Avignon (anc. Avenio), a town of S. E. France, in Provence, department of Vaucluse, 365 m. S. S. E. of Paris, situated on the Rbone, which is here crossed by an elegant suspension bridge built in 1844; pop. in 1866, 36,407. It is an archiepiscopal see, and has a lyceum, a seminary, a public library, museums of antiquities, paintings, and natural history, a botanical garden, an agricultural society, and an association called the academy of Vaucluse. Its industry is active, especially in the cultivation of madder, in the manufacture of silks, colored cloths, and taffetas, and in copper, lead, and iron works. It carries on an extensive trade in the various productions of Provence, particularly in grains and highly esteemed red wines. The town is generally well built, in the form of an almost regular oval, and its walls, rather beautiful than strong, are flanked with towers, adorned with battlements, and surrounded by handsome boulevards. The streets are narrow, but there are magnificent wharfs along the Rhone and numerous ancient and remarkable edifices. Among the latter is the palace of the popes, a sombre Gothic structure of the 12th century, now transformed into a prison and barracks.
This city was the capital of the Gallic tribe of the Cavares prior to the conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar. It remained under Roman domination till the 5th century, when the Burgundians took possession of it. From the Burgundians it was taken by the Goths, who in turn yielded it to the Franks. The Saracens captured it twice, shortly before and after the battle of Poitiers (732), and both times were forced to abandon it by Charles Martel. It was a Carlovingian city for about a century and a half; then several times exchanged its masters, became a republic under the protection of the German empire, adhered to the Albigensian heresy, and was captured by Louis VIII. in 1226,. who made it the common inheritance of two sons, through one of whom, Charles of Anjou, it became attached to the crown of Naples. In 1309 Pope Clement V., at the request of Philip the Fair, established himself at Avignon. The city and its dependencies were purchased by the supreme pontiff from Joanna of Naples, and all the popes from Clement V. to Gregory XI. (1309-'77) made their residence here. The last-named pope restored the papal see to Rome, but during the great schism, from 1378 to 1418, several of the rival popes resided in Avignon. The 14th century was thus the period of the town's greatest splendor.
It then numbered about 100,000 inhabitants. Petrarch was among its many distinguished residents. After the close of the schism Avignon, which with its environs then formed the comtat de Venaissin, was governed by the legates of the pope, til] in 1791 France succeeded, after various attempts, in reclaiming it. Twenty-one councils of the church were held in Avignon, from 1050 to 1725.