Between 1309 and 1377, during the Avignon Papacy, seven successive popes resided in Avignon and in 1348 Pope Clement VI bought the town from Joanna I of Naples. Papal control persisted until 1791 when, during the French Revolution, it became part of France. The town is now the capital of the Vaucluse department and one of the few French cities to have preserved its ramparts.
The historic centre, which includes the Palais des Papes, the cathedral, and the Pont d'Avignon, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. The medieval monuments and the annual Festival d'Avignon have helped to make the town a major centre for tourism.
The commune has been awarded one flower by the National Council of Towns and Villages in Bloom in the Competition of cities and villages in Bloom.
The earliest forms of the name were reported by the Greeks:
The Roman name Avennĭo Cavarum (Mela, II, 575, Pliny III, 36), i.e. "Avignon of Cavares" accurately shows that Avignon was one of the three cities of the Celtic-Ligurian tribe of Cavares, along with Cavaillon and Orange.
The current name dates to a pre-Indo-European or pre-Latin theme ab-ên with the suffix -i-ōn(e) This theme would be a hydronym – i.e. a name linked to the river (Rhône), but perhaps also an oronym of terrain (the Rocher des Doms).
The Auenion of the 1st century BC was Latinized to Avennĭo (or Avēnĭo), -ōnis in the 1st century and was written Avinhon in classic Occitan spelling or Avignoun [aviɲũ] in Mistralian spelling The inhabitants of the commune are called avinhonencs or avignounen in both Occitan and Provençal dialect.
Avignon is on the left bank of the Rhône river, a few kilometres above its confluence with the Durance, about 580 km (360 mi) south-east of Paris, 229 km (142 mi) south of Lyon and 85 km (53 mi) north-north-west of Marseille. On the west it shares a border with the department of Gard and the communes of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon and Les Angles and to the south it borders the department of Bouches-du-Rhône and the communes of Barbentane, Rognonas, Châteaurenard, and Noves.
The city is in the vicinity of Orange (north), Nîmes, Montpellier (south-west), Arles (to the south), Salon-de-Provence, and Marseille (south-east). Directly contiguous to the east and north are the communes of Caumont-sur-Durance, Morières-lès-Avignon, Le Pontet, and Sorgues.
The region around Avignon is very rich in limestone which is used for building material. For example, the current ramparts, measuring 4,330 metres long, were built with the soft limestone abundant in the region called mollasse burdigalienne.
Enclosed by the ramparts, the Rocher des Doms is a limestone elevation of urgonian type, 35 metres high (and therefore safe from flooding of the Rhone which it overlooks) and is the original core of the city. Several limestone massifs are present around the commune (the Massif des Angles, Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, Alpilles...) and they are partly the result of the oceanisation of the Ligurian-Provençal basin following the migration of the Sardo-Corsican block.
The other significant elevation in the commune is the Montfavet Hill – a wooded hill in the east of the commune.
The Rhone Valley is an old alluvial zone: loose deposits cover much of the ground. It consists of sandy alluvium more or less coloured with pebbles consisting mainly of siliceous rocks. The islands in the Rhone, such as the Île de la Barthelasse, were created by the accumulation of alluvial deposits and also by the work of man. The relief is quite low despite the creation of mounds allowing local protection from flooding.
In the land around the city there are clay, silt, sand, and limestone present.
The Rhone passes the western edge of the city but is divided into two branches: the Petit Rhône, or "dead arm", for the part that passes next to Avignon and the Grand Rhône, or "live arm", for the western channel which passes Villeneuve-lès-Avignon in the Gard department. The two branches are separated by an island, the Île de la Barthelasse. The southernmost tip of the Île de la Barthelasse once formed of a separated island, the L'Île de Piot.
The banks of the Rhone and the Île de la Barthelasse are often subject to flooding during autumn and March. The publication Floods in France since the 6th century until today – research and documentation by Maurice Champion tells about a number of them (until 1862, the flood of 1856 was one of the largest, which destroyed part of the walls). They have never really stopped as shown by the floods in 1943–1944 and again on 23 January 1955 and remain important today – such as the floods of 2 December 2003. As a result, a new risk mapping has been developed.
The Durance flows along the southern boundary of the commune into the Rhone and marks the departmental boundary with Bouches-du-Rhône. It is a river that is considered "capricious" and once feared for its floods (it was once called the "3rd scourge of Provence" as well as for its low water: the Durance has both Alpine and Mediterranean morphology which is unusual.
There are many natural and artificial water lakes in the commune such as the Lake of Saint-Chamand east of the city.
There have been many diversions throughout the course of history, such as feeding the moat surrounding Avignon or irrigating crops.
