Saint Bénezet Bridge
(16 km - 14 mn)Avignon
Originally, there was an ancient wooden bridge linking Villeneuve to Avignon. A first bridge was built on these bases, the pillars of which were probably connected by wooden footbridges. It was opened to traffic as early as 1184. But this first bridge from the Romanesque period was destroyed up to the fourth arch during the siege of 1226.
At that time there was the brotherhood of "l'oeuvre du pont", born under the influence of Bénezet, bringing together 24 brothers. Thanks to their incessant quests and the skilful use of tolls, they were able to undertake the construction of a Gothic stone bridge over the remains of the 12th century work, on the same principle of bridge building which is equally famous in the region: the Pont du Gard or the Pont Julien de Bonnieux.
The new bridge stretches over about 900 metres and has some 22 arches.
In the Middle Ages, the Pont St Bénezet became part of one of the most important pilgrimage routes between Italy and Spain. It was to become indispensable to the pontifical court that settled in Avignon in the 14th century.Very soon, the cardinals settled in Villeneuve to flee the nuisances of Avignon, described by the poet Petrarch as "the most foul and stinking city on earth". The bridge was at that time the most direct link between the multiple residences that the cardinals had built and the Palace of the Popes located inside the walls of Avignon.
Each time they crossed the bridge, the Popes used to stop in front of the chapel of Bénezet to pray for a moment and leave an alms of one florin.
The bridge was paved in 1377 on the orders of Cardinal de Blandiac, in order to remedy the frequent problems of slips and falls in the Rhône. Louis XIV was one of the last to cross the Rhône before its "collapse" in the 17th century, but he never wanted to pay for its restoration, despite his desire to become its owner.