Nov 1, 2012

Fairy tale castles

While I was reading quite extensively about Ludwig's castles, this term was brought up many times: a fairy tale castle. Neuschwanstein is the one this term referred to most, for all the obvious reasons. As you might know, Neuschwanstein, among many other real and fictional castles, inspired the design of castles in some of Disney' animated movies and theme parks.
     I realized that our perception and desire for pretty castles is influenced by Disney and his animated movies to a large extent. Or am I wrong? Most medieval castles were actually rather large forts that bear little resemblance to our idea of a fairy tale castle. Those conceptions come from the far more recent Romantic period (1840-1880) when the truly dark and barbaric Middle Ages were recast as a time of magic and wonder. It is no wonder that Ludwig's castles were erected in the period where many castles were constructed or reconstructed, often with significant changes to make them more picturesque. So the truth is, most of these "pretty" castles are redesigned because it was fashionable at that time. Now that doesn't sound too romantic, does it?
     So what are some of the typical features of a fairy tale castle? Tall, possibly round stair towers, crow stepped gable, courtyards, portcullis, exaggerated and pointy turrets, circular battlements, bunch of not too big windows. Dramatic location with great views, moat or gardens help too. On top of everything, it shouldn't look neglected and it has to have a little bit of extravaganza. A fairy tale castle is about exterior by all means. By all means, a fairy tale castle is about exterior. To see if this is true, I searched through many castles to see if I support the concept.

                                                          Exaggarated and pointy turrets           


                                           It's hard to imagine a fairy tale castle without towers, right? :)
                                                                       Broadway Tower is shown on the picture.

                                                      Portcullis adds to the mystery of the castle.

So here are my top 15 fairy tale castles (in no particular order) :

Neuschwanstein, Germany

It is hard to deny it, this castle has all the elements of a fairy tale castle. It may not be the prettiest castle if you focus on details, but as a whole it is really stunning.

Alcazar of Segovia, Spain

Despite not being extravagant and looking a little dull on the outside, Alcazar of Segovia has enough features to qualify as a fairy tale castle.

Lichtenstein, Germany

A smaller version of Neuschwanstein. I love this castle.

Peleș, Romania

Quite different from the three previous castles in architecture, style, with more details and prominent use of wood, Peles castle certainly qualifies as a fairy tale castle.

Hohenzollern, Germany

This huge castle complex maintains very harmounious appearance, and with its numerous towers and gates, this one makes a perfect fairy tale castle.

Trakai, Lithuania

I think I consider Trakai a fairy tale castle because of two things- these lovely red rooftops and beautiful location. It certainly doesn't look rich or delicate, but it has its own merits.

Egeskov, Denmark

      I am not really sure why I consider Egeskov a fairy tale castle. Perhaps because of the water? Anyway, I find it very, very charming.

Hunyad Castle, Romania

          A perfect candidate for goth fairy tale.

Palazzo Ducale, Italy

Palazzo Ducale technically cannot be a fairy tale castle because it's actually a palace. But since this blog is about castles, forts & palaces, I can put it here :) The main reason is obviously beautifully decorated façade.

Grand Palace, Thailand

    Well, not all fairy tale "castles" have to be from Europe. The picture actually shows just one building in the  palace complex. Some might think it's kitschy, I find it nicely decorated. Rooftops are the main highlight.

Bojnice, Slovakia

                                                     Another "typical" fairy tale castle :)

Himeji Castle, Japan

Among relatively similar Japanese, Chinese and Korean castles, Himeji Castle is the only one I would describe as fairy tale. Again, I am not sure why, but it looks very elegant and white color definitely adds to it.

Castel del Monte, Italy

        Yep, this is one of my fairy tale castles! Simple and classy. Circular courtyard inside is fabulous.

 Belém Tower, Portugal

Some might be surprised that I chose this tower instead of Pena Palace, but the latter is too messy and kitschy IMO to call it a fairy tale castle. This one is the complete opposite and these bastions are adorable.

Royal Palace, Cambodia

  The roof is so lovely. It wouldn't be hard to imagine a princess walking down the staircase at any moment. 

