Albi - things to see and do
bridge over the Tarn at Albi
While it is not exactly undiscovered, Albi is one of those French
provincial cities that has
only recently come into its own as a tourist destination. The change in
the city's fate came in 2009, when its episcopal area - comprising the
and the Palais de la
the bishop's palace - was classed as a
UNESCO world heritage site.
A small city
standing on the banks of the river Tarn, Albi has a history rooted in
the religious conflicts of the Middle Ages. The "Albigensian
Crusade" (1209-1229) was the only medieval crusade conducted not
against Islam, but against Christians, specifically against the Cathars
practiced a form of proto-Protestantism, refusing the authority of the
In the 12th century, most of the land of
"Languedoc" was Cathar country, and the city of Albi stood at the
geographical centre of the Languedoc of the time.
Combating Cathar heresy was a good pretext for the
Albigensian Crusade, whose real objective was as much about bringing
the southwest of France under the control of the French kings, as it
was about fighting heretics. But even after the victory of
the French, the southwest of France remained volatile, and the Catholic
powers were wary of insurrection. Albi cathedral, the
building of which started half a century after the end of the conflict,
was thus built as a massive fortress, designed to stand as a
symbol of episcopal power and a defensive position for use in the event
the streets of old Albi
Albi, capital of the Tarn
is arguably the most interesting small city in the Midi-Pyrenees
region. St. Cecilia's
has always been
a remarkable and unique monument, being both fortified and
built of brick. On the outside, it looks like some gargantuan array of
medieval grain silos; inside, it is all delicate gothic tracery in
stone and wood, one of the finest late gothic buildings in France. Of
particular interest are the massive murals of the Last judgement, that
decorate the whole of the cathedral's western wall.
It is the only large gothic cathedral built out of
brick rather than stone - brick being the trditional building material
in the area of Albi as in nearby Toulouse
and much of the Tarn and Garonne plains.
Next to the cathedral stands the
similarly massive and fortified Bishop's
, part of which now
houses the magnificent
Toulouse Lautrec museum
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec - Salon rue des Moulins
Toulouse-Lautrec, 1864-1901, was the great post-impressionist
iconographer of Parisian life in the late nineteenth century; he was a
native of Albi, and the museum hosts the largest collection of his
work, along with a representative collection of late 19th century
Beside the west end of the
cathedral, a pedestrian piazza takes you to a vantage point overlooking
the river Tarn below, and the old bishop's gardens. Upstream from the
cathedral can be seen the
, a thousand years old, and still
in service today. The bridge can be reached on foot by taking a short
walk down the street in front of the entrance to the Toulouse Lautrec
The old city of Albi, with its narrow
pedestrian streets and historic buildings, is clustered round the
particular interest is the XIIth - XIIIth collegial church of
Saint Salvi, with its cloisters.
For visitors staying in or around Albi,
and wanting to discover the local area, three places stand out.
Just west of Albi, Gaillac
centre of a well known vineyard area - AOC Gaillac. As well as
vineyards that can be visited, and wine tasting (check local tourist
offices for details), the area aslo has some interesting fortified
villages, notably Puycelsi and Castelnau de Montmiral.
Northwest of Albi lies Cordes
incredible small town, perched on a hill above two valleys:
Cordes was built up in the XIVth and XVth centuries, and to this day
has conserved a remarkable collection of medieval town houses and
streets - one of the best in France. Saturday is market day. Click
for a free audio guide to Cordes.
Finally, on a completely different
just north of Albi, has an interesting mining museum. Carmaux was once
a coal-mining town; the last pits closed in the 1980s. In the mining
museum, visitors take a 350 metre underground tour in a reconstructed
coal mine. For those interested in industrial archaeology or
engineering, fifteen miles to the north of Carmaux, on the road to
another very attractive small city, is one of the finest
19th century railway viaducts in France, the Viaduc
carries the railway line from Albi to Rodez.
Until recently, Albi suffered from its
location which is rather aside from the main tourist routes in France:
but within the last ten years, the motorway link with Toulouse
completed, and the link via Rodez
to the A75 is being upgraded to
motorway standard. For now however, almost half the section
between the A75 and Albi is still single carriageway.
Access by rail:
Albi is on a branch line between Toulouse and Rodez. It can
be reached by train from Paris via TGV to Toulouse, then connecting to
a local train.
Access by air:
Toulouse Blagnac airport is a little over an hour from Albi.
Rodez airport is an hour to the north..