In the 10th century part of the waters from the Sorgue d'Entraigues were diverted and today pass under the ramparts to enter the city. (See Sorgue). This watercourse is called the Vaucluse Canal but Avignon people still call it the Sorgue or Sorguette. It is visible in the city in the famous Rue des teinturiers (street of dyers). It fed the moat around the first ramparts then fed the moat on the newer eastern city walls (14th century). In the 13th century (under an Act signed in 1229) part of the waters of the Durance were diverted to increase the water available for the moats starting from Bonpas. This river was later called the Durançole. The Durançole fed the western moats of the city and was also used to irrigate crops at Montfavet. In the city these streams are often hidden beneath the streets and houses and are currently used to collect sewerage.
The Hospital Canal (joining the Durançole) and the Crillon Canal (1775) were dug to irrigate the territories of Montfavet, Pontet, and Vedène. They were divided into numerous "fioles" or "filioles" (in Provençal filhòlas or fiolo). Similarly, to irrigate the gardens of the wealthy south of Avignon, the Puy Canal was dug (1808). All of these canals took their water from the Durance. These canals were initially used to flood the land, which was very stony, to fertilize them by deposition of silt.
All of these canals have been used to operate many mills.
Under the new seismic zoning of France defined in Decree No. 2010-1255 of 22 October 2010 concerning the delimitation of the seismicity of the French territory and which entered into force on 1 May 2011, Avignon is located in an area of moderate seismicity. The previous zoning is shown below for reference.
"The cantons of Bonnieux, Apt, Cadenet, Cavaillon, and Pertuis are classified in zone Ib (low risk). All other cantons the Vaucluse department, including Avignon, are classified Ia (very low risk). This zoning is for exceptional seismicity resulting in the destruction of buildings.".
The presence of faults in the limestone substrate shows that significant tectonic shift has caused earthquakes in different geological ages. The last major earthquake of significant magnitude was on 11 June 1909. It left a visible trace in the centre of the city since the bell tower of the Augustinians, which is surmounted by an ancient campanile of wrought iron, located in Rue Carreterie, remained slightly leaning as a result of this earthquake.
Avignon has a humid subtropical climate (Cfa in the Köppen climate classification), with mild-cool winters and hot summers, with moderate rainfall year-round. July and August are the hottest months with average daily maximum temperatures of around 28 °C, and January and February the coldest with average daily maximum temperatures of around 9 °C. The wettest month is September, with a rain average of 102 millimetres, and the driest month is July, when the monthly average rainfall is 37 millimetres. The city is often subject to windy weather; the strongest wind is the mistral. A medieval Latin proverb said of the city: Avenie ventosa, sine vento venenosa, cum vento fastidiosa (Windy Avignon, pest-ridden when there is no wind, wind-pestered when there is).
According to Météo-France the number of days per year with rain above 2.5 litres per square metre is 45 and the amount of water, rain and snow combined is 660 litres per square metre. Average temperatures vary between 0 and 30 °C depending on the season. The record temperature record since the existence of the weather station at Orange is 40.7 °C on 26 July 1983 and the record lowest was −14.5 °C on 2 February 1956.
The prevailing wind is the mistral for which the windspeed can be beyond 110 km/h. It blows between 120 and 160 days per year with an average speed of 90 km/h in gusts. The following table shows the different speeds of the mistral recorded by Orange and Carpentras Serres stations in the southern Rhone valley and its frequency in 2006. Normal corresponds to the average of the last 53 years from Orange weather reports and that of the last 42 at Carpentras.
Legend: "=" same as normal; "+" Higher than normal; "-" Lower than normal.
In 2010, the commune had 89,683 inhabitants. The evolution of the number of inhabitants is known from the population censuses conducted in the commune since 1793. From the 21st century, a census of communes with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants is held every five years, unlike larger communes that have a sample survey every year.
Avignon is the prefecture (capital) of Vaucluse department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur region. It forms the core of the Grand Avignon metropolitan area (communauté d'agglomération), which comprises 15 communes on both sides of the river:
List of Successive Mayors
(Not all data is known)
Avignon has twinning associations with:
Avignon absorbed Montfavet between 1790 and 1794 then ceded Morières-lès-Avignon in 1870 and Le Pontet in 1925. On 16 May 2007 the commune of Les Angles in Gard ceded 13 hectares to Avignon.
The city of Avignon has an area of 64.78 km2 and a population of 92,078 inhabitants in 2010 and is ranked as follows:
Avignon is the seat of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Vaucluse which manages the Avignon – Caumont Airport and the Avignon-Le Pontet Docks.
Avignon has 7,000 businesses, 1,550 associations, 1,764 shops, and 1,305 service providers. The urban area has one of the largest catchment areas in Europe with more than 300,000 square metres of retail space and 469 m2 per thousand population against 270 on average in France. The commercial area of Avignon Nord is one of the largest in Europe.