     Browsing through these castles, it would be hard to determine my own definition of a fairy tale castle. Despite a good number of central European castles for which this term is most used, my choices are quite diverse. Also, many people refer to British and Irish castles and fairy tale castles, but I just don't see it. Apart from exquisite locations, a large majority are either ruined or too dull from the outside for me to even put them into consideration.

I would really appreciate your thoughts and opinions about this subject :)

Sep 28, 2012

Top 10 most famous castles in Provence

     While Provence certainly doesn't offer France's best and most impressive palaces, there is one worth your attention: Palais des Papes or Palace of the Popes. You can read about my detailed visit on the site. Still, Provence has plenty of castles and forts which might please you, standing as witnesses to the tumultuous history of the region. But don't expect any extravaganza, their main purpose of these buildings was military and it shows.
     Unfortunately, except for the Chateau d'Uzes, I wasn't able to visit any of them. I planned to visit Chateau d'If, but the sea was rough and I passed by Tarascon castle, which looks mighty impressive from the outside. So here is the Top 10:

1. Palais des Papes

2. Château d'If

     François I, in the 16th century, recognized the strategic advantage of an island fortress surveying the mouth of Marseille's vast harbor and built this imposing edifice. Its effect as a deterrent was so successful that the fortress never saw combat, and was eventually converted into a prison. It was here that Alexandre Dumas locked up his most famous character, the Count of Monte Cristo. Though the count was fictional, the hole through which Dumas had him escape is real enough, on display in the cells. On the other hand, the real-life Man in the Iron Mask, whose cell is also erroneously on display, was not imprisoned here. The IF Frioul Express boat ride (from the Quai des Belges, €10; for information call 04-91-46-54-65) and the views from the broad terrace are worth the trip. The site is more about the scenery, don't expect much inside :)

3. Les Baux-de-Provence castle 

     Erected during the 10th century above the namesake village, this castle reached its peak during the medieval period until it started to decline in 16th century because of family feuds and religion wars. Despite its prominent military role, it was also here that the most famous minstrels and troubadours of the day sang songs of courtly love to the maidens of the House of Les Baux. While the chateau (as you can see) is in ruins, you still  get a strong sense of this atmospheric, impregnable, slightly sinister fortress riddled with dungeons, chapels and secret passages. From April to September many shows are held there, from siege machinery, the archery to treasure hunt for children.

4. Tarascon castle

     Built on the banks of the Rhone, the castle of Tarascon defended the access of the possessions of the counts de Provence. The basics of the castle were placed in 1401 by Louis II of Anjou, after the previous castle was destroyed. The construction was continued by his first son, Louis III of Anjou and was completed in 1449 by his second son, René I of Naples. However, after the 15th century the region became a part of France and thus the castle was no longer of particular strategic importance. In the 17th century it was turned into a military prison and remained to function as such until it became national property in 1932.
     Today the castle can be entered through a restored bridge, parts of which are from original drop-down bridge of the building. It houses a nice collection of tapestries from the 17th century, with the whole interior being far more delicate than it appears from the outside.

5. Château de la Barben

     Anchored on huge rocks, this castle is first mentioned in a 1064 property register from the abbey of St. Victor of Marseilles. A then-fortress was owned by King René (yes, the one who finished the Tarascon castle!) until he sold it in 1474. The château was completely transformed due to an important rebellion against the "Édit des Élus" (Edict of the elected concillors") issued by Richelieu in 1630. During the rebellion, a gang known as "Cascaveous" set fire to the nearby forest and a part of the fortress. King Louis XIII condemned the Aix communities which had participated in this riot to give compensation to Gaspard de Forbin to restore his castle. In the Age of the Enlightenment Barben was turned into a castle where austerity and classicism were combined to give this building the appearance very similar to what you see today (that's what it says in the brochure).
     The castle is commercialized to death with many different tours, activities, medieval market, zoo, castle B&B... No offense, but this seems too much, at least on paper.

