The Avignon city tourist office at Square Agricol Perdiguier is just a five-minute walk from the central railroad station, straight ahead through the Porte de la République and along the main street Cours Jean Jaurès.
This is the starting point for their guided walking tours (in French, usually) of the Old Town and the Palace of the Popes. You can book the tours here, but I booked mine online a week in advance to be sure of getting a place. The cost as of 2014 was € 19.50, which included admission to the Popes’ Palace.
One thing you should definitely do at the tourist office is pick up an Avignon Pass (now officially called “Avignon PASSion”, but I have never heard anyone actually say it that way). Unlike most tourist passes in other cities, this one is free, so you don’t have to set up a spreadsheet to figure out if it is a good value. The way this pass works is that you pay the full price at the first place you visit. Ask them to stamp your Avignon Pass, and then it entitles you to a discount at all the other listed places in Avignon and even across the river in Villeneuve lez Avignon.
Next to the tourist office is a park called Square Agricol Perdiguier and the former church Saint Martial, which fell into disuse after the French Revolution and is now a Protestant Temple. (Location, aerial view and photo on monumentum.fr.)
The square was named after Agricol Perdiguier (1805-1875), a French writer and politician who was active during the revolution of 1830 and later in the second and third French Republics. (‘Agricol’ was a fairly common first name in southern France in the 18th and 19th centuries, but is no longer used today.)
Granted that the fourteenth century was the most significant in Avignon’s history, because of the Popes and the Papal Court and all the Cardinals and scholars and hangers-on, it does no harm to learn that the city existed long before that. The earliest remains are two graves and some furniture, flints and tools from around 3000 BC.
The Lapidaire Museum, in the old chapel of the College of the Jesuits from the 17th century, contains the archaeological collections of the Calvet Museum, which have been on display here since 1933. The collections include “Egyptian, Gallo-Roman, early Christian and medieval sculptures,” as well as vases and ancient glassware.
After picking up your Avignon Pass at the tourist office, it would make sense to go straight to the Lapidaire Museum as your first museum visit. It is only a block away from the tourist office and is a good introduction to the early history of Avignon, before the coming of the Popes. (Location, aerial view and photo on monumentum.fr.)
Another more mundane reason for making this your first museum visit is that this is the cheapest museum in Avignon, so if you pay the full price here (two Euros as of 2014) and get your Avignon pass stamped, you can later get reductions at the other more expensive museums and monuments.
This mansion in the center of Avignon, just behind the Lapidaire Museum, was once the home of Jean and Paulette Angladon-Dubrujeaud, the heirs of a famous Parisian couturier and art collector, Jacques Doucet. The upper floor of the house has remained much as it was when the donors lived there, with a “medieval and Renaissance room”, an artist’s studio, a “Chinese room” and a living room with art works and 18th century furniture.
Here is a painting by the eighteenth-century painter Charles François Grenier de Lacroix, also known as Charles François Lacroix de Marseille. He was born in Marseille around 1700 and died in Berlin around 1779 or 1782. This painting is a typical idyllic maritime scene of the type that was popular in the 17th and 18th centuries, with sailing ships, towers and temples at sunrise or sunset. The most famous paintings of this type are probably those by Claude Lorrain at the Louvre in Paris.
When I went to the Angladon Museum in Avignon in 2014 they had a popular temporary exposition on the ground floor with works by the painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901).
Until the spring of 2013 I don’t think I had never even heard of the painter Tsuguharu Foujita (1886-1968). But then on a guided walking tour of the Montparnasse district of Paris we were shown the courtyard of the building where Foujita’s atelier used to be, and later in Reims I saw the Chapelle Notre Dame de la Paix, popularly known as Foujita’s chapel, which he decorated single-handedly at age 80 after his belated conversion to Roman Catholicism. And in the Angladon Museum in Avignon I saw these two paintings, showing the artist himself and his wife. (I’m still not too impressed, but apparently some people are.)
Louis Vouland Museum
Louis Vouland (1883-1973) was a rich industrialist who owned a factory in the Champfleury district of Avignon (south of the city center) for making industrial food products. He started his factory in 1911 and managed to get a monopoly on the importation of ‘zebu’ beef from Madagascar. Using this beef, he invented a product known unofficially as the boite à singe (‘monkey box’), which he sold in great quantities to the French army for feeding troops in the field during the First World War. This product was the forerunner of what is now known as ‘corned beef’. (Perhaps also a forerunner of ‘spam’, a staple of American field rations during the Second World War.)
In the 1920s and 30s Vouland’s factory was reputed to be very modern and efficient and was famous for its ‘Mireille’ sausages. The factory was destroyed in the Second World War during a night of bombing in May 1944, but was rebuilt afterwards, bigger and better than before.
During the Trente Glorieuses (The Glorious Thirty), meaning the thirty years of unusually rapid economic growth between 1945 and 1975, Vouland’s enterprise played a major role in the regional economy of Avignon and vicinity. Because he died in 1973, Vouland did not live to see the end of the Trente Glorieuses and the return to a more normal and less spectacular period of economic activity.
Throughout his years of getting rich on corned beef and sausages, Louis Vouland was also a passionate art collector. He collected art works and objects of all types, often from the period of Louis XV (who reigned from 1715 to 1774) and Louis XVI (from 1774 until the French Revolution). Vouland’s collection is now on display in his former residence at 17 Rue Victor Hugo, which has been turned into a museum.
Unfortunately no photography is allowed in the Louis Vouland Museum, so I can’t show you any of the items on display, but this poster on a nearby street corner gives a slight impression of what the museum is like.
My photos in this post are from 2014. I revised the text in 2018.