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Halamus Publishing - Archive Articles - # 5, August, 2002



The Articles from the Monthly Newsletters

Written by

M. Lesley Halamek

August, 2002:–

SONG: "Sur le Pont d'Avignon" – Traditional, France

Q: Where is Avignon?

A: Why is its bridge famous?

The Bridge at Avignon Avignon Bridge

Le pont Saint-Bénézet sur le Rhône.
The Bridge of Saint-Bénézet on the Rhône.
Ce pont s'arrête à gauche, au milieu du fleuve.
This bridge stops on the left, in the middle of the river.

Le Rhône arrose Lyon, Vienne, Valence, Avignon, la ville du vent,
The Rhône passes Lyon, Vienne, Valence, Avignon, the windy town
du pont cassé où l'on danse tous en rond,
of the broken down bridge where they dance around in a ring,
et du Château des Papes...
and of the Papal Palace...

from "Petit Mirroir de la Civilization Français"
by François Denoeu
Reprinted 1940...etc...1956, George G Harrap & Co. London, and D.H. Heath & Co.

Picture on right:

The tune for "Sur le Pont d'Avignon" appears on Page 55 of

"Folksongs for the Violin", Part 1: Discovering the Violin
(A Graded Selection of Melodies for Beginners of All Ages).

Details on the MUSIC PAGE

A: Avignon is a city in France, situated on the Rhône River, between Lyon and the Mediterranean Sea. Archeological discoveries in the region suggest that there may have been a settlement at or near Avignon as early as 4000 BC.

The city of Avignon (from Aouenion or Aquenion: "city of violent wind", or "Lord of the river") grew from a village built on a rocky eminence (the Rock of Doms) above the Rhône and its swamps and marshes, and is known to have existed from the 4th century BC as a city of the Cavares (a celto-ligurian people).

The Romans arrived around 125 BC, led by Consul Domitus Ahenobarbus, who crossed the Rhône on elephants. In 121 BC, Aquenio became Avenio, a Roman city, attaining a population of about 50,000 within a few years. Avenio was a thriving City, near the Via Agrippa, one of the more important Roman roads, running between Italy and Spain.

Over the next few hundred years, following the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Avignon region suffered waves of barbarian invasions, starting with the Franks and Alemans in 275 AD, followed by the Goths and Burgundians, who in 500 AD successfully defended Avignon against a siege by the Frankish King Clovis (c.466-511).
[King Clovis, son of Childeric, King of the Salien Franks, married Princess Clothilda, daughter of the Burgundian King Chilperic, in 493. In 507, Clovis was in alliance with King Gundobad, Chilperic's brother and successor, against the Visigoths.]

Avignon came under Visigoth control around 506, followed by the Ostrogoths in 508. In 537 AD, the Ostrogoth King Vitigis ceded Avignon and Provence to the Franks of Austrasia to secure his rear so he could lay siege to Rome. The Franks thus controlled all of Gaul except Languedoc (Visiothic Septimania) and Brittany (Armorica).

Ref: "Chronicle of the World" - ISBN: 1-872031-00-5, © 1991... Distributed by Penguin Books, Australia & New Zealand

...and the Web...

Avignon became an Arab stronghold around 735, until the Saracens were driven out by Charles Martel a couple of years later. In 879 Avignon passed out of Frankish ownership.

In 932 the kingdom of Provence (including Avignon) united with the kingdom of Burgundy and formed the kingdom of Arles. In 1033 Arles (and Avignon) became part of the Holy Roman Empire, under German rule. Avignon took advantage of its distance from the seat of government to make itself a republic with a consular form of government, which lasted from 1135 to 1146.

The Bridge at Avignon

A legend began in the 13th century about the origins of the bridge, and was read in parishes by the Brothers (Hospitaller) of the Bridge, whose task it was to raise funds for its repair and maintenance. When the funds dried up, the task of repair and maintenance fell to the town of Avignon.

According to the legend, a young shepherd called Bénézet, inspired by a divine vision, approached church and secular authorities with a demand that a bridge be built across the Rhône at Avignon. They laughed at him, but when, with divine help, he lifted and tossed a massive rock into the river at the chosen place for the bridge, the people were convinced, and work on the bridge began in 1177. The bridge construction took only 8 years, and was finished in 1185, a year after Bénézet's death.

This first bridge, connecting Villeneuve to Avignon, was probably constructed using pillars connected by wooden footbridges. The bridge was 920 metres long, and 4 metres wide, with 22 arches - not wide enough for dancing on (sur) 'round in a ring', but maybe it was danced under (sous). There was apparently an inn on the island of Barthelasse, which supported the footings of one of the arches.

Before the construction of the Avignon bridge, the river crossing had to be made by boat, a perilous exercise, as the Rhône at that time was a rather wild river, prone to periodic flooding and strong currents. Since Arles, downstream from Avignon, had lost its ancient bridge, there was no longer any safe crossing between Lyon and the Mediterranean Sea, elephants being no longer available.

