The surviving four arches of the Pont St-Bénézet
|Official name: Historic Centre of Avignon: Papal Palace, Episcopal Ensemble and Avignon Bridge|
|Criteria||i, ii, iv|
|Official name: Chapelle et pont Saint-Bénézet|
A bridge spanning the Rhone between Villeneuve-lès-Avignon and Avignon was built between 1177 and 1185. This early bridge was destroyed forty years later during the Albigensian Crusade when Louis VIII of France laid siege to Avignon. The bridge was rebuilt with 22 stone arches. It was very costly to maintain as the arches tended to collapse when the Rhone flooded. Eventually in the middle of the 17th century the bridge was abandoned. The four surviving arches on the bank of the Rhone are believed to have been built in around 1345 by Pope Clement VI during the Avignon Papacy. The Chapel of Saint Nicholas sits on the second pier of the bridge. It was constructed in the second half of 12th century but has since been substantially altered. The northern terminal, the Tower of Philip the Fair, is also preserved.
The bridge was the inspiration for the song Sur le pont d'Avignon and is considered a landmark of the city. In 1995, the surviving arches of the bridge, together with the Palais des Papes and Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms were classified as a World Heritage Site.
The bridge spanned the Rhone River between Avignon and Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. It was built between 1177 and 1185, with an original length of some 900 m (980 yd). The bridge was destroyed during the siege of Avignon by Louis VIII of France in 1226 but beginning in 1234 it was rebuilt. Historians have suggested that the earlier bridge may have consisted of a wooden superstructure supported on stone piers and that only when rebuilt was the bridge constructed entirely in stone. The bridge was only 4.9 m (16 ft) in width, including the parapets at the sides. The arches were liable to collapse when the river flooded and were sometimes replaced with temporary wooden structures before being rebuilt in stone.[a]
The bridge fell into a state of disrepair during the 17th century. By 1644 the bridge was missing four arches and finally a catastrophic flood in 1669 swept away much of the structure. Since then, its surviving arches have successively collapsed or been demolished, and only four of the initial 22 arches remain.
The arches are segmental rather than the semi-circular shape typically used in Roman bridges. Of the remaining arches the largest span is 35.8 m between the third and fourth piles. The piers have cutwaters that are pointed in both the upstream and the downstream direction, reduced scour around the piers, one of the main threats to the stability of stone bridges.
Saint Bénézet legend
The bridge's construction was inspired by Saint Bénézet, a shepherd boy from the hamlet of Villard in the Ardèche who (according to tradition) while tending his flock heard the voice of Jesus Christ asking him to build a bridge across the river. Although he was ridiculed at first, he dramatically "proved" his divine inspiration by miraculously lifting a huge block of stone. He won support for his project and formed a Bridge Brotherhood to oversee its construction. After his death, he was interred on the bridge itself, in a small chapel standing on one of the bridge's surviving piers on the Avignon side.
Saint Nicholas Chapel
The Saint Nicholas Chapel sits on a platform on the upstream side of the second pier (between the second and third arches). The chapel has undergone a number of phases of reconstruction and restoration. It is now divided into two floors, each with a nave and an apse. The upper floor is on a level with the platform of the bridge and reduces the width of the walkway to 1.75 m. The lower floor is accessed by a set of steps that descend from the bridge.
The exterior of the chapel shows evidence of the rebuilding work with blocked windows on the south-eastern wall. The nave is covered with stone roof tiles which rest on a series of corbels. The polygonal apse has a flat roof and sits above the cutwater of the pier.
The lower chapel with its apse decorated with five arches dates from the second half of the 12th century. At a later date, perhaps as early as the 13th century when the level of the bridge was raised, a floor supported by a ribbed quadripartite vault was inserted into the structure. The simple rectangular upper chapel with the barrel vaulted roof was consecrated in 1411. A side door was created in the lower chapel as the stonework of the raised bridge blocked the original entrance. In 1513 a pentagonal apse with gothic columns was added to the upper chapel.
In 1670, after the bridge was abandoned, the relics of Saint Bénézet were transferred to the Hôpital du Pont (also called the Hôpital St Bénézet) within the city walls next to the gatehouse.
The bridge was also the site of devotion by the Rhône boatmen, whose patron saint was Saint Nicholas. They initially worshipped in the Saint Nicholas Chapel on the bridge itself (where Saint Bénézet's body was also interred) but the increasing dilapidation of the bridge made access difficult. In 1715 the confraternity of boatmen built a chapel on dry land on the Avignon side of the bridge outside the ramparts next to the gatehouse. This chapel was destroyed by the major flood of the Rhone that occurred in 1856. A residence for a caretaker was built on the ruins during the restoration work undertaken beginning around 1878. The residence was demolished as part of the restoration work on the bridge and gatehouse carried out in the 1980s.
