|Historic Centre of Avignon: Papal Palace, Episcopal Ensemble and Avignon Bridge|
|Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List|
|Criteria||i, ii, iv|
|Inscription||1995 (19th Session)|
The bridge spanned the Rhône River between Avignon and Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. It was built between 1177 and 1185, with an original length of some 900 m (2950 ft). The bridge was damaged during the siege of Avignon by Louis VIII of France in 1226 but beginning in 1234 the bridge was rebuilt. Historian have suggested that the earlier bridge may have consisted of a wooden superstructure supported by stone piers and that only when rebuilt in 1234 was the bridge constructed entirely in stone. It was only 4.90 m in width, including the parapets at the sides. The arches of the bridge often collapsed during floods and had to be rebuilt.[a]
The bridge fell into a state of disrepair during the 17th century. By 1644 it was missing 4 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 intact today.
The arches are elliptical, with the long axis vertical. This innovation in bridge building allowed spans of up to 35 meters, longer than any Roman arch spans. This, along with the novel use of cutwaters that are pointed in both the upstream and the downstream direction, reduced scour around the pilings, one of the main threats to the stability of stone bridges.
The bridge's construction was inspired by Saint Bénézet, a local shepherd boy who (according to tradition) was commanded by angels 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 from wealthy sponsors who formed themselves into a Bridge Brotherhood to fund 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.
The bridge was also the site of devotion by the Rhône boatmen, whose patron saint was Saint Nicholas. They initially worshipped in the Chapel of Saint Nicholas on the bridge itself (where Saint Bénézet's body was also interred) but the increasing dilapidation of the bridge led to the clergy refusing to preside over services for fear of a total collapse. A new chapel was erected on dry land in the 18th century at the foot of the bridge, on the Avignon side.
The bridge had great strategic importance as when it was 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 and the citadel at Villeneuve-les-Avignon. 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 1308 a second bridge was constructed across the Rhone, 36 km further upstream, at what is now Pont-Saint-Esprit but then known as Saint Saturnin. This later bridge has survived until the present day.
With the collapse of the Saint-Bénezet bridge the Rhone at Avignon had to be 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 replace 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. 
The song was originally composed by the 16th century composer Pierre Certon, though with a very different melody from its present version and under the more accurate title of "Sus le Pont d'Avignon". The modern version only dates from the mid-19th century, when Adolphe Adam included it in an 1853 operetta entitled l'Auberge Pleine. It was popularised by an 1876 operetta which renamed the song, as currently, "Sur le Pont d'Avignon."
- There are records of repairs to the bridge in these years: 1321, 1324, 1348, 1375, 1431, 1471, 1603, 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.
- Gunnar Lucko, Masters Thesis, Virginia Tech., 1999 http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/available/etd-120199-224950/
- 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
- Pont du Saint-Esprit, Structuae, Wilhelm Ernst & Sohn Verlag, retrieved 11 March 2013.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Sagnier, A. (1893), "Le Pont de Saint-Bénézet", Congrès archéologique de France, 49e session 1892, Séances Générales, Avignon (in French), pp. 259–282 (misnumbered from 272).
|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