6. Château du Barroux

     This castle was built in the 12th century to oppose Saracen and Italian incursions. In 1274, as the Pope took possession of the Comtat Venaissin, Le Barroux became a fiefdom dependent upon the Apostolic Chamber of Carpentras until 1791, as the Comtat was joined to France. So, the tenant of the fief of Le Barroux was listed among the lords vassals and feudatories of Our Holy Father the Pope. It went through major overhauls in the 16th and 17th centuries, ultimately being abondoned. The castle was damaged during the French revolution and repaired in 1929 using private funds. It was set on fire by German occupation troops in 1944 as a reprisal for acts of resistance and restored again after 1960.
     Since 1993, the Association of the Friends of the Castle of Le Barroux has been continuing this work, with the support of the family Vayson de Pradennes, which still is the owner of the castle. Even though everything is not finished yet, the castle can now welcome its visitors and offer a splendid setting to various cultural and artistic events as well. Happy ending, I guess :)

7. Fort Saint-Jean

     Situated at the entrance to the Vieux-Port of Marseille, this fort was built in 1660 by Louis XIV in response to a local uprising against the governor. In 1790 Fort Saint-Jean was seized by a revolutionary mob who decapitated the commander of the royal garrison. During the subsequent French revolution the fort was used as a prison, holding Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, and two of his sons. Following the overthrow of Robespierre in 1794 about a hundred Jacobin prisoners held in the fort were massacred. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries Fort Saint-Jean was in the possession of the French Army and served as a final stop-off point for French Forein Legion recruits destined for basic training in Algeria.
     During World War II Fort Saint-Jean was occupied by the German military in November 1942. In August 1944 during the liberation of Marseilles, the explosion of a munitions depot within the fort destroyed much of its historic battlements and buildings. Although returned to the French Army, Fort Saint-Jean remained in a neglected and disused state until it was passed to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs in 1960. Classified as a historical monument in 1964, the damaged portions of the fort were reconstructed between 1967 and 1971.
It now houses the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations.
     While I was in Marseille, the fort was undergoing major restoration, just like much of the city. As you may know, Marseille will be the European Capital of Culture in 2013.

8. Château de Lacoste

     This castle definitely owes the fame to its owners. The infamous Marquis of Sade moved into this castle in 1771 in an attempt to escape the scandal he had provoked in Paris. The Marquis had inherited this castle from his grandfather in 1716, but only stayed in it for seven years. The building originally had 42 rooms, a theatre and a chapel. The castle was pillaged during the French Revolution and finally demolished in 1816, with its hewn-stones being sold piece by piece. For 30 years, the last owner pursued the castle's restoration, which was extremely difficult due to its extremely poor condition. In 2001, Pierre cardin bought the castle and started with renovation work. In summer each year, he organises a musical artistic festival in the quarries to the west of the castle. The picture shows the castle before the restoration work.

9. Chateau de Gordes

     Located in the middle of one of the most beautiful and famous villages in the whole France, the history of this castle dates back to the 11th century. Besieged unsuccessfully during the Wars of Religion, it was the stronghold of the Marquis de Simiane, the Dukes of Soubise, and in the 18th century the princes of Condé. Rebuilt in the Renaissance style by Bertrand de Simiane, the castle has had two different faces since then. In 1931 it became a national property. After hosting a museum dedicated to the work of Victor Vasarely from 1970 to1996 , it now houses, in addition to the tourist office, an art museum dedicated to the work of Pol Mara.

10. Chateau d'Ansouis 

     The castle, like virtually hundreds in Provence, stands above the village on top of the hill. It dates originally from the 10th century, but it has been modified many times since, principally because the original defensive role was lost (originally the castle protected the road between Aix-en Provence and Apt). Much of the castle we see today, including the main facade to the south, dates from the 17th century, as do the furnishings and tapestries that furnish the interior (although significant parts of the earlier fortified castle can still be seen as well). The typically 'French style' Provencal gardens and terraces around the outside are also very attractive, while the views from the terrace across the surrounding countryside are also exceptional. A guided tour is available from April to October.

     Yes, you have to admit that Provence is not the best destination for castles, forts and palaces, but if you are history buff, you have plenty of Roman ruins (Antique theatre in Orange, Pont du Gard, Arles & Nimes arenas, Glanum...), abbeys (Senanque, Thoronet, Montmajour, Saint-Michel de Frigolet, Saint-Roman...), museums and churches to please you!
     With my next blog entry I will start presenting the castles of Ludwig II of Bavaria: Neuschwanstein, Hohenschwangau, Linderhof, Herrenchiemsee and Nymphenburg. It's going to be a lot of work, that's for sure!

