The name of this city means “New City across from Avignon”. While it may not seem brand spanking new to most of us, it is certainly new in comparison to Avignon itself, which has been there since Phocaean times at least, that would be since 500 or 600 B.C.
Villeneuve lez Avignon is only a third as old, since it wasn’t even founded until the end of the 13th century, during the reign of the French King Philippe IV aka Philippe le Bel.
There are two official spellings for the name of this “New City”.
The French national government spells it “Villeneuve-lès-Avignon”, with two hyphens and an accent grave over the e in lès. This is also the spelling that is used on most maps and data bases.
The city itself, however, uses the spelling “Villeneuve lez Avignon”, with no hyphens and a z at the end of the middle word. This is the spelling you will see in official city documents and tourist brochures, and on the city’s websites.
The word lez (or lès) is an old word — now used only in place names — meaning near, next to, across from or opposite.
This word should not be confused with the word les, with no accent, which is also used in place names and means ‘of the’ followed by a plural noun, as in the name of the town Enghien-les-Bains just north of Paris, near Montmorency.
Villeneuve lez Avignon (pronunciation here) is on the right bank of the Rhône River, i.e. on your right-hand side as you travel downstream.
In the thirteenth century a bridge was built across the Rhône and its islands, connecting Avignon with Villeneuve lez Avignon. In the subsequent centuries the Rhône changed its course a few times, in the process rearranging the islands and destroying the bridge.
Today there is only one big island between the two channels of the Rhône, and only a fragment of the bridge is still standing — slightly more than one-ninth of the original bridge. This is the now-famous Pont Saint-Bénezet or Pont d’Avignon, on the Avignon side of the river. (The painting from the year 1700 is by Robert Bonnart and is on display in the Calvet Museum in Avignon.)
My photos in this post are from 2014. I revised the text in 2019.
See more posts on Villeneuve lez Avignon (coming soon).