The bridge had great strategic importance as when built it was the only fixed river crossing between Lyon and the Mediterranean Sea. It also formed the only river crossing between the Comtat Venaissin, an enclave controlled by the Pope, and France proper under the authority of the kings of France. As such, it was closely guarded on both sides of the river. The right bank, which was controlled by the French crown, was overlooked by the fortress of the Tour Phillippe le Bel which was built at the beginning of the 14th century. On the Avignon side, the bridge passed through a large gatehouse erected in the 14th century (with major modifications in the 15th century), passing through and over the city wall and exiting via a ramp (now destroyed) which led into the city.
Between 1265 and 1309 a second bridge was constructed across the Rhone, 40 km upstream from Avignon, at what is now Pont-Saint-Esprit but then known as Saint-Saturnin-du-Port. The Pont-Saint-Esprit bridge originally had 20 arches and a length of 900 m. Although now somewhat modified, the medieval bridge has survived until the present day.
With the collapse of the Saint-Bénézet bridge the Rhone at Avignon was crossed by ferry until the 19th century. Between 1806 and 1820 a wooden bridge was built across the river. The section between Avignon and the Île de la Barthelasse was replaced by a suspension bridge in 1845 but the wooden section between the island and Villeneuve was not replaced until 1905-1910.
The song "Sur le Pont d'Avignon"
The bridge has achieved worldwide fame through its commemoration by the song "Sur le Pont d'Avignon" ("On the bridge of Avignon"). In fact, people probably would have danced beneath the bridge (sous le pont) where it crossed a river island (the Île de la Barthelasse) on its way to Villeneuve. The island was (and still is) a popular recreation spot, where pleasure gardens once stood and folk dancing was a popular pastime for many years.
A different song with the title of Sur la pont d'Avignon was popular in the 16th and 17th centuries. The melody was published by Ottaviano Petrucci in his Harmonice Musices Odhecaton of 1503-4. The 16th-century composer Pierre Certon used the melody in a mass with the title of "Sus le Pont d'Avignon". The modern version dates from the mid-19th century when Adolphe Adam included the song 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.
- There are records of repairs to the bridge in 1321, 1324, 1348, 1375, 1431, 1471, 1603 and 1633.
- Labande 1910, pp. 46-47.
- Passages d'une rive à l'autre, Part 1, Archives départementales de Vaucluse, 2000, p. 21.
- Viollet-le-Duc, Eugène (1875), Dictionnaire raisonné de l’architecture française du XIe au XVIe siècle Volume 7 (in French), Paris: A. Morel, p. 221.
- Maigret 2002, p. 17 Note 24.
- Coulon 1644, p. 168.
- Champion 1862, p. 24.
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- Cathedral, forge, and waterwheel: technology and invention in the Middle Ages By Frances Gies and Joseph Gies (Feb 1994) http://www.amazon.com/gp/search?index=books&linkCode=qs&keywords=0060165901
- Rouquette 1974, pp. 219-220.
- Bouette de Blémur 1689, pp. 111-113.
- Rouquette 1974, pp. 229-232, 470.
- Rouquette 1974, p. 232.
- Pansier 1930, p. 26.
- Marié 1953, p. 130.
- Maigret 2002.
- Pansier 1930.
- Mesqui 2000, pp. 521-522.
- Passages d'une rive à l'autre, Part 2, Archives départementales de Vaucluse, 2000, pp. 27–29
- Monuments historiques: Chapelle et pont Saint-Bénézet, Ministère de la culture et de la Communication: Mérimée database, retrieved 4 March 2013.
- Ferne Arfin, Adventure Guide to Provence & the Cote D'azur, p. 42. Hunter Publishing, Inc, 2005.
- Woetmann Christoffersen, Peter (1994), French Music in the Early Sixteenth Century. Volume II Catalogue, Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, p. 55, OCLC 32069293.
- Anonymous (6 February 1853), "Théatre Impérial de l'Opéra-Comique, Le Sourd ou l'Auberge pleine: Comédie en trois actes de Desforges, mélée de musique par Ad. Adam", Revue et gazette musicale de Paris: journal des artistes, des amateurs et des théâtres (in French) (Paris) 20 (6): 42.
- Bouette de Blémur, Jacqueline (1689), "La vie de Saint Benoist", Vies des Saints, Volume 2 (in French), Lyon, France: Pierre Valfray, pp. 111–113.
- Champion, Maurice (1862), Les inondations en France depuis le VIe siècle jusqu'a nos jours (Volume 4) (in French), Paris: V. Dalmont.
