Colourful, gastronomic and a bustling farmers' market town, Albi boasts a relaxed way of life some think Italian. This town, now city, houses two world-known attractions; the Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile, and the Muséee Toulouse-Lautrec, definitely to be seen!
Clad in orange-coloured bricks and russet tiles, Albi has a captivating Tuscan style, a love for art and a very elegant way of life.
The old town centre, spreading around the Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile, deserves full attention. This very lively centre is at the heart of the bustling activity prevailing a city counting 50.000 inhabitants. With its heritage from the Middle Ages, it`s a vast and delightful labyrinth waiting to be explored. Its narrow streets are lined with timber-framed houses, exquisite shops, beautiful private hotels —now houses— built during the Renaissance period among Albi's rich heritage.
A site which is naturally easy to defend ,a river and a source of life, were the determining factors behind the first human settlement in Albi in the Bronze Age. After the Roman conquest of Gaul in 51 BC, the town became "Civitas Albigensium", the territory of the Albigeois. From the earliest Christian times, Albi was the seat of a bishop and the first bishop was Saint-Clair. His diocese had the same boundaries as the "Civitas Albigensium". The collegiate church and the cloister, which bears his name, are evidence of the deep respect in which he was held by the people.
About 1040, the city of Albi
went through a new period of expansion with the construction of the Pont-Vieux
(bridge). New quarters were built, indicative of considerable urban growth. Albi
was made famous by the Cathar heresy. Thirteenth-century Albi
was a cathar stronghold and its natives rebelled against the Catholic Church and had a great influence in the Languedoc
, believing Christ was an angel with a phantom body, who neither suffered nor rose again and whose teaching was his only redemptive work. They rejected the sacraments, believed all matter was evil and condemned marriage and the use of animal products. The Pope’s answer was to launch the Albigensian Crusade, to which there was little or no resistance, and the offending Albigeois
were burnt at the stake. This explains Albi
’s most prominent landmark the fortress-like the Cathedrale Sainte-Cécile
, also known as “God’s aircraft-carrier”. The building was begun in 1282, shortly after the Albigensian Crusade, and it was the Pope’s "billet doux
" to the people of Albi
, telling them that he would not stand anymore of their nonsense, and symbolizing the strength of the Catholic Church. Another example of the Pope making a point about his power can be found in the Bishop’s Palace (or Palais de la Berbie
After being subjected to the disasters caused by the Hundred Years' War, incursions by pillaging mercenaries, and the black death, Albi experienced a Golden Age due to "le bleu de Cocagne'. From 1450 to 1560, Albi enjoyed a period of commercial prosperity largely due to "Isatis Tinctoria" commonly known as "pastel". The superb town houses of the Renaissance bear witness to the vast fortunes amassed by the pastel merchants. Albi was made rich by the trade in woad – the only blue dye available in the 15th and 16th centuries.
The banks of the River Tarn provided red clay in abundance for their manufacture. You can still see on some bricks and tiles the finger marks of the men who made them before drying them in wood-fired kilns. As time went on, monuments were clad with limestone or sandstone, which formed a solid base, or reinforced corners and embellished the façades.
The 20th century was marked by the setting up of the Verrerie Ouvrière (glassworks), the first workers' cooperative in France , through the impetus given by Jean Jaurès, the politician.
As the two world wars did not cause massive damage to the city, Albi has kept its rich architectural heritage which encapsulates the various brilliant periods of its history.
A great deal of improvement and restoration work has been done, to embellish the old quarters and to give them a new look, in which brick reigns supreme.