Map from 1685 showing the piers of the bridge. The pier on the bank near the Tour Philippe-le-Bel has been omitted. By this date 10 of the annuaire Historique.: V. 17 1853 PDF arches had collapsed. A wooden bridge spanning the Rhône between Villeneuve-lès-Avignon and Avignon was built between 1177 and 1185.
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The bridge was the inspiration for the song Sur le pont d’Avignon and is considered a landmark of the city. The bridge spanned the Rhône between Avignon and Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. It was destroyed during the siege of Avignon by Louis VIII of France in 1226 but beginning in 1234 it was rebuilt. The bridge fell into a state of disrepair during the 17th century. By 1644 the bridge was missing four arches, and a flood in 1669 swept away more of the structure.
The arches are segmental rather than the semi-circular shape typically used in Roman bridges. Of the remaining arches the largest span is 35. With the collapse of the Saint-Bénézet bridge the Rhône at Avignon was crossed by ferry until the beginning of the 19th century. Between 1806 and 1818 a wooden bridge was built across the two branches of the river. The section across the Avignon branch was replaced by a suspension bridge in 1843. Jesus Christ asking him to build a bridge across the river. Although he was ridiculed at first, he dramatically « proved » his divine inspiration by miraculously lifting a huge block of stone.
The bridge chapel has undergone several phases of reconstruction and restoration. It is now divided into two floors, each with a nave and an apse. The exterior of the chapel shows evidence of the rebuilding work with blocked windows on the south-eastern wall. The nave is covered with stone roof tiles which rest on a series of corbels.
The polygonal apse has a flat roof and sits above the cutwater of the pier. The lower chapel with its apse decorated with five arches dates from the second half of the 12th century. At a later date, perhaps as early as the 13th century when the level of the bridge was raised, a floor supported by a ribbed quadripartite vault was inserted into the structure. The simple rectangular upper chapel with the barrel vaulted roof was consecrated in 1411. The bridge was also the site of devotion by the Rhône boatmen, whose patron saint was Saint Nicholas. The bridge had great strategic importance as when first built it was the only fixed river crossing between Lyon and the Mediterranean Sea. Avignon, at what is now Pont-Saint-Esprit but then known as Saint-Saturnin-du-Port.
Although now somewhat modified, the medieval bridge has survived until the present day. The Chapel of Saint Nicholas and the four remaining arches were listed as a Monument historique in 1840. A scholarly debate has taken place on whether a bridge existed prior to the construction of the Saint Bénézet bridge in the 12th century. An earlier bridge was first proposed by Henri Revoil at the French Archaeological Conference held in Avignon in 1882.
His main argument was based on the appearance of the stonework at the base of the four surviving piers. Denis-Marcel Marié, in his book on the bridge self-published in 1953, reviewed all the previous publications and in the final chapter came out in support of the hypothesis that an early bridge had been built by the Gallo-Romans towards the end of the Roman occupation. Further support for the existence of a Roman bridge came in an article by Perrot et al. The archaeologist Dominique Carru, while accepting the radiocarbon date for the sample of wood, argued in 1999 that it is very unlikely that an earlier bridge existed. An earlier song with the same title was popular in the 16th and 17th centuries. Detail from the Pérussis Altarpiece, the earliest depiction of the bridge, c. One arch near the center of the bridge has collapsed.