In the quaint region of Southern France, Avignon boasts a historic bridge that dates back to the medieval era. While it’s colloquially known as Pont d’Avignon, its formal title is Pont Saint-Bénézet.
Local legends recall Bénézet, a shepherd from the area, who claimed to have received a divine vision one night instructing him to erect a bridge over the Rhone River. Initially, his claims were met with skepticism, but Bénézet’s charismatic nature soon won the community over. Legend has it that, to prove his truthfulness, he miraculously hoisted an enormous stone into the air. By 1177, construction had commenced, believed to be initially of oak wood. It served as the sole crossing for Mediterraneans and Lyonnaise across the river for a time.
Throughout history, the bridge often fell victim to Rhone River’s floods, collapsing numerous times. While initially constructed with 22 arches, only four have withstood the test of time. In the 1300s, Avignon’s inhabitants rebuilt the stone bridge after its devastation during a siege led by Louis VIII. However, it wasn’t restored after severe flooding in the 17th century due to irreparable damages. Today, only its gatehouse remains intact.
Besides its religious significance, the bridge held importance for the Rhone boatmen who revered St. Nicholas. A chapel on the bridge became Bénézet’s final resting place, but another church was later built near its entrance due to its fragility.
Adjacent to the bridge lies the Ile de la Barthelasse, one of Europe’s most expansive river islands. Once the bridge was no longer functional, islanders devised innovative ways to reach Avignon, initially employing ferries and later utilizing a pathway with wooden stairs to access the bridge’s arches.
The bridge also inspired “Sur Le Pont d’Avignon,” a beloved children’s song in France and the UK, celebrating the tradition of dancing across the bridge. This custom, however, can no longer continue, given the bridge’s partial disappearance.
Still, the bridge remains an attraction for travelers worldwide, drawing attention to its 14th-century architecture. Surrounded by water activities around the Ile de la Barthelasse, it is a significant part of Avignon’s historical heart and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.