Aug 21, 2012

Chateau d'Uzes

  Ornate rooftop of the Chateau d'Uzes

Chateau d'Uzes was my second and last castle that I visited while being in Provence. Bear in mind that Uzes is a part of Languedoc-Roussillon region, not Provence. Located in Nimes, I was ready to leave this place after Day 1. I had high expectations of the city, mainly because of the Roman heritage and gardens, but it turned out to be the most disappointing part of my lovely trip. So here is how it went: in the afternoon of my second day, I decided to take a bus to Pont du Gard, but I missed it. I was going through the timetables, with Uzes being the only place I have heard of, so it was a no-brainer really. I remember reading about a castle or something similar being there. The only problem was that I had max. 45 minutes to see it, since the lines were very infrequent and the last bus from Uzes was leaving around 18.30 or so. I was ready to take an almost one-hour ride rather that spend more time in Nimes. And it was a good decision. Pleasant town, pretty scenery. On top of everything, Nimes-Uzes bus cost me just 1.5 euros!

Let me just add that on Day 3 I wanted to visit La Bambouseraie, but I went to Pont du Gard instead. You wanna take a guess? Yes, I missed the bus again!

       The chapel is on the right

Okay, back to Uzes and its castle: Since I had no idea where the castle is situated, I was a bit worried about my plan. As the bus was approaching the town, a few towers arose above the houses, so everything was fine. Still, I had no time to waste so I got out of bus and rushed to find the castle. It was maybe five minutes away from the bus station, so I got there pretty quickly. Another problem emerged: the woman working in the souvenir shop (at least I think it was) and who was in charge of selling tickets spoke French only. I got a bit dizzy looking at the prices. I wasn't sure if the castle was still working, but after a few minutes I realized I have to pay 12 EUR just to climb the tower. Since I was in a rush and it's still a fucking castle, I spat out the money and started my solo tour. Naturally, I was the only visitor. Out of the five or so entrances, I was allowed to enter two: the rest were reserved for a guided visit including apartments, wine cellar and the chapel. Actually, maybe I was allowed to enter the chapel, but that lady  made no effort to help me. The first entrance was very forgettable and it included a few exhibits like this:

Naturally, zero information is given, so you stare like a sheep for few moments and then move on- to find this:

Actually, the car is put there for a reason, but if you haven't read anything prior to visiting the castle, it will look out of place. I'll write about this connection later. There were a few more exhibits, but nothing special. So I went to the other entrance to climb the tower. Here is how it looks:

                                                               The stairs are fun, but exhausting :)

 When I saw the thick tower, I didn't expect the staircase to be so narrow! More than 120 circular stairs got me a bit dizzy since I was still rushing like maniac. If anyone needs a perfect location for Vertigo 2, this must be it. Overall, the feel was more like climbing the bell tower rather than one belonging to a castle.
                                                             The tower photographed from the courtyard

  View of the church with Fenestrelle Tower, akin to Italian campanile. It is allegedly the only round bell tower in France

                                        Who doesn't love flags in the wind? Uzes Duchy flag, the first duchy in France!

        The 12th- century Bishop's tower was the seat of the bishop's temporal powers up until the French Revolution.                          The tallest tower in the town is topped by an octogonal clock tower and belfry, added in the 19th century.

                                                          One of sentry boxes of the Belmonde tower
               The chapel rooftop from the "wrong" side...

                                                         and from the right one :) taken from here:

So there it is. I'll repeat again- maybe something extra was included in that 12EUR ticket, but I didn't know. Anyway, read some reviews on tripadvisor and you'll see that almost everyone was very disappointed for various reasons and felt it was a rip-off. Unfortunately, I have to agree with them. When it comes to attractions, I don't ever recall paying that much money and getting so little.