After the construction of the bridge, Avignon attracted merchants, industrialists, and pilgrims traveling between Spain and Italy, or to or from the Holy Land. The bridge was probably one of the factors that decided the Popes to leave Italy and settle in Avignon in the 14th century.

Destroyed during the siege of 1226, reconstructed, and many times carried away by the Rhône, the Avignon Bridge is today a venerable ruin, composed of four arches (out of the original twenty two) and a Chapel, listed as a world heritage monument. It is the origin of the universally known children's song "Sur le Pont d'Avigon".

Sur Le Pont D'Avignon

Sur le pont d'Avignon
L'on y danse, l'on y danse
Sur le pont d'Avignon
L'on y danse tous en rond

Les beaux messieurs font comme çà
Et puis encore comme çà
Sur le pont d'Avignon
L'on y danse, l'on y danse
Sur le pont d'Avignon
L'on y danse tous en rond

Les belles dames font comme çà
Et puis encore comme çà
Sur le pont d'Avignon
L'on y danse, l'on y danse
Sur le pont d'Avignon
L'on y danse tous en rond

Les jardiniers font comme çà

Les couturiers font comme çà

Les vignerons font comme çà

Les blanchisseuses font comme çà
  On the bridge at Avignon,
There we dance, there we dance,
On the bridge at Avignon
There we dance round in a ring

The fine gentlemen move like this
And then again move like this
On the bridge at Avignon
There we dance, there we dance
On the bridge at Avignon
There we dance round in a ring

The lovely ladies move like this

The gardeners move like this

The dressmakers move like this

The wine growers move like this

The washerwomen move like this

That is the version I learned many years ago. Another version has the
following verses after 'Les beaux messieurs' and 'Les belles dames'.

3. Les officiers font comme ça
4. Les bébés font comme ça
5. Les bons amis font comme ça
6. Les musiciens font comme ça
7. Et les abbés font comme ça
8. Et les gamins font comme ça
9. Les laveuses font comme ça
  The Officers move like this
The children move like this
The good friends move like this
The musicians move like this
And the abbots move like this
And the naughty boys move like this
The laundresses move like this

Any popular Folk Song will have several versions of the words:
Recycling is not a 20th century invention.

After the destruction of the first bridge in 1229, the 24 Brothers of the Bridge undertook the construction of a Gothic stone bridge on the remains of the structure dating from 12th century, using the same construction principles as in the Roman-built 'Pont du Gard' at Nîmes.

In the middle ages, the Bridge at Avignon unified one of the most important pilgrimage routes between Spain and Italy. It was also essential to the 14th century Papal Court in Avignon. While each succeeding pope remained in and altered, enlarged, or completely rebuilt the Papal Palace, the cardinals settled across the river in Villeneuve, to escape from the harmful effects of Avignon (e.g. plague), described by Petrarch as one of the more squalid and stinking cities on earth - probably fairly normal for a mediaeval walled city.

The bridge was at this time the most direct link between the various cardinals' residences, and the Papal Palace located inside the ramparts of Avignon.

Old Drawing of complete Bridge, with broken arches

More info - go to:
(This site may no longer exist)

Each time they crossed the bridge, the popes used to pause for a moment in front of the tomb of Bénézet, halfway across, pray briefly, and leave an alms of a florin.

The bridge was paved in 1377 on order of the cardinal of Blandiac, in order to prevent further accidents, and pedestrians falling into the river.

Louis XIV was one of the last to have crossed over the Rhône (by the bridge) before it fell down in the 17th century, but he never wanted to pay for its restoration, in spite of his wish to become its owner.

Old Drawing of complete Bridge, intact

More info - go to:

Between 1309 and 1403, Avignon was the seat of Catholicism for a succession of nine popes from Clement V to Benedict XIII who left Avignon in 1403. The Papal Palace was altered, enlarged, or completely rebuilt by each succeeding pope.

Following the departure of the Papacy, Avignon was controlled by legates appointed by the pope, then by vice-legates. Although its population was halved, by the departure of the popes, and by two serious visitations of plague, in 1580 and 1721, Avignon remained a relatively important mediaeval city, profiting from industrial, commercial, financial and educational activities.

From the 17th century, the cost of repairs to the Bridge at Avignon became too expensive for the city: in 1603, one arch collapsed; two years later, three more collapsed. In 1618, four arches were washed away by the Rhône. Repair work, begun only in 1628, was stopped by the plague, and only finished in 1633. Within two months, two new arches were washed away by the river.

No repairs were undertaken after the 17th century.

In 1694 the Rhône completely froze over, and could be crossed on foot.

For some more photos, go to:

See a slide show of Avignon's tourist attractions at:

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