It stands on the banks of the Auzon. As capital of the Comtat Venaissin, it was frequently the residence of the Avignon popes; the Papal States retained possession of the Venaissin until the French Revolution. Nowadays, Carpentras is a commercial center for Comtat Venaissin and is famous for the black truffle markets held from winter to early spring.
Carpentras was a commercial site used by Greek merchants in ancient times, and known to Romans at first as Carpentoracte Meminorum, mentioned by Pliny, then renamed Forum Neronis ("Forum of Nero"); the city retains an impressive Roman triumphal arch, that has been enclosed by the bishops' palace, rebuilt in 1640, now a law court, and a machicolated city gate, the Porte d'Orange.
Joseph-Dominique d'Inguimbert, Bishop of Carpentras from 1735 to 1754, established a great scholarly library which Jean-François Delmas, the current chief librarian, has called "the oldest of our municipal libraries"; known as the Bibliothèque Inguimbertine and now holding around 140,000 books, it is known to bibliophiles all over France and is scheduled to move into roomier quarters in the former Hôtel-Dieu in 2013.
Carpentras has been an important centre of French Judaism, and is home to the oldest synagogue in France (1367), which still holds services. In May 1990, the Jewish cemetery was desecrated (see French and European Nationalist Party).