Anyway, now something about the history of the castle: The Duke's castle (aka Duchy) was built on the remains of Roman Castrum. The wooden construction has not survived and very little is known about it. The first of two very important women to inhabit the castle was Dhouda, the first female writer of the Western World to write a book. She was the author of Liber Manualis, a handbook written in the 9th century for her son William. It is preserved until our days, but it is not kept in the castle. 
     During the difficult times of the Revolution the building was considered as belonging to the nation, and sold. It was much misused, and ended as a school. In 1824 the Duke bought back the Duchy of Uzès from the townspeople (the writer André Gide was one of them) who in buying it had actually protected it. In 1834 a new school was build in Uzes and the Duke set about restoring the Duchy of Uzès.
     The second important woman was Anne de Rochechouart Mortemart (1847-1933). She was a sculptor and early feminist. She is notable for being the first woman, along with Camille du Gast, to hold a driving license in France (1897), the first woman to be ticketed for speeding in 1898 (15 km/h instead of 12 km/h), and the first woman 'lieutenant de louveterie' (aka Wolfcactcher Royal, a person responsible for organizing all aspects of the wolf-hunt and presided over the royal pack of wolfhounds and their handlers). Now that's a real badass! And this is just half of the story. I think this woman deserves more recognition and I'm baffled that she barely has a page on wikipedia, and it's in French only!
    The first part of the 20th century saw sad days for the Duchy of Uzès. In financial difficulty, the Duke sold the furnishings and rented the Duchy of Uzès to the Board of Education who once again installed a school. They did not fulfill their obligation to care for the building and concreted both inside and out.
   From 1951 the widowed Marchioness of Crussol set about restoring the Duchy of Uzès that she had re-acquired with the help of the Fine Arts Ministry. Aided by her friend André Malraux, Minister of Culture under General de Gaulle, whom she had met in her Political Society Gatherings, she had the town of Uzes classed in 1964 as a heritage site, which greatly helped it after two centuries of being forgotten.
      Her grandson and his wife, the present Duke and Duchess of Uzes, are continuing the work started by the Marchioness. Since then major work has been done to the building, and furnishings and objects are regularly added to enrich the collections for the pleasure of the visitor. The Duchy of Uzès is a rare example in the 21st century of a family castle being completely restored.
     Well yeah, basically I just copy-pasted the history of the castle from the official site since I couldn't find any extra info in English. It's a very nice site, by the way.

How to reach Chateau: It is located in the centre of Uzes, so no problem here. You will see a few towers next to each other and one of them belongs to the castle.

Visitor info:

a) Opening hours:

The castle is open every day except December 25th.
From 1 Sept to 30 June: 10 - 12 am and 2 - 6 pm
July and August: 10 - 12.30 am and 2 - 6.30 pm

 Last entrance 1/2 an hour before closing time.

b) Admission

Visit of the Tower plus a guided visit to the Apartments and the Cellars:

 Adult                                    17€
 From 12 to 16 years             13€
 From 7 to 11 years                 6€
 Under 7's                              Free

Tower only

Adults or children                  12€

c) Contact:

Official website:


Le Duché
Place du Duché
Tél : +33(0)4 66 22 18 96


Le Duché d'Uzès - 9, Place de la Porte de Passy
Fax : +33(0)1 42 88 36 65
Email :

d) What to do nearby: Except for the castle, the main attraction of this town is Haribo museum, but it is not really close to the centre. Also worth checking out are few museums, like Les Truffieres d'Uzes, Atelier du cafe, museum of pottery and medieval garden.

Every year the duché hosts many events held in the courtyard and ground rooms in particular the famous Musical Nights.

e) Multimedia:

If you want to read more about Uzes Duchy, but in French only:

And here is nice insight into the castle where owner tries to justify the high admission. Apparently, he also lives there. I had no clue!

If you don't bother reading, you can get the tour of the castle on Saturday morning for a reduced price of 10 EUR :)

Jul 2, 2012

Palais des papes (Palace of the Popes)

Okay guys, it's time for my second entry: Palace of the Popes (Palais des Papes)! If you skipped history classes, you are surely confused now: when and why did the pope move to Avignon? Isn't he in Vatican or at least Italy? And why does he have a palace?

