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Sur, or is it Sous, le Pont d’Avignon

The Rhone at Avignon is very wide and fast flowing and nowadays there are two modern bridges, or four if you include Eiffel’s box-girder railway bridge and the new TGV bridge further downstream. However, in medieval times crossing the river was very difficult as the only previous bridge, a wooden structure, was destroyed soon after the Romans left. Legend has it that in 1177 a young shepherd called Bénézet heard voices which told him to build a bridge. Soon volunteers formed a Bridge Brotherhood and by 1185 a 900m/2950ft bridge, resplendent with 22 arches, linked Avignon with Villeneuve-lès-Avignon on the opposite bank.

Pont d'Avignon #Avignon #Provence @paulshawcrossukThe Pont St-Bénézet had to be rebuilt a couple of times after floods damaged it during the Middle-Ages but the catastrophic inondation of 1668 finally swept away most of the structure leaving only the elegant ruin which can be visited today. It is possible to walk on this amazing bridge and visit the Chapelle St-Nicolas with its two sanctuaries, one of which is dedicated to St-Bénézet.

The well-known song which children the world over have learned is a little misleading however, as the lyrics suggest that people used to dance on the bridge – ‘Sur le pont d’Avignon l’on y danse tous en rond’ or ‘On the bridge of Avignon people dance in a ring’. However, the bridge was in fact quite narrow, wide enough only for a cart to pass and there was certainly not enough space for dancing in a ring. Today it is believed that people used to dance on the islands in the Rhone under the arches but perhaps changing the words to ‘sous le pont’ or ‘under the bridge’ wouldn’t be quite so romantic!

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Paul Shawcross

Paul Shawcross

Paul Shawcross is a Francophile, a travel writer and a Photographer who first fell in love with France when passing through on the way to Spain way back in 1979.

Paul has revised and written new text for several Michelin Green Guides to the French Regions as well as penning several Thomas Cook Pocket Guides and contributing articles to leading periodicals including Living France and France Magazine. He has authored several apps for smart devices and has a new one for Nice in preparation. Paul is also the European Acquisitions Editor for Bindu Trips , a recently launched travel planning website which features Provence along with many other European destinations

Paul also has a large photo library much of which is hosted by Alamy Images

Further details of Paul’s work can be found here

Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulShawcrossUK (below)

2 Comments

  1. […] Perfect Provence has a short summary with some nice images of the chapel and bridge.  Here is a YouTube clip of the song with French lyrics and the English translation. The song dates back to the 15th century. The dance actually took place under (sous) not on (sur) the bridge. […]

    • CKAdmin
      June 14, 2017 at 11:44 pm — Reply

      Thanks for sharing this with your language students.

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