- Coulon, Louis (1644), Les Riviéres de France Volume 2 (in French), Paris: Francois Clousier.
- Labande, M. L.-H. (1910), "Pont Saint-Bénézet et Chapelle de Saint-Nicolas", Congrès archéologique de France, 76e session, 1909, Avignon. Volume 1 Guide du Congrès (in French), pp. 46–52.
- Maigret, Chantal (2002), "La tour Philippe le Bel 1303-2003: 700 ans d’histoire", Études vauclusiennes (in French) 68: 5–22.
- Marié, Denis-Marcel (1953), Le pont Saint Bénézet. Étude historique et archéologique d'un ouvrage en partie disparu. Volume 1: Histoires et réalité (in French), Versailles: D.-M. Marié (self-published). No further volumes were published. The link provides the text of chapters 1, 7, 10-12.
- Mesqui, Jean (2000), "Pont Saint-Esprit: Pont sur le Rhône", Congrès archéologique de France - Monuments du Gard, 157e session 1999 (in French), Paris: Société française d'archéologie, pp. 521–523.
- Pansier, Pierre (1930), "La Tour du Pont d'Avignon", Annales d'Avignon et du Comtat Venaissin (in French) 16: 5–19.
- Rouquette, Jean-Maurice (1974), Provence Romane: La Provence Rhodanienne (in French with short summaries in English and German), Paris: Zodiaque, OCLC 1036957.
- Vella, Marc-Antoine, et al. (2013), "Géoarchéologie du Rhône dans le secteur du pont Saint-Bénézet (Avignon, Provence, France) au cours de la seconde moitié du deuxième millénaire apr. J.-C. : étude croisée de géographie historique et des paléoenvironnements", Géomorphologie : relief, processus, environnement (in French with English summary and figure legends) 3: 287–310.
- Berthelot, Michel (2013), Le Pont d'Avignon: combien de piles? (in French), Modèles et simulations pour l'architecture et le patrimoine, Centre National de la Research Scientifique/Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication.
- Breton, Alain (1986–1987), "Les restaurations du pont Saint-Bénézet", Annuaire de la Société des Amis du Palais des Papes et des monuments d'Avignon, 1986-1987 (in French): 87–94
- Carru, Dominique (1999), "Le Rhône à Avignon. Données archéologiques", Gallia 56: 109–120.
- Falque, Maurice (1908), Étude des procès et contestations sur la propriété du Rhône et de la ville d'Avignon, 1302-1818 (Doctoral Thesis) (in French and Latin), Montpellier: Société anonyme de l'imprimerie générale du Midi.
- Pansier, Pierre (1920–1921), "Histoire de l'oeuvre des frères du pont d'Avignon (1181-1410)", Annales d'Avignon et du Comtat Venaissin (in French) 7: 7–75.
- Pansier, Pierre (1930), "Les chapelles du Pont Saint-Bénézet", Annales d'Avignon et du Comtat Venaissin (in French) 16: 81–117.
- Perrot, Roger; Granier, Jacques; Gagnière, Sylvain (1971), "Contribution à l'étude du pont Saint-Bénézet", Mémoires de l'Académie de Vaucluse, 6th ser. (in French) 5: 67–93.
- Romefort, J. de (1930), "La destruction du pont d'Avignon par l'armée de Louis VIII en 1226", Mémoires de l'Institute historique de Provence (in French) 7: 149–155.
- Rouvet, Massillon (1890), "Le Pont d'Avignon", Réunion des sociétés des beaux-arts des départements en 1890, Quatorzième Session (in French), Paris: Plon-Nourrit, pp. 262–271.
- Rouvet, Massillon (1891), "Le Pont d'Avignon", Réunion des sociétés des beaux-arts des départements en 1891, Quinzième Session (in French), Paris: Plon-Nourrit, pp. 318–324.
- Sagnier, A. (1883), "Le Pont de Saint-Bénézet", Congrès archéologique de France, 49e session 1882, Séances Générales, Avignon (in French), pp. 259–282 (misnumbered from 272).
- Wallon, Simone, "La chanson 'Sur la pont d'Avignon' au XVIe et XVIIe siècle", Mélanges d'Histoire et d'Esthétique Musicales offerts à Paul-Marie Masson, Volume I (in French), Paris: Richard-Masse, pp. 185–192.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Pont Saint Bénezet.|
- Chauzat, Françoise, Le pont d'Avignon sauvegardé au XIXe siècle (in French), L’Histoire par l’image.
- History of the Pont St Bénézet
- Romanes.com : Map and pictures of the bridge
- Saint-Bénezet Bridge at Structurae