The Palais des Papes is a vast palace of significant historic, religious and architectural importance.
It is located in Avignon, southern France.
With 15,000 square meters (161,458 square feet) of floor space, the Palais is the largest Gothic palace in the world!
The Palais des Papes was the seat of Western Christianity during the 14th century.
Avignon became the home of the popes in 1309, who were fleeing the violent chaos of Rome.
The Palace was built in less than twenty years, starting in 1335, and was primarily built by two popes, Pope Benedict XII and his successor Pope Clement VI.
The site, on a natural rocky outcrop at the northern edge of Avignon, overlooking the river Rhône, was that of the old episcopal palace of the bishops of Avignon.
The Palais was built in two principal phases with two distinct segments, known as the Palais Vieux (Old Palace) and Palais Neuf (New Palace).
The Palais Vieux (Old Palace) was constructed by the architect Pierre Poisson of Mirepoix at the instruction of Pope Benedict XII. The austere Benedict had the original episcopal palace razed and replaced with a much larger building centred on a cloister, heavily fortified against attackers. Its four wings are flanked with high towers.
Under Popes Clement VI, Innocent VI and Urban V, the building was expanded to form what is now known as the Palais Neuf (New Palace).
An architect, Jean de Louvres, was commissioned by Clement VI to build a new tower and adjoining buildings, including a 52-meter (170-foot) long Grand Chapel [photo below] to serve as the location for papal acts of worship.
Two more towers were built under Innocent VI. Urban V completed the main courtyard [photo below] (known as the Court d’Honneur) with further buildings enclosing it. The interior of the building was sumptuously decorated with frescos, tapestries, paintings, sculptures and wooden ceilings.
The Great Tinel was used primarily as a reception room. Covered with tapestries on starry blue background, there is actually nothing left of these sets. Indeed, a fire that destroyed the palace in the 14th century; many parts have been restored or rebuilt.
The studium, or private study of Clement VI, is commonly called the chambre du cerf (room of the deer), on account of the justly-celebrated 14th-century frescoes, depicting courtly hunting scenes, that decorate the walls and vaults.
Located on the second level of the Saint-Jean tower, the Saint-Martial chapel relates through painting the main parts of Saint Martial’s life. Matteo Giovanetti worked there in 1344 and 1345.
From 1347 to 1348, Matteo Giovannetti was in charge of the Saint-Jean chapel, located under the Saint-Martial chapel.
Its library was once the largest in Europe.
The Palais was enormously expensive, consuming much of the papacy’s income during its construction.
Six papal conclaves were held in the Palais, leading to the elections of Benedict XII in 1334, Clement VI in 1342, Innocent VI in 1352, Urban V in 1362, Gregory XI in 1370 and Antipope Benedict XIII in 1394.
Although the Palais remained under papal control for over 350 years afterwards, it gradually deteriorated despite a restoration in 1516. When the French Revolution broke out in 1789 it was already in a bad state when it was seized and sacked by revolutionary forces. In 1791 it became the scene of a massacre of counter-revolutionaries, whose bodies were thrown into the Tour des Latrines in the Palais Vieux.
The Palais was subsequently taken over by the Napoleonic French state for use as a military barracks and prison.
In 1906, the Palais des Papes became a national museum. It has been under virtually constant restoration ever since.
Since 1995, the Palais des Papes has been classified, along with the historic center of Avignon, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Palais is today a palace of culture and primarily a tourist attraction, attracting around 650,000 visitors per year, putting it regularly in the top ten most visited attractions in France.
The Palais des Papes regularly hosts art exhibitions. The tradition began in 1947, when the art critic Christian Zervos and the poet René Char organised an exhibition of the likes of Matisse, Picasso, Braque and Mondrian.