Like the great princes of the Middle Ages, the popes of Avignon considered the gardens to be an integral part of their palace. Taking up the situation of the orchard and the gardens established to the east of the old episcopal palace, John XXII, Benoit XII, Clement VI and Urban V created new gardens from those of their predecessors.
But the gardens are fragile developments: only the bodies of the buildings that had been erected there remain visible today. Luckily, the accounting archives of the Apostolic Chamber kept in the Vatican make it possible to reconstruct the history of the creation of these gardens. We find there a lot of information relating to the construction of the ramparts, the fountains and various buildings, but also to the species planted and to the constructions of wood and greenery.
At the origin of the gardens: Jean XXII
Bishop of Avignon in 1310, Jacques Duèse became Pope John XXII in 1316 and settled in Avignon. He annexed the neighboring buildings of the episcopal palace, and had the adjacent stables rebuilt. An orchard was redeveloped in 1324: the ground was leveled, trees and lawns were planted, a watering system was put in place, a wall was built to close off the area. The foundations of the pontifical gardens are laid.
John XXII also has a vast collection of animals, a sign of his wealth and power. Bears, lions, camels, wild boars, deer, wild cats and rabbits are kept there in cages. His successors will add many birds: cranes, ostriches or peacocks enliven the place and we find traces of them on the painted decorations of the private apartments.
The Old Garden of Benoit XII
“Ortus Vetus”: a term meaning “enclosed space”, the main characteristic of medieval gardens. This garden is said to be “old”, in resonance with the Old Palace whose construction it accompanies, over an area of 2000m2. The lower garden occupies the lower part of the land, near the steam rooms. It is equipped with a well, around which grass is sown. The upper part receives a pleasure garden as well as a vegetable garden, which feeds the papal table: white cabbage, green cabbage, spinach, leeks, beans, or eggplant, chard and pumpkins alongside fragrant and medicinal herbs such as marjoram, borage, parsley and fennel.
The New Garden of Clement VI
Viridarium Novus. Created in 1344, the new garden is created towards the Trouillas tower. Clement VI surrounded it with walls, and also made numerous arrangements in the lower garden, in particular a shelter for the well as well as a relaxation room, connected to the steam rooms by a plaster and wood portico. Very shaded, this new garden is entirely strewn with meadows, echoed by the frescoes of the Chambre du cerf. A large fountain sits in the center, made of white Orgon stone, and fed by a deep well which also serves the neighboring ovens.
The Orchard of Urban V
Urban V reserves the gardens for his personal enjoyment, but in 1365 creates an extension below, digs a new well there and installs arbors there. In the lower garden, Urban V built a building (the Roma), which was richly decorated with terracotta floor tiles and used by Matteo Giovanetti as a studio. This building will be destroyed around 1835, but there are still vestiges of its enormous pillars.