Avignon is the capital city of the Vaucluse region. The center of town is walled and pinned against a bend in the Rhone River. We drove up for the day from Arles which is an easy 40 minute drive.
Rue des Teinturiers (Street of the Dyers) was outside the original walls of Avignon. A section of the river was channeled along the wall and wheels were built to provide power to fabric dying shops. Eventually this sector of Avignon was enclosed in a larger set of walls. There were 23 wheels as late as the early 1800s although now there are only 4 or 5.
In the center of Avignon is the covered market known as Les Halles (yes very original market name in France). Most of the vendors inside are only open in the mornings but they sell a variety of fish, meats, produce, cheeses, chocolate, pasta and assorted salads. Melanie took this picture so she would know which fish to order at restaurants over the next few days.
The big attraction in Avignon is the Papal Palace. From 1305 to 1378, seven official popes ruled from Avignon. There were a few more after that who vied directly against Roman Popes with varying degrees of success.
The palace is mostly empty at this point but you can take an audioguide tour in just about any known language. The audioguide is a bit simplistic and seems to delight in pointing out painfully obvious things like, "the room you are standing in has four windows." This picture for instance is the "second largest nave in the south wing". How informative.
It's almost worth touring the palace just for the viewing from the top of one wall. There are great views of Avignon and the surrounding hills. The building in the foreground of this picture is the Petit Palais. The bishop of Avignon had to live here when the papacy showed up. After it returned to Rome the bishop got an upgrade and this eventually became an art museum. In the background is Fort St. Andre which is actually across the river.
The Pont d'Avignon is one of the stranger tourist attractions around. Apparently there is also an audioguide tour of this bridge to nowhere. We skipped it in favor of a few pictures from here and then wandered down the Rhone. Bridges were built here from the 12th century on and generally have had a tragic history due to floods and wars and apparently bad construction. Since the Roman Pont du Gard is only a short ways to the south, it seems like the Medieval bridge builders could've benefited from a few educational side trips to deal with flooding issues.
The eastern parts of the Vaucluse are dominated by Mont Ventoux. It's also called the Giant of Provence (everything says this but we are not sure who actually calls it that other than assorted brochures). We had originally intended to go up to the summit but high winds and cold temperatures made this unfeasible, even in May.
Instead we took a side trip to the city of Orange which is mostly known for having this Roman amphitheatre. The walls around the stage are original (the statue is not). The theatre in Orange also has an audioguide tour but this one is actually informative and interesting. It covers everything from the seating charts to sample entertainment schedules to the food sold by vendors.
There would never have been chariots circling in front of the stage. In fact there would have been portable chairs set up there for important people in Orange (see what you can learn from the audiotour?). Nevertheless, there seems to be a chariot there now.
Orange itself seems to be a fairly sleepy town. There's an impressive natural hill overlooking the theatre and providing a natural backdrop for it. On the other side of town is a triumphal arch. The triumphal arch naturally goes at the far side of the town from the theatre. We probably learned that from the audiotour as well. For some reason, Orange built a traffic circle around it and furthermore they redecorated a couple panels of it in a clearly non-Roman style.