The biggest Gothic palace in the world
The first builder pope
Pope John XXII took over the Episcopal seat which stood next to the cathedral and transformed it into the papal residence. Nearby, he had a room built for hearings. Vestiges of this room can be seen in the Palace Honour Courtyard. The two following Popes, Benedict XII and Clement VI, built the Palace of the Popes as we see it today within a period of approximately twenty years.
The start of a pontifical palace
Benedict XII assigned architect Pierre Poisson, his compatriot from his native county of Foix, with the responsibility for the construction of the palace.
The palace was firmly anchored on bedrock and was based on the layout of Pope John XXII’s early palace.
The strong walls of the Papal Tower rose high over the city. Like a dungeon, this tower was the centre of the architect’s design and the heart of the pontifical apartments. It protected the sacred person of the pope and the wealth of the church. Two wings of private apartments connected this Papal Tower to the Curia buildings.
The building continued with the Consistory wing, with the Chapel Tower, the Trouillas Tower and the kitchen and latrines towers on its sides. Gardens were laid out in lower lying land. The Consistory Wing, the Guest Wing, the Domestics Wing and the Chapel formed a quadrilateral around an interior courtyard.
Benedict XII had his palace richly decorated with furnishings, wall hangings and mural paintings.
The new extensions (opus novum)
At the very beginning of his papacy, Clement VI completed the construction of the Trouillas tower, added a new tower housing the kitchens and ordered the construction of the Wardrobe Tower adjoining the Papal Tower.
Pope Clement VI’s architect Jean de Louvres, who came from Ile-de-France, acquired the status of Maître des œuvres and supervised the organisation of the construction site for the new extensions. This work mobilised an average of 600 men at a time of upheaval created by the Hundred Years’ War and the Black Plague.
In undertaking his ambitious plans, Jean de Louvres started by demolishing the adjoining neighbourhoods to create his major, spectacular construction – the building of the Grande Audience Hall which was soon crowned by the Grand Chapel adjoining the Grand Promenoir.
Jean de Louvres then built the Great Dignitaries’ wing which wrapped around a semi-public space, creating the Honour Courtyard.
With Pope Clement VI, the elegance of Gothic architecture entered the palace. Ribbed vaults were erected, sculptures, mouldings and carved stone culots supporting arches all embellished the stone work. Pope Clement VI attracted the greatest intellectuals and artists of his time to the papal court, among them painters such as Matteo Giovannetti. Clement VI made Avignon into a cultural crossroads and a source of European exchange. He magnified his palace through the care he devoted to embellishments, including frescoes, stained glass, gold work, furnishings, tapestries....
By the time of the death of Pope Clement VI, most of the papal buildings had been completed. During the following decades, further developments and increased comfort were added by Pope Innocent VI, who built Saint Laurent tower, the Gâche tower and the Conclave gallery. Later, Pope Urban V added the garden and Roma.
When the papacy returned to Rome
In the early 1400’s, at the end of the Great Schism, after the papacy of Pope Clement VII and Pope Benedict XIII, the Palace of the Popes became the residence of the Legates, then of the Vice-legates and remained their residence until the French Revolution. After the revolution, it was used as a barracks. In the early 1900’s, the palace was opened to the public.