Children across Britain will be going back to school today after the Easter holidays. I wonder how many of them will learn the ode to Avignon bridge this term.
“Sur le pont d’Avignon, l’on y danse, l’on y danse…”
What’s more, how many will learn the story behind the bridge or behind the song? I remember the song from my own childhood but the story behind it remained a mystery.
The bridge in question is actually the Pont Saint-Bénezet. Legend has it that a young shepherd boy called Bénezet claimed the angels had ordered him to build a bridge in the southern French town. Goaded by locals, he threw the first foundation stone into the river.
That started a project to finish the bridge. Work was completed in 1185, a year after Bénezet died. It was destroyed 40 years later and then rebuilt.
Over time, however, it has been damaged by the currents of the river – to the point that just four of the original 22 stone arches still stand.
The song that has immortalised it came much later, in the 19th century. Originally the lyrics had people dancing beneath the bridge – sous le pont. Only later did they come to dance on it – sur le pont.
The story of the bridge is like a geography, history and French lesson all rolled into one. Now that’s got to be better than double maths any day.