     Initially, Avignon was not part of the Papal Territory in France. But the Holy See was in possession of the Comtat Venaissin, the land stretching from the outskirts of Avignon to Carpentras and Vaison la Romaine. Its previous ruler, Alphonse, Count of Toulouse, had died in 1271 without heirs on his return from the 8th Crusade and left the Comtat Venaissin to the Holy See. It became Papal Territory in 1274. Avignon and parts of the Provence were ruled by the d'Anjou family (related to the French crown).However, the relationship between the Papacy and France changed considerably during the 13th century. The dispute with the German emperors was finally settled with French support in favor of the popes in 1268. But already in 1294 open conflict broke out between Pope Boniface VIII and King Philip IV of France. Pope Boniface VIII wanted to be recognized also as the supreme wordly power, which was rejected by Philip IV, who even incarcerated the pope for a while.

So, it's a consequence of human greed. Much like the rest of human history it seems. At least I always get that impression. So Philip levied taxes on the French clergy of one half their annual income, which caused an uproar within the Roman Catholic Church and the papacy, prompting Pope Boniface VIII to issue the Bull Clerisos laicos, forbidding the transference of any church property to the French Crown and prompting a drawn-out diplomatic battle with the king. In order to condemn the pope, Philip convoked an assembly of bishops, nobles and grand bourgeois of Paris who helped him to emerge victorious. After having sent his agent William Nogaret to arrest the Pope, French archbishop Bertrand de Goth was elected pope as Clement V. To avoid the resentment of Rome, he moved the official seat of the papacy to France. Him and the next six popes residing in Avignon, who were all French btw, closely cooperated with the French crown. The Holy See became part of the power struggle between European rulers and in the end it lost most of its direct political power.

As for the palace thing, well popes have had palaces too, mostly in Rome. In fact, the current papal residence is Apostolic Palace in Vatican.

However, Clement (elected in 1305) didn't immediately movie didn't start his papacy in Avignon: the first 4 years were spent in Poitiers. Another thing, he didn't movie to Palais des Papes. Why? Because it wasn't even built then. To be precise, the construction of the bishop's palace began some 50 years before his arrival, but Clement was settled in the Dominican monastery. It was Benedict XII who was the most serious about his architectural plans. The construction didn't take long, less than 30 years, finishing in 1364. The Palace was built in two principal phases with two distinct segments, known as the Palais Vieux (Old Palace) and Palais Neuf (New Palace). By the time of its completion, it occupied an area of 11,000 m² (2.6 acres). The building was enormously expensive, consuming much of the papacy's income during its construction.

                                                                    The popes of Avignon

   Top row: Clement V, John XXII, Benedict XII, Clement VI. Bottom row: Innocent VI, Urban V, Gregory XI, Clement VII                                            - the first antipope. A long story, I'm not going to write about it here :)

 The Palais Vieux was constructed by the architect Pierre Poisson of Mirepoix at the instruction of Benedict XII. The austere Benedict had the original episcopal palace razed and replaced with a much larger building centred on a cloister, heavily fortified against attackers. Its four wings are flanked with high towers.

 Under Popes Clement VI, Inocent VI and Urban V, the building was expanded to form what is now known as the Palais Neuf. An architect, Jean de Louvres, was commissioned by Clement VI to build a new tower and adjoining buildings, including a 52 m long Grand Chapel (you'll see it one the pics) to serve as the location for papal acts of worship. Two more towers were built under Innocent VI. Urban V completed the main courtyard with further buildings enclosing it. The interior of the building was sumptuously decorated with frescos, tapestries, paintings, sculptures and wooden ceilings. The architectural style is simple and I'd say classic.

It should be pointed out that the Italian poet Francesco Petrarca spent much of his early life in Avignon, where his family moved to follow Pope Clement V.

                      The western part of the palace (including the highest tower) isn't open for visitors at the moment :(

So I visited Palace of the Popes this May while spending a week and a half in lovely Provence. Unfortunately, I only spent a few hours in Avignon (still enough to get a sense of the old town) because I also wanted to visit Antique Theatre in Orange on the same day. And yes, it was absolutely worth it- what a magnificent structure! Because of my limited stay, I was constantly rushing to have as much time for sightseeing as possible. I wanted to leave my luggage somewhere, and although there were many signs on the train station pointing to the place where it was possible, the guys told that I cannot do it without further explanation. Damn! So me and my luggage with wheels made a grand entrance to the old town (whose fortification walls are very well-preserved, btw). At least it was more lively and crowded, so I didn't feel like a complete idiot by making a lot of noise in quiet towns during the time of siesta.

