Like so many of southern France's towns, cities and villages, the history of Avignon trails into the pages of antiquity. Occupied since the Neolithic period, the city served as a Celtic stronghold for centuries, before the Phocaeans established a Greek Emporium here in 539BC. Evidence of Avignon's prehistoric ancestry can still be admired today, with Copper and Early Bronze Age artifacts sitting in the city's Musée Requien.
Avignon’s fate shifted in 120BC, when Roman legions arrived in the Rhône Valley. Under the dominion of the Roman Empire, Avignon became a popular trading route and one of the largest settlements in the Transalpine province. Several Roman emperors, including Hadrian (whose named was bestowed on the wall separating England and Scotland), stayed in Avignon during this period, putting the city very much on the map of the ancient world.
After centuries of Roman rule, in which several wooden bridges were built over the Rhône, Avignon’s Gallic tribes rebelled, eventually driving the Romans from the region and establishing a new civilisation throughout the Valley. It was during this time that Christianity first arrived in southern France, but centuries were to pass until the city would become the seat of Western Christianity in Europe.
The Middle Ages proved a dark and turbulent period in Avignon’s history, with dozens of battles, sieges and invasion attempts on the city. Despite this, Avignon flourished academically and within the arts, giving rise to a new era of peace and prosperity in the Late Middle Ages.
In 1309, Pope Clement V travelled to Avignon to escape the violent chaos of Rome, later making the newly-built Palais des Papes the primary residence of the Papal Curia. The original section of the Palais des Papes, which still stands today, was built on the impregnable Rock of Doms, offering outstanding protection against invading forces — the perfect venue for the seat of Christianity.
In the centuries to follow, Palais des Papes served as the papal conclave for six popes, and was expanded on several occasions to echo its significance as the world’s foremost religious structure. Today, the palace is one of Europe’s largest and most beautiful Gothic buildings, dominating the Avignon skyline with its limestone walls and imposing ramparts
After the Papacy was restored in Rome at the beginning of the 15th century, the French, under the rule of Louis XI, took Avignon in 1476. Despite several further conquests, Avignon remained part of the Kingdom of France until the dissolution of the monarchy during the French Revolution, becoming a major trading port of the Rhône during this time.
Today, Avignon stands as a testament to the history and splendour of southern France, with many of its buildings dating far back into the annals of history. The city has retained its flair for culture and the arts, and is home to a number of galleries and exhibits showcasing the work of local artists, musicians and performers.