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Cities of France - Avignon

Ringed by incredibly preserved 800-year-old stone ramparts, graceful Avignon's time as the seat of papal power bestowed the city with a treasury of magnificent art and architecture.

One of the most impressive examples is Le Palais des Papes.

This massive medieval fortress and papal palace was built in the 14th century, as the Popes left the corruption of Rome and fled to Avignon. The world's largest Gothic edifice with walls about 6m thick, it was built between 1335 and 1364 on a natural spur of rock, rendering it almost impossible to attack. Following the French revolution, it was used as a barracks and prison for many years and is now a museum. While its vast stone rooms are now filled with little more than old frescos, it is still a grand and imposing building.

The Ramparts surrounding the city are one of the best examples to have survived in France and were erected to keep the plague and invaders out during the turbulent middle ages, when Avignon belonged to the papacy and not the French crown.

Today, ancient cobbled streets pass inviting boutiques and leafy squares overflow with cafe tables. While holiday makers are always out in force at Le Place du Palais, just next to the Place de L'horloge, the outlets around here are busy and very expensive. Just remember that just a short walk in almost any direction will take you to the smaller squares frequented by the locals, and of course, much lower prices.

The Place Pie, with its covered market is open from 6am to 1pm everyday for you to stock up on fresh produce, cheeses, wines and produits du pays.

With such a rich history, it's no surprise that Avignon has some fascinating museums, ranging from modern art to museums housing artefacts from the Roman and pre-Roman days. The romantic Pont d'Avignon– of nursery-rhyme fame –spans halfway across the Rhône and also is a popular tourist destination.

If you're looking for a quiet, relaxed holiday, avoid Avignon in July. Every year, around 100,000 people arrive for Avignon's renowned performing-arts festival.

Founded in 1947, the Festival d'Avignon bursts with traditional theatrical events as well as dance, music, and cinema, making good use of the town's historical monuments. There are actually two festivals that take place: the more formal "Festival In", which presents plays inside the Palace of the Popes and the more bohemian "Festival Off", known for its presentation of largely undiscovered plays and street performances. The festival is an excuse to turn any room with enough seating into a 'salle de spectacle' and the city is host to a wide variety of entertainment.

The largest city and capital of the département of Vaucluse in southeastern France, Avignon is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.