                                                                                 The facade of the palace with the gates

On my way to become a fully-equipped tourist, I stopped by in the tourist office to take the map and headed straight to the Palace. After walking out of a very small street, I arrived on a square. Confused why it's suddenly crowded there, I am looking right, looking left, what's the deal? Then I finally look up and the Palace is right in front of me :) It wasn't as imposing as I thought it would be. I imagined it to be even taller, although it is definitely big. You get the best impression of its vastness when you climb on of the towers. So I enter the place, buy the combined ticket for the Palace + Pont d'Avignon and just before I start my tour, a guy approaches and asks:

-Would you like a tour of the palace?
- Is it for free? (Yeah, sometimes my tongue is faster than my brain. I think I blushed little in that moment).
- Yes.
- Great! So how much does it take to do the whole tour?
- 3 hours.
- 3 hours?! (I felt a few stares on my back). Well, I would gladly take this tour, but unfortunately I just have 3 hours in the whole Avignon. I'm sorry.
- No problem. Enjoy your visit!

And I did. I started with the main courtyard, which belongs to the Old Palace. There are restoration works on the ground, but I managed to spot an old water well under the coverings.

                                                                             Court d'honneur (honor) aka the main courtyard

Then I entered the palace itself. First of all, I have to say that there is some info in a few rooms, but everything is in French. So unfortunately I had no clue what was the purpose of some rooms. Additionally, a lot of rooms are empty, so don't expect to be blown away.

The next room (I think) was The Consistory Hall. It was actually destroyed by the fire in 1413. This might be a reason why the fresco from the pic is not completely restored... Important people were received in this room and meetings were gathered. It is also here that canonizations were examined and proclaimed. The Hall is filled with few artifacts and brief info about the room.

                                                                       Fresco in the Consistory Hall

                                                                              The Grand Tinel Hall

The Grand Tinel Hall served for dining. Unfortunately, it also destroyed by fire in 1413. According to the manuscripts, Clement VI requested the blue fabric studded with gold stars to cover the vault, thus creating a celestial arch. I can only imagine how beautiful that looked! The wood-paneled ceiling you see today was made in the seventies and creates a nice atmosphere.

                         Chest from the Parement Chamber. I wonder what they kept inside? Some clothes I guess...

                   It's a poor picture, but these are actually coins: I guess they are here to mark the treasury.
                                                                  Supposedly a lot of money was kept underground.

The Parement Chamber is another big, yet rather empty room. Just a few chests and tapestries here. The term "parement" refers to those tapestries that decorated the walls and seating. The Pope and the cardinals held secret consistories here. Important figures were given audiences too.

                                                     You can find quite a few plans of the palace inside

The Pope's Chamber is arguably the most interesting room in the palace. Unfortunately, it is forbidden to take pictures here.Completely covered in paintings (mostly simple decorative elements, though), it is a rare testimony of palace's once wealth. Again, the room is almost empty with a few furniture pieces which apparently did not belong to the palace while it was in function. This was pope's private residence, the bedroom to be more precise.

Chamber very similar to the Pope's Chamber is the Stag Room. Completely covered in paintings (this time there are more paintings than decorative elements), with frescoes depicting hunting and fishing. I am not really sure why was hunting such popular motif in castles, palaces, etc. Okay, it was fun and exciting, so I guess it's something like having dozens of posters in your room, but then again I never understood those who tainted their rooms with sooooo many posters. Anyway, the chamber was apparently Clement VI's study room. However, the frescoes you see today date mostly from the 18th century when the room was remodeled. Beneath a narrow strip of sky, an entire forest is painted on the walls with different motifs, such as this...


La Grande Chapelle is the room I've entered 5 or 6 times. The museum worker who was standing there must have though I am some kind of lunatic LOL... The truth is, I was certain I skipped one room at some point and wanted to find it, but I couldn't. Somehow, I would always end up in La Grande Chapelle :) When I went to the official site of the palace, I realized I missed South Sacristy :( Wikipedia also suggests that there are two more chapels with beautiful ceiling paintings, but I guess the are being renovated or something. I couldn't have missed them!

