Avignon is a city in southern France, situated on the left bank of the Rhône, in the département of Vaucluse, about 400 miles south-south-east of Paris, and 50 miles north-north-west of Marseille.
It became the residence of the Pope in 1309, at which time it was under the rule of the kings of Sicily (the house of Anjou); in 1348 Pope Clement VI bought it from Queen Joanna I of Sicily for 80,000 gold gulden, and it remained a papal possession till 1791, when, during the disorders of the French Revolution, it was incorporated with France.
Seven popes resided there:
Pope Clement V
Pope John XXII
Pope Benedict XII
Pope Clement VI
Pope Innocent VI
Pope Urban V
Pope Gregory XI
This period from 1309-1377 was also called the Babylonian Captivity of the popes.
The antipopes Clement VII and Benedict XIII continued to reside there, the former during his entire pontificate (1378-1394), the latter until 1408, when he fled to Aragon.
Avignon was the seat of a bishop as early as the year 70 AD, and became an archbishopric in 1476. Several synods of minor importance were held there, and its university, founded by Pope Boniface VIII in 1303 and famed as a seat of legal studies, flourished until the French Revolution.
The walls built by the popes in the years immediately succeeding the acquisition of Avignon as papal territory are well preserved. The papal palace ("Palais des Papes"), a lofty Gothic building, with walls 17-18 feet thick, built 1335-1364, long used as a barracks, is now a museum.
A famous theater festival is held annually in Avignon.
Avignon is remembered in the French children's song, "Sur le pont d'Avignon" ("On the bridge of Avignon"), which describes folk dancing. The bridge of the song is the Saint Bénezet bridge, over the Rhone River, of which only 4 arches (out of the initial 22) starting from Avignon side remain. The bridge was initially built between 1171 and 1185, but it had to be reconstructed several times afterwards. The missing part of the bridge collapsed during a flood of the river in 1660.
Born in Avignon were:
Jean Alesi, race car driver
Pierre Boulle, author of The Bridge on the River Kwai and Planet of the Apes
Alexandre de Rhodes (1591-1660), Jesuit missionary
Mireille Mathieu, singer