Continuously occupied since the Stone Age, the first inhabitants of Avignon lived in the caves in the Rocher des Dames, a massive outcropping of rock which rises over the banks of the Rhône. Today there is a park there with views of the surrounding country side, a café and a playground.
The Romans had a presence in Avignon, though the walls can no longer be seens as they lie buried under today’s modern streets. Remnants of the forum can still be seen, lying near the Rue Racine and the Rue Saint-Etienne, to the west of the city.
In medieval times, the town became the centre of communication and trade. The stone bridge spanning the Rhone was one of only three between the Mediterranean and Lyon. For this reason it was chosen by the papacy as home within the then kingdom of Provence. The presence of the papacy made Avignon into a city of great political and economic activity. The old city wall, now visible only as a street that circles the very centre of the town was much too small and a larger wall, still visible today, was necessary to protect its bulging population. Wealthy Cardinals built extravagant palaces known as livrées both within Avignon and across the river, in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon.
The city teemed with activity and building as architects, builders, artists flocked to the town. At that time, within the city walls there were over 100 churches and chapels - many of which have been transformed since then into everything from shops to a movie theatre! The wealth and activity generated by the presence of the papacy spilled out into the region, so that even small villages nearby boast a rich architectural past.