The tertiary sector is the most dynamic in the department by far on the basis of the significant production of early fruit and vegetables in Vaucluse, The MIN (Market of National Importance) has become the pivotal hub of commercial activity in the department, taking precedence over other local markets (including that of Carpentras).
A Sensitive urban zone was created for companies wanting to relocate with exemptions from tax and social issues. It is located south of Avignon between the city walls and the Durance located in the districts of Croix Rouge, Monclar, Saint-Chamand, and La Rocade.
There are nine main areas of economic activity in Avignon.
The Courtine area is the largest with nearly 300 businesses (of which roughly half are service establishments, one third are shops, and the rest related to industry) and more than 3,600 jobs. The site covers an area of 300 hectares and is located south-west of the city at the TGV railway station.
Then comes the Fontcouverte area with a hundred establishments representing a thousand jobs. It is, however, more oriented towards shops than the Courtine area.
The MIN area of Avignon is the Agroparc area (or "Technopole Agroparc"). The Cristole area is contiguous and both have a little less than a hundred establishments.
Finally, the areas of Castelette, Croix de Noves, Realpanier, and the airport each have fewer than 25 establishments spread between service activities and shops. The area of the Castelette alone represents more than 600 jobs – i.e. 100 more than Cristole.
Four million visitors come annually to visit the city and the region and also for its festival. In 2011 the most popular tourist attraction was the Palais des Papes with 572,972 paying visitors. The annual Festival d'Avignon is the most important cultural event in the city. The official festival attracted 135,800 people in 2012.
River tourism began in 1994 with three river boat-hotels. In 2011 there is a fleet of 21 river boat-hotelsbuildings, including six sight-seeing boats which are anchored on the quay along the Oulle walkways. In addition a free shuttle boat connects Avignon to the Île de la Barthelasse and, since 1987, a harbor master has managed all river traffic.
The city is the headquarters of the International Association of the Mediterranean tomato, the World Council of the tomato industry, and the Inter-Rhône organisation.
Only EDF (Grand Delta) with about 850 employees and Onet Propreté with just over 300 exceed 100 employees.
The Henri Duffaut hospital, the City of Avignon, and the CHS of Montfavet are the largest employers in the town with about 2,000 employees each. Then comes the General Council of Vaucluse with about 1,300 employees.
In 2011 the unemployment rate was 15.6% while it was 13.7% in 2006. There are 39,100 people in the Avignon workforce: 78 (0.2%) agricultural workers, 2,191 (5.6%) tradesmen, shopkeepers, and business managers, 4,945 (12.6%) managers and intellectuals, 8,875 (22.6%) middle managers, 12,257 (31.3%) employees, and 9,603 (24.6%) workers.
Avignon is close to two highways:
The main roads are:
The city has nine paid parking buildings with a total of 7,100 parking spaces, parking buildings under surveillance with a capacity for 2,050 cars with a free shuttle to the city centre, as well as five other free parking areas with a capacity of 900 cars.
Avignon is served by two railway stations: the historic train station built in 1860, the Gare d'Avignon-Centre, located just outside the city walls, which can accommodate any type of train and, since 2001, the Gare d'Avignon TGV in the "Courtine" district south of the city, on the LGV Méditerranée line. Since December 2013 the two stations have been connected by a link line – the Virgule. The Montfavet district, which was formerly a separate commune, also has a station.
The Avignon - Caumont Airport on the south-eastern commune border has several international routes to England. The major airport in the region with domestic and international scheduled passenger service is the Marseille Provence Airport.
The Rhône has for many centuries been an important means of transportation for the city. River traffic in Avignon has two commercial ports, docking stations for boat cruises, and various riverfront developments. A free shuttle boat has been established between the quay near the ramparts and the opposite bank (the île de la Barthelasse).
The Transports en Commun de la Région d'Avignon, also known by the acronym TCRA, is the public transport network for the commune of Avignon.
Two tram lines are projected to open in 2016 with works expected to begin in late 2013.
Avignon has 110 km (68 mi) of bicycle paths. In 2009 the TCRA introduced a bicycle sharing system called the Vélopop'.
Avignon has a very large number of sites and buildings (173) that are registered as historical monuments.
In the part of the city within the walls the buildings are old but in most areas they have been restored or reconstructed (such as the post office and the Lycée Frédéric Mistral). The buildings along the main street, Rue de la République, date from the Second Empire (1852–70) with Haussmann façades and amenities around Place de l'Horloge (the central square), the neoclassical city hall, and the theatre district.
