The Rue des Teinturiers is a picturesque, cobblestone street that follows the small channel of the Sorgue from the Rue des Lices all the way to the city walls.
In the shade of the majestic sycamores and with the coolness coming from the canal, the street is particularly pleasant in summer. During the Theatre Festival, you can pass the time before a show at one of the many cafés and restaurants. Whether you are a theatregoer or just here for the sights, you can enjoy the great ambiance from morning until late at night. Discovering the history of this street, and the story of its denizens, means discovering the history of Avignon itself...
La rue des Teinturiers à Avignon
The Rue des Teinturiers, nicknamed the street of the waterwheels, gets it name from the intense textile industry that flourished here between the 14th and 19th centuries.
The street follows the narrow Sorgue river fed by the waters from the Fontaine de Vaucluse. In the 10th century, this water filled the moats at the foot of the city walls before becoming the driving force of the textile mills starting in 1440. The 16th century saw the birth of the cotton print factories that provided work for the cleaners and dyers and also tanners.
Four wheels still remain as testimonies to this past.
It could even be said that the street and the Teinturiers quarter embody in themselves alone nearly the whole history of commonplace life in Avignon.
You will easily understand that as you stroll along this shaded and, during the Theatre Festival, very animated street.
At the bottom of the Rue des Teinturiers, on the corner of the Rue des Lices, you can see one of the remaining chapels and the bell tower of what had been one of the biggest churches in Avignon in 1226. The monastery housed many burial chapels. At the time, cemeteries were outright meeting places for traders and shopkeepers, card players and prostitutes and there were even complaints that pigs unearthed the freshly buried corpses!
So it's easily understood why some notables chose this place to house their family tombs, such as the Cardinal Pierre de Foix, Avignon's first legate, the Baroncelli family and Laura of Noves, the the famous poet Petrarch's just as famous muse.
A small aside: in 2014, an enterprising student from the lycée next door began campaigning for this site, where the revolutionary Nicolas Lescuyer was assassinated, thus provoking the Massacres of La Glacière in 1791, to be listed as a historic monument.
A bit further along, in the shade of the sycamores, stands the Grey Penitents' Chapel, open to the public. The king Louis VIII, who had come to Avignon in 1226, founded this brotherhood whose vocation was the adoration of the Holy Sacrament. The oldest brotherhood in Avignon, it is still active today and every November 30th the members celebrate a miracle: on that day in 1433, despite flooding by the Rhône and the inundation of the Sorgue, the water in the nave remained parted, leaving open a passage by which the penitents could evacuate the blessed sacrament.
Let's continue our stroll. The Bénoit XII Hall is managed by the higher institute for performance techniques and, standing amongst the highly-frequented bars and restaurants, the house of the famous naturalist Jean-Henri Fabre can be seen at number 14, behind an impressive water wheel.
Crenellated, flanked by gargoyles and two turrets, the Maison du IV de Chiffre (House of the Figure of 4), built in 1493 on the corner of the Rue Guillaume Puy, is one of the last remaining gothic houses in Avignon. It gets its name from a monogram engraved on its façade of which the mystery and meaning have never been fully resolved. What is known is that the “figure of four”, much in use in the 15th century, was one of the old trademarks of the guilds. Today, in this guild spirit, the building houses the Maison des Associations and becomes a performance hall during the Festival OFF.
Crossing the street, we come to the house of Jules-François Pernod, the founder of the alcoholic drink that bears his name.
And just in front of it is another big water wheel, one of the three hydraulic wheels along this part of the Rue des Teinturiers.
In the past, along the entire street, the mills were installed in the houses across from each wheel (of which there were 23 in 1817) and the machines were driven by an axle that ran under the street at a shallow depth. The demolition of some old premises uncovered one of the drive shafts with its mechanisms. Next to the last wheel, if you lean over the wall along the Sorgue you can still see the cylinder and its support.
But all that activity finally gave way to a flourishing tourist industry. Come on, let's go have a drink before the start of the show.