Saturday, 28 May 2016

Discovering Albi in the Midi Pyrenees

The Cathedral of St Cecelia
St Cecile

Without doubt the first place most people head for when they visit Albi is the famous St Cecile cathedral, the largest brick built cathedral in France and which is in the 'centre historique' of Albi. Focussing on the cathedral as a starting place will quickly bring you severeal of the most stunning places of interest of the city. 

Right next to the cathedral is the 'Palais de la Berbie' with beautiful manicured gardens that overlook the river.

Palais de la Berbie garden tower
From the river looking back you can see the magnificent tower that sits in the corner of the gardens and beyond which are the beautiful gardens of the palace.

It goes without saying that one of the most famous children of Albi is the renowned  19th century painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and a museum based in the Palais de la Berbie has been opened so that you can find out all about the famous painter, his life and his art.

Palais de la Berbie - Toulouse-Lautrecmuseum

The river that runs through the city is of course the Tarn, which also gives its name to the department where Albi resides. The oldest of the three bridges that cross the Tarn in Albi is the Pont-Vieux. The other two are the Pont du 22 Aout 1944 and the Pont SNCF (I'll leave you to guess what type of bridge this one is)

Pont Vieux
Pont Vieux

Pont Vieux
Pont Vieux

Pont SNCF
Pont SNCF

There is of course a relationship between the Cathars and the city of Albi, hence the reason the reason why the crusade, led by Simon de Montfort for a time, against the Cathars was referred to as the Albigensian Crusade. Saint Bernard visited the city in the 13th century and received a very poor welcome. He consequently branded the city's inhabitants as heretics. That was a bit of a surprise because the city did remain loyal to the Roman Catholic faith and rallied to the crusaders cause, saving them from the wrath of the crusaders and eventually leading to the erection of the Palais de Berbie to act as a fortified bishop's palace along with an austere catehdral which stood as symbols of the Roman Catholic's power and demonstrated their victory over the heresy that Catharism was claimed to be!

Albi is not all about ancient history, there are a number of 21st century developments which include Vigan Square, the Pierre Amalric media library, the Cordeliers cultural district and of course the Grand Theatre designed by international architect Dominique Perrault.

It is the Episcopal City that has gained UNESCO world heritage status however (in 2010) being one of the largest brick buildings in the world. It is made up of four areas: The Castelvieil, The Castelnau, The Bourg Saint Salvis and the Combes-Berges du Tarn. More or less made up entirely of medieval architecture and dominated by the 'Sainte-Cecile Cathedral and of course the 'Palais de la Berbie'. 

St Cecile cathedral

Palais de la Berbie

Walled gardens of the Palais de la Berbie

The Episcopal City of Albi

St Cecile Cathedral

So there you have it the fabulous city of Albi in all its glory only an hour or so from our gite in France with a 'petite train' for those that like a guided tour without too much walking involved and of course you can make a day of it by calling into Lautrec medieval village on the way back for even more fabulous views and a look at the birthplace of Toulouse-Lautrec's  family.

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