The rue des Teinturiers, AvignonThe rue des Teinturiers is one of the prettiest, most historic spots in Avignon - and one of the most fashionable.

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Avignon's rue des Teinturiers during the Off Theatre FestivalA sloping cobbled street lined by a canal and shady plane trees, this is a lovely cool place to spend a balmy summer's day or evening.

And each July, it is the epicentre of Avignon's Off Festival, when practically every square inch of the whole area becomes an impromptu theatre.

The main attraction of the rue des Teinturiers for the casual visitor is quite simply as a supremely agreeable place to stroll, browse the shops and galleries and enjoy a drink or dinner.

Note the curious limestone sculptures, like the one pictured below, dotted all along the road, as bollards or just as makeshift seats.

The summer is definitely the best time to wander around here, and the street can be rather dark and deserted on winter nights.

Limestone carving, rue des Teinturiers, AvignonThere's no shortage of watering holes in this part of town, including some with year-round entertainment. But two spots whose names betray their origins in the printing industry are particularly recommended by locals.

L'Offset (16 rue des Teinturiers) is a bar-restaurant while the long-established La Tâche d'Encre, or "ink stain" (1 rue de la Tarasque) is a café-théâtre where the evening might be spiced up by comedy, drama, jazz or rock.

A THUMBNAIL HISTORY

The river Sorgue was diverted in the Middle Ages to form several canals. One of them, the Canal de Vaucluse, runs today along the rue des Teinturiers before joining the Rhône river by Avignon's walled city.

Indiennes provencal fabricsThe initial purpose was for drainage. But, when textile makers set up shop in Avignon, they soon realised the benefits of a ready water supply and made a beeline for this area. Indeed, the rue des Teinturiers translates roughly as "Dyers' Street".

In the 15th century, wool and silk were manufactured here. Later, in the 17th and 18th centuries, colourful, typically provençal cotton textiles were produced intensively in Avignon after they had been banned elsewhere in France.

Inspired by designs from India, they were known as les indiennes. Click here to read more about them.

Another remnant of this aspect of Avignon's history is the statue of Jean Althen (1710-1774), an Armenian refugee who introduced garance (red madder-wort dye) into the area, paving the way for the production of les indiennes. The statue can be seen in the Rocher des Doms park.

At the height of the weaving boom, the mills were powered by 23 water wheels along the canal, whose water was also used to rinse the fabrics. Most of these were destroyed during the French Revolution and today only four wheels remain.

But locals still sometimes refer to the rue des Teinturiers informally as the rue des Roues, or Wheel Street. (To see very many more water wheels in action, take a short trip along the river to L'Isle sur la Sorge.)

There are several interesting sites along the rue des Teinturiers. Starting at the eastern end of the street on the corner of rue Guillaume Puy, 26 rue des Teinturiers is the odd-looking (and oddly named) Maison du IV de Chiffre

The Maison du IV du Chiffre, AvignonIt's of Avignon's oldest and, in fact, few remaining buildings in the Gothic style (photograph by Véronique Pagnier for Wikimedia Commons).

Built in 1493, its most striking feature is the crenellated cornice flanked by two bartisans, or watchtowers (échauguettes) with drainage pipes in the form of little gargoyles.

An air of mystery surrounds the "figure IV" carved on the facade between the first-floor windows.

It's an escutcheon, or shield-shaped emblem, embellished with various decorations including a stylised heart impaled on a dart and crosses of Saint Andrew and of Lorraine.

The meaning of the symbol remains obscure. Some think it was a printer's sign, though it has been widely used elsewhere on sculptures, tapestries, seals, playing cards and musical instruments.

Inside the Maison du IV de Chiffre, a spiral staircase leads to the first floor, which has a beamed ceiling and huge Gothic fireplace. The building houses local associations and is used as a theatre during the Off Festival.

The Avignon entomologist Jean-Henri FabreA little further along the same side of the rue des Teinturiers at no.14, a narrow, tall house next to one of the water wheels is known as La Maison de Jean-Henri Fabre.

Pictured, Fabre (1823-1915) was a scientist, naturalist and eminent entomologist who inspired Charles Darwin and wrote about insects in a popular and engaging manner.

In one of his most famous experiments, Fabre lined processionary caterpillars around a circular pot and got them to march nose-to-tail in a circle for a whole week. Some of Fabre's insect and plant collection can be seen in Avignon's Musée Requien.

At 8 rue des Teinturiers is the Chapelle des Pénitents Gris (Chapel of the Grey Penitents), pictured. Above the doorway a painting of the Sacrament is flanked by two praying figures in hooded robes similar to those worn by the Ku Klux Klan. Their purpose here is entirely benign: members of the brotherhood wore these robes as a sign of humility.

After the siege of Avignon in 1226, King Louis VIII came here to pray and founded the Brotherhood of the Grey Penitents, who built their chapel on this spot.

The Chapelle des Penitents Gris, AvignonIt's only open during religious services. Inside, there's a 17th century panelled ceiling, a vignerons' chapel, a fine hexagonal chamber and paintings by the Avignon-based artists Pierre Parrocel and Nicolas Mignard.

Each year on 30 November, the members of the Confraternity of Grey Penitents celebrate the Miracle of the Parting of the Waters.

On that day in 1433, when the river Rhône burst its banks, the waters are said to have parted within the nave of the church in order to allow the Holy Sacrament to remain safe and dry.

At the junction with the rue des Lices, is the Couvent des Cordeliers - though in fact a chapel and bell tower are all that remains of this 13th century Franciscan convent. Laura de Noves, the object of the unrequited love and the eternal muse of the poet Francesco Petrarch, is said to be buried here.

 

 

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