Thursday, October 29, 2009

Day 33 - Rome in France

Hey everyone,

After most of yesterday on a train, I am back to seeing the sights on my own two feet.  Welcome to Provence, a region in the southern part of France, and more specifically today, the city of Avignon.  This little town has quite a bit of history attached to it as it is the only place other than Rome that a Pope has ruled from.  From the early 1300's to the early 1400's the head of the Catholic Church (and toward the end of this time, one of the "heads" of the Catholic church) resided in Avignon.  This was done for political reasons of course and also because of the instability of the Italian states at the time.  Eventually, this mini schism of sorts ended and everything went back to the way it was, but during that time, you were looking at the focal point of Christnedom here in this little town.

If you're going to have a Pope living in your town, then you apparently can't have him staying at the local inn.  To rectify this situation, the Pope's Palace was built. This is a portion of this rather large fortification/bachelor pad (the ultimate bachelor pad btw).

It was a cool building, but I'm afraid somebody forgot to call the interior decorator.  For a good hour plus I walked through room after room that looked mostly like this.  For 10 euro I was hoping for something a bit more.  Like here for instance; is it just me or would bumper cars be the perfect solution?  You could put the faces of the French Popes and the Italian Popes (at some point there were two, thus the mini schism) on the cars and they could go after each other.  It would be educational plus entertaining.

This was one of the three shots that had something in it besides stone and mortar so I had to include it.  If you look closely, you'll even notice a vague hint of color.  I felt so spoiled taking this shot.  In the palaces defense, I will say they had a very good audioguide.

After leaving the Palace behind I went to this spot immediately outside of the building.  This is the Pont Saint-Benezet which is a bridge that used to (only goes halfway across now) span the Rhone River that runs through town.  This unexpectedly turned out to be the highlight of Avignon.  I got on this bridge, and for the first time on the trip I felt like it could have been 1000 years ago.  Almost everything in view (except the cars of course) looked like something out of the history books.  It was very cool.  Little did I know that later in the day I'd have this sensation magnified by 100.

Here's a shot of me on the bridge.  In the background is the Pope's Palace and the new cathedral.  Apparently the folks in Rome where not real pleased with the town for taking away their leader, so they intentionally made the huge statue of Mary (you can see it up top) intentionally taller than the highest point on the palace, just to let them know they were back in the driver's seat.

After this, I headed out of town and caught a bus to one of the most famous Roman ruins outside of Italy:  The Pont du Gard.  It is part of a 30 mile long aquaduct that the Romans built to supply water to the Provencial town of Nimes nearly 2000 years ago.  This part is a bridge section that they had to construct to span the Gardon River.  For over 150 years, this structure supplied up to 5 million gallons of clean drinking water a day to it's intended destinations.  To give you an idea of it's size, it is the 2nd highest remaining Roman Ruin on the planet (the Coliseum is just 6 feet taller).

Here it is.  The water runs along the top sections and the lower arches support a bridge for walking across.  I was impressed with it just from appearance, but I went through what may have been the best smaller museum I've seen over here, and came away in amazed at the technological innovation and skill that the Roman engineers employed to build it.  Over 30 miles, the drop in hight from start to end is a mere 40 feet.  No GPS, no computers, just lots of ingenious mathematical and engineering savvy that would soon be lost for a thousand years with the coming Dark Ages.

Here's a shot to give you an idea of the size.  That's a kiddo playing directly underneath it.

This was a cool point in the day. We were allowed to go down to the river bank (people even jump in if they want), so I just headed down, found a comfy rock, and listened to the current and admired the view.  Ever since I was a little kid, I've loved Greek and Roman history and seeing this fine example up close has been one of the highlights of the trip.

This is what I'm talking about.  Even from this shot you can see how easy it would be to not for sure know what year it is plus or minus a couple of millenia.

Tomorrow is more Roman ruins in Provence.  See you then.