide de l'étranger dans la ville d'Avignon et ses environs (Avignon, 1858); J. F. André, Histoire de la Papauté à Avignon (Avignon, 1887).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)