                                      The single nave is 52 metres long, 15 metres wide and 20 metres tall.

Below the chapel is the North Sacristy, where the Pope changed his vestments during ceremonies held in the Great Chapel. Today it contains few sculptures and tomb replicas of religious and political personas, such as...

                            A scary sculpture of Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor

                                           Lous II, Duke of Bourbon, with his wife Anne Dauphine d'Auvergne

After some climbing, including the Great Staircase of Honor, I ended up at the top, where the views are stunning.

                                                              The square in front of the palace

                                      Notice the bell tower of Notre Dame des Doms in the background

               Le Petit Palais (a lot of museum collection originates from Palais des Papes, so make sure to pay a visit there!)


There are also two rooms reserved for commerce: you can buy high-quality wines from the Rhone valley in the first, while the second one is reserved for your typical souvenirs, like this one...


LOL! I mean seriously?! I really believe such places should have some standards, especially if a souvenir shop is inside the building. It kinda cheapens the whole experience for me. It's like someone saying to me: We're so glad you gave us your money- now spend some more! After all, money is all we care about!

However, most of other souvenirs are nice and there were some nice books and guides about Provence and Avignon I couldn't find anywhere else. They were pricey (20E I think). I was certain I'd find them somewhere else, but I didn't. Yeah, they have those cheap-looking, dated guides you could find on every corner too :)

                                                                Selection of the Rhone valley wines

Final conclusion: Palais des Papes was absolutely worth my time, but not enough to regret my decision of visiting Antique Theatre in Orange instead of spending 3 hours in the Palace. Half an hour should be enough to visit the largest Gothic palace in the Europe and UNESCO World Heritage site. It is well-preserved, obviously very spacious, but around half of the complex is not open to visitors, so naturally I was a little disappointed. Especially because I couldn't climb the highest tower :( I found out later that those rooms house a large convention centre and the archives of the départment of Vaucluse.

                                       Palais des papes through the eyes and brush of Paul Signac

How to reach Palais des Papes: No big deal here. The old city of Avignon is rather small and is completely fortified, so it's hard to get lost. I'd say you have to walk15 minutes from the main gate (very, very close to bus and train stations) to reach the palace. Just go north (at least I think it's north!) or pick up the map. But you'll see plenty of signs pointing to the palace, so don't worry. Or just act like a sheep in the flock, i.e. follow the other tourists :)

Visitor info:

The Popes' Palace is open every day of the year.
The last tickets are sold one hour before closing time.

a) Opening hours:
- from March 1st to March 14th: 9 am-6:30 pm
- from March 15th to June 30th: 9am-7pm
- from July 1st to July 31st: 9am-8pm
- from August 1st to August 31st.: 9am-9pm
- from September 1st to September 15th: 9am-8pm
- from September 16th to November 1st: 9am-7pm
- from November 2nd to February 28th: 9:30am-5:45pm
- December 25th + January 1st: 10:30am-5:45pm 

b) Admission:

 Adults 10.5, reduced 8.5, school children 5€. Children under 8 free of charge.

Combined ticket Palais des Papes + Pont d'Avignon:

 Adults 13, reduced 10, school children 6.5€.

Guided tours are also possible. 

c) Contact:

Tel. +33(0)4 32 74 32 74 - Avignon tourist office
       +33(0)4 90 27 50 50 - Guided tours/Free tour with audioguide

d) What to do nearby: The bridge, the cathedral, Rocher des Doms gardens... Avignon has few interesting museums: already mentioned Petit Palais, Musee Calvet, Musee Lapidaire, etc. If you cross the Rhone, you'll find yourself in Villeneuve-les-Avignon. Check out fort Saint André and Carthusian monastery of the Val-de-Bénédiction.

e) Multimedia:

"La prophétie d'Avignon" (2007), TV mini-series- some scenes were filmed in the palace

                                                                                                           Aerial view

 Okay, this post is quite long... I hope it's good :) I'll check it once more, just in case...

My next report will be Chateau d'Uzes, followed by the great castles of Ludwig II of Bavaria! I hope someone is looking forward to it!