The Pont d'Avignon - Saint Bénezet

The bridge of Saint-Bénézet - commonly referred to as the Pont d'Avignon - was first erected in the course of the 12th century (1177-1185); destroyed for the first time in 1226 during the Cathar Crusade, it was rebuilt, only to be damaged several times more by strong floods of the Rhône.

Originally the bridge served as the link between the territory of France and the Papal state and was the only place where the Rhône could be crossed. It was an obligatory point of passage for many merchants and travellers. The bridge was also on the route of one of the main pilgrimage routes between Italy and Spain. Each time the Popes crossed the bridge, they would stop briefly in front of the chapel of Saint-Bénézet for a short prayer before leaving an alm of one Florine.

It is in 1603 that a first arch collapsed, followed by three others in 1605; this were due in part to strong floods of the Rhône, but also to neglect on the part of the King, who in those days owned part of the edifice. In 1628 work began to repair the four arches, but it was brought to an abrupt end by a plague epidemic, and it was not before 1633 that the bridge was back in usage. Then, in 1669, a catastrophic flood washed away several arches, leaving behind most of the arches we can still admire nowadays. The Pont Saint Bénézet had a great strategic importance when it was built back in the 12th century, as it was the only fixed river crossing over the Rhône between Lyon and the Mediterranean Sea.

Legend has it that a young shepherd from the Vivarais area called 'Little Benoît' or Bénézet (1165-1184) heard voices commanding him to build a bridge over the Rhône in Avignon. He was ridiculed at first by the people of Avignon, but when the bishop challenged him to lift a huge boulder and carry it to the river he astonished onlookers by succeeding, seemingly miraculously. This convinced the Avignonnais of his divine inspiration and they quickly raised the required funds to construct the bridge. The Pont d'Avignon originally spanned the Rhône over approximately 900m and had a total of twenty-two arches, of which only four remain today.