Listed below are the major sites of interest with those sites registered as historical monuments indicated:
The commune houses an extremely large number of religious items which are listed as historical objects. To see a comprehensive list of objects in each location click on the numbers in the table below:
Locations of Historical Objects
A famous theatre festival is held annually in Avignon. Founded in 1947, the Avignon Festival comprises traditional theatrical events as well as other art forms such as dance, music, and cinema, making good use of the town's historical monuments. Every summer approximately 100,000 people attend the festival. There are really two festivals that take place: the more formal "Festival In", which presents plays inside the Palace of the Popes and the more bohemian "Festival Off", which is known for its presentation of largely undiscovered plays and street performances.
The Centre was created in 1976 within the premises of the Palace of the Popes and hosts many events throughout the entire year. The Congress Centre, designed for conventions, seminars, and meetings for 10 to 550 persons, now occupies two wings of the Popes' Palace.
Avignon is commemorated by the French song, "Sur le Pont d'Avignon" ("On the bridge of Avignon"), which describes folk dancing. The song dates from the mid-19th century when Adolphe Adam included it in the Opéra comique Le Sourd ou l'Auberge Pleine which was first performed in Paris in 1853. The opera was an adaptation of the 1790 comedy by Desforges.
The bridge of the song is the Saint-Bénézet bridge over the Rhône of which only four arches (out of the initial 22) now remain. A bridge across the Rhone was built between 1171 and 1185, with a length of some 900 m (2950 ft), but was destroyed during the siege of Avignon by Louis VIII of France in 1226. It was rebuilt but suffered frequent collapses during floods and had to be continually repaired. Several arches were already missing (and spanned by wooden sections) before the remainder was abandoned in 1669.
Sporting Olympique Avignon is the local rugby league football team. During the 20th century it produced a number of French international representative players.
AC Arles-Avignon is a professional association football team. They compete in Ligue 2, having gained promotion from Ligue 3 in June 2009. After a season 2010–2011 competing in Ligue 1, the Arles-Avignon team came back in Ligue 2. They play at the Parc des Sports, which has a capacity of just over 17,000.
On 8 July 2008 waste containing unenriched uranium leaked into two rivers from a nuclear plant in southern France. Some 30,000 litres (7,925 gallons) of solution containing 12g of uranium per litre spilled from an overflowing reservoir at the facility – which handles liquids contaminated by uranium – into the ground and into the Gaffiere and Lauzon rivers. The authorities kept this a secret from the public for 12 hours then issued a statement prohibiting swimming and fishing in the Gaffiere and Lauzon rivers.
The schools within the commune of Avignon are administered by the Académie d'Aix-Marseille. There are 26 state nursery schools (Écoles maternelles) for children up to 6, and 32 state primary schools (Écoles élémentaires) up to 11. There are also 4 private schools.
The medieval University of Avignon, formed from the existing schools of the city, was formally constituted in 1303 by Boniface VIII in a Papal Bull. Boniface VIII and King Charles II of Naples were the first great protectors and benefactors to the university. The Law department was the most important department covering both civil and ecclesiastical law. The law department existed nearly exclusively for some time after the university's formation and remained its most important department throughout its existence.
In 1413 Antipope John XXIII founded the University's department of theology, which for quite some time had only a few students. It was not until the 16th and 17th centuries that the school developed a department of medicine. The Bishop of Avignon was chancellor of the university from 1303 to 1475. After 1475 the bishop became an Archbishop but remained chancellor of the university. The papal vice-legate, generally a bishop, represented the civil power (in this case the pope) and was chiefly a judicial officer who ranked higher than the Primicerius (Rector).
The Primicerius was elected by the Doctors of Law. In 1503 the Doctors of Law had 4 Theologians and in 1784 two Doctors of Medicine added to their ranks. Since the Pope was the spiritual head and, after 1348, the temporal ruler of Avignon, he was able to have a great deal of influence in all university affairs. In 1413 John XXIII granted the university extensive special privileges, such as university jurisdiction and tax exempt status. Political, geographical, and educational circumstances in the latter part of the university's existence caused it to seek favour from Paris rather than Rome for protection. During the chaos of the French Revolution the university started to gradually disappear and, in 1792, the university was abandoned and closed.
A university annex of the Faculté des Sciences d'Aix-Marseille was opened in Avignon in 1963. Over the next 20 years various changes were made to the provision of tertiary education in the town until finally in 1984 the Université d'Avignon et des Pays de Vaucluse was created. This was nearly 200 years after the demise of the original Avignon university. The main campus lies to the east of the city centre within the city ramparts. The university occupies the 18th century buildings of the Hôpital Sainte-Marthe. The main building has an elegant façade with a central portico. The right hand side was designed by Jean-Baptiste Franque and built between 1743 and 1745. Franque was assisted by his son François in the design of the portico. The hospital moved out in the 1980s and, after major works, the building opened for students in 1997. In 2009–2010 there were 7,125 students registered at the university.