The city walls of Avignon

The city centre of Avignon is entirely enclosed by 4.3 kilometres of walls.

Even if the absence of moats, drawbridge towers and iron-studded wooden gates alters its original appearance, the walls offer gripping evidence of the importance of fortifications in 14th century France.

Over the years, the city's perimeter grew and successive defenses were modified, except for periods of war or plague when the population clustered around the city's original core, the Rocher des Doms. Avignon thus had several different ramparts. The Rocher itself probably only served as refuge and surveillance post.


Avignon city walls

Restoration of the city walls of Avignon

Scales of Justice - Avignon city walls

Roman walls

In the 1st century, the Romans constructed a bulwark, Unfortunately, no document exists today which verifies its exact delimitations. Sylvain GAGNIERE, an authority on the subject, formulated the hypothesis, supported by most local historians, that marks the perimeter as follows :

  • To the west : rue Petite Reille, rue des Grottes, rue Racine, rue Bouquerie. 
  • To the south : rues Collège d'Annecy, Etudes and Crucifix. 
  • To the east: rues Four de la Terre, Chapeau Rouge, Oriflamme and Sorguette. 
  • To the north : joining up to the oppidum of the Rocher des Doms near the rue de la Forêt and the Chapelle des Pénitents noirs.

The practically rectangular form of this fortification corresponds with the customary type of Roman construction.

13th century walls

In the following century a double set of walls with moats were erected to protect the city, the innermost perimeter corresponding approximately to the Roman ramparts described above.

The people of Avignon, sure of their strength and their invulnerability, believed they could resist the armies of the King of France en route for a crusade against the Albigensian heresy.

In 1226, after a three month siege, the city capitulated to the king of France, Louis VIII, who rased a great portion of the walls and filled in the moats, with a formal restriction against reconstruction for five years.

From 1234 to 1237, the people of Avignon erected new ramparts, 30 to 40 meters beyond the previous ruins ; delimited from east to west by the streets : Trois Colombes, Campane, Philonarde, Lices, Henri Fabre, Joseph Vemet and Grande Fusterie.

At the corner of the rue Saint-Charles a fragment of this wall remains.

In reality, it necessitated a few extra years to complete this undertaking. 

In 1248, the wall completed, the population could watch from the ramparts the crusades of Saint Louis, on their way to the Holy Land via Marseille and Aigues Mortes.

14th century walls

The population having spread outside the walls, INNOCENT VI began, in 1355, the construction of a new defensive wall which would enclose the new settlements. These are the present day walls.

The Pope judged it necessary in this period of the Hundred Years War, when the Rhone Valley swarmed with highway bands, formed mostly by mercenaries discharged by the English following the truce of Bordeaux on March 23, 1357.

Among the troops that remain, sadly, famous, we remeber "La Compagnie Blanche" (The White Company), "Les Tards Venus" (The Latecomers), led by a Gascon knight, Seguin de Badefols, who took Pont-Saint-Esprit on the night of December 28 to 29, 1360, "the army of Arnaud de Cervolle", who had served the duke of Alençon at the battle of Poitiers, pillaging prince and preacher from Velines in the Périgord, who forced the Pope to pay 1000 florins on September 29, 1358, in exchange for ending the siege he had laid to Avignon. Once satisfied, he pocketed the ransom and discharged his troops on the spot. Without a leader, these troops became even more dangerous.

In 1359, the bulwarks are still not completed, so by further measures of security, Innocent VI had the old entanceways repaired in order to ensure a second line of defense. However, within the city the Alperugues or Dampierres raged. 

In the month of July, 1359, this band of rogues sowed terror, rendering the streets dangerous.

The pope acted swiftly and inflexibly, ordering prompt justice. Drownings and hangings after cursory trials reestablished order in the city.

On March 8, 1369, hostilities between France and England ceased with the signing of the treaty of Bretigny. Once again the region was invaded by debauched mercenaries, mainly English brigands and pillagers, who, on their own, regrouped.

The Pope envisions a sort of crusade to liberate the land.

He placed at its head, as general captain of the County, the monastic superior of Emposte in Aragon, Juan Fernandez de Heredia, knight of the Order of Saint-Jean de Jerusalem. After the siege of Pont-Saint-Esprit he had these bands sent to fight in Italy, under the command of the marquis of Montferrat, for the sum of 14,000 golden florins. The Pope and the people of Avignon and the Comtat contributed.

Four years later, on November 5, 1365, Bertrand du Guesclin, leading the "Pélerins de Dieu" (God's Pilgrims) made up of 30,000 crusaders, arrived within sight of the ramparts. He was charged by the king of France Charles V le Sage (the Wise) to purge the Rhone Valley of the bands that still existed, by accompanying them to Spain to fight for Enrique de Trestamare, then at war with Pedro de Castillo, ally of the English king Edouard III, he who instituted the Order of the Garter. Pillaging by this army had also been avoided by the absolution of their sins by the Pope, and above all, the payment of a ransom. (From 30,000 to 200,000 golden florins, according to the source).

The terrorists and hostage-takers of the present day have not invented anything new.


Avignon city walls with machicolated battlements

Description of the city walls of Avignon

Its perimeter measures 4,330 meters, enclosing a surface of 151 hectares 71 ares,(1 hectare = 10,000 m2 or 2.47 acres) 3 and a half times greater than the former enclosures.

A large moat, 4 meters deep, with waters from the SORGUE and the DURANCE stopped access. The seven city gates, equipped with wooden vents spiked with iron and closed each evening, were dominated by towers and their drawbridges, to which were added spiked, descending grilles for extra protection.

The walls were approximately 8 meters high, garnished with battlements and slits. It was reinforced by 35 high towers and 50 smaller, intermediary towers, almost all square or rectangular, except for 3 semi-circular towers. (In the 15th century, a polygonal tower was added).

As a result of the different walls in the 13th and 14th century, it is logical to find 2 gates named Limbert, or more correctly Imbert. One at the crossroads of the streets Philonarde, Bonneterie, Lices and Teinturiers which was called Portail Imbert vieux or Antique or Portail Peint. The second called Portail Imbert Neuf is the present day Porte Limbert.

Text by Marc Maynègre

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