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“On the Bridge of Avignon, We All Dance There ….”

pont d'avignon, benezet,
Written by Marc Pagnier Published Jun 3, 2014 Marc Pagnier

Rédacteur en Chef des titres en anglais, français et chinois.

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Sur le Pont d’Avignon is a nursery rhyme that French people know by heart. Pont d’Avignon, spanning the Rhone for nearly a thousand year, attract many visitors each day, partly because it is a World Heritage Site, and partly, perhaps, due to the legend that associates with it.

A Real Legend ….

As often in history, Pont Saint-Bézenet, better known as Pont d’Avignon, is related to a legend that comes true. One day, when the young shepherd from Vivarais, named Bézenet, was tending his flock, he heard the voice of Christ asking him to build a bridge across the Rhone. Not knowing the region, a pilgrim guided him to Avignon. The young shepherd was aware of the importance of his mission, so he went to tell the bishop about this divine request. However, the bishop was suspicious of his words. In order to test him, the bishop asked Bézenet to lift a huge rock. The young boy took the rock in his arms and laid it into the Rhone where it is still supporting the first arch of the bridge today.

Back to the 12th Century

According to the chronicles, Bézenet passed away seven years after the start of the construction. The reliquary of the future saint was kept in a chapel on the bridge, which soon became a pilgrimage site as the young shepherd was believed to have the power to heal.

The construction of the bridge was completed in 1185. In the same year, the consuls of Avignon passed an act to fix the toll. A bridge brotherhood called L’Oeuvre collected funds for the maintenance work. Several buildings such as a church, a hospital and a hostel were built for the pilgrims.

A Remarkable Structure

In the time of Bézenet, wood was the main material of the bridge. Later, it was stone. The bridge had twenty-two piles and measured nine hundred metres long. The Rhone was not tamed at that time and thus caused many floods that affected the small surrounding islands as well as the city of Avignon itself. The four arches that we see today are dated from the 14th century. The bridge was abandoned in the 16th century and it was not until the 19th century that restoration of the bridge was taken into account.

Saint-Nicolas Chapel

pont d'avignon, benezet,

Constructed at the end of the 12th century, the two-floor Saint-Nicolas Chapel is situated on the second pile of the bridge. The upper floor is at the same level of the bridge surface, facing south. Going down by the stairs at the second arch we will find the chapel where the reliquary of Saint-Bézenet is kept.

On, or Under  the Bridge of Avignon?

Pont d’Avignon is made famous by the nursery rhyme Sur le pont d’Avignon. However, its author or its origin is unknown. In 1853, composer Adolphe Adam used the song in his opera Le Sourd ou l’Auberge pleine and it has since then become popular.

People originally danced on the river bank, and therefore some say that the name of the song should be Sous le pont d’Avignon (Under the bridge of Avignon) instead. Other versions also exist.

pont d'avignon, bezenet, adolphe adam,

Adolphe Adam


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