Avignon Bridge visitor guide

Photo of Avignon Bridge

Visit Avignon Bridge, France

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The 12th century Avignon bridge is known as the Pont d'Avignon in the nursery rhyme or officially as the Pont Saint-Benezet. It forms part of the historical centre of Avignon, listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

The bridge is just outside the historic ramparts of the town, and to the north of the centre of Avignon. Only part of the bridge now remains - four out of an original 22 arches stretching only part way across the Rhone - but it remains one of the most popular attractions in Avignon.

History of the Saint-Bénézet Bridge

Bénézet was a simple shepherd with an uncanny ability to make people listen when he spoke, and it was he who had the idea for the bridge and who initiated the fund-raising, after reputedly hearing the voice of God instructing him to have the bridge built.

View of Pont d'Avignon

Until that time it was necessary to cross the river in a boat (although it is possible the Romans had a bridge at the same location). The completion of the bridge dramatically increased traffic across the river - and also raised a great deal of money for the local council, who charged a toll for each crossing.

The bridge is built on foundations of oak - great oak trunks up to a metre across were sharpened like giant pencils, the pointed ends reinforced with iron straps, and the wooden posts then driven into the river bed. This provided the base on which the stone bridge could then be built.

There is also a chapel on the bridge dating from the 12th century, where the tomb of Bénézet was originally held - the lower part of the chapel dates from the 15th century.

Frequent damage meant the bridge was often repaired over the following centuries, until finally being abandoned after severe damage in the 17th century.


Visiting the Pont d'Avignon

Entrance to the bridge is through a fortified tower, which provides access to the top of the bridge. Unfortunately the first part of the bridge now crosses a very busy road, which detracts slightly from the pleasure of a visit. You can then walk out along the top of the bridge to the end of the existing section.

Note that when you are on the Pont d'Avignon the one thing you can't see clearly...is the bridge itself! Iron railings run around the edge and to all intents and purposes you are walking out on a platform with little clue that it is an ancient bridge. The best overall view of the bridge is from the banks of the Rhone a little way upstream, but the view from the bridge across the historic centre of Avignon is very impressive.

Access to the chapel is only possible from on the bridge itself.

A visit also includes a film and exhibition about the history of the bridge.

Field of lavender next to Pont Saint-Benezet

Sur le Pont d'Avignon

The famous nursery rhyme by an anonymous composer must surely take a lot of responsibility for the lasting fame of the bridge. There is a story that the original song referred to dancing under the bridge 'sous le pont d'Avignon', a feat that is no longer possible on the remaining section unless you like dancing between the cars in the middle of a busy road.

Sur le pont d’Avignon / On the bridge of Avignon
L'on y danse, l'on y danse / We all dance there, we all dance there
Sur le pont d’Avignon / On the bridge of Avignon
L'on y danse tous en rond / We all dance there in a ring

You can find more travel ideas in the Vaucluse guide and the Provence guide.

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Photos of Avignon Bridge

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The French version of this page is at Avignon Bridge (Francais)