Avignon is located in the Rhone Valley of France. The main attraction of the town is the Popes’ Palace, which in 1309 became the business headquarters of the Papal Empire.
It came about as the result of a quarrel between two of the principal stakeholders - Philip the Fair, King of France, and Pope Bonifice VIII.
Philip was unhappy that Rome was extorting vast sums of money from the Christian nations to finance its Crusades. It was creating an imbalance between the spiritual and the temporal powers of Europe, with the spiritual gaining the upper hand. So he determined to stop the drain from his dominions.
He began by prohibiting the export of gold and silver without a licence, and requiring the clergy to pay their taxes directly to him. Pope Boniface responded by excommunicating the king.
Being excommunicated was the thing that Christian souls feared the most, so it was a useful weapon in the Vatican’s armoury.
It was also good business, since persons who were excommunicated were compelled to purchase absolutions at exorbitant rates.
It is estimated that in 1327 half of the Christian world was in a state of excommunication.
But Philip was made of sterner stuff. He accused Boniface of being an atheist, and despatched several faithful servants to his palace in Anagni, where they seized and manhandled him so badly that he died. His successor, Pope Benedict XI, was poisoned.
Philip then decided that the papacy should cease being an Italian family business. So he concluded an agreement with the cardinals that a French archbishop, Raymond Bertrand de Got, should be promoted to the pontificate, where he took the name of Clement V. The business was then relocated to Avignon and the takeover was complete.
The palace is now a major tourist attraction visited by more than 650,000 tourists [Official website palais-des-papes.com]. On view are the pope's private apartments, as well as the frescos by Italian artist Matteo Giovanetti.