Albi, Toulouse-Lautrec and more!!

Let me tell you on a beautiful historical city of France. The area is well known to me for family and historical reasons I like, and the seat of the Cathars or Albigeois ,therefore, I am talking about the city of Albi. This one have other posts in my blog but it was the instroduction to it,therefore, will be in my black and white series, no pictures. Hope you enjoy it as I.

Albi  is in the department 81 Tarn region of Occitanie . It is a wonderful magnificent city small enough to walk all over after we always arrived by car. It is not far from the vineyards of famous Gaillac, with only about 50 minutes by car from Toulouse (in good traffic) , less than 3 hrs from the Pyrénées and less than 2 hrs from the Mediterranean sea ; the closest towns are Castres, Toulouse, Mazamet, Graulhet, Lavaur, Gaillac, Montauban, Rodez, and Béziers. And we have relatives such as cousins of my wife in Graulhet, Lavaur, and Gaillac…!!! The Tarn river passes thru town and it’s a tributary of the Garonne , Dordogne, and Lot rivers.

By road is always better, taking the superb autoroute A68 you can reach Albi from Toulouse as mentioned above in about 50 minutes. As it gets closer to Albi it becomes the N88 that continues into Rodez, Aveyron, and Lyon. The D612 is very nice reaching Castres then Carcassonne, and Mazamet. The D999 goes east towards Millau passing thru the regional natural park of the Grands Causses. The D600 takes you to Cordes sur Ciel then Saint-Antonin-Noble Val and finally Caussade. Albi is about 789 km from Paris ,390 km from Bordeaux, and 290 km from Girona, Spain. You have two train stations in Albi, the more regional Albi Ville and the TGV of Albi-Madeleine. The airports of Toulouse-Blagnac, Castres, and Rodez are an option.

The Cathedral of Sainte Cécile (built as a show of force vs the Cathars) , Palais de la Berbie, native town of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in which his museum is at the palais de la Berbie with the most important collection in the world of this post impressionist painter. The city that gave the name and principal place of the Cathars adepts who were called Albigeois in which their cult were brutally surpressed in the 13C by the Catholic Church known as the crusades of the Albigeois. The city of Albi has world heritage sites by Unesco such as the the area around the Cathedral Sainte Cécile, palais de la Berbie, and cloister, the banks of the tarn river and the old bridge or pont Vieux as well as other buildings on the French list of National Monuments. A very rich heritage indeed.

Now let me tell you a bit of history I like.

The city is here since antiquity, becoming Roman in 120 ; in 418 the Visigoths come into the town and then the Francs in 507 under king Chilperic 1er king of Neustrie and rapidly the Francs takes it back under king Clotaire II. It became a Episcopal city in the 13C; during the Renaissance the city becomes wealthy thanks to the pastel ( a fabric teinted woad dye) and many mansions are built such as the Maison Enjalbert, Hôtel Gorsse, and Hôtel de Reynés . In the French revolution all the properties of the clergy are sold and many became administrative buildings.  In 1474, Louis d’Amboise is name bishop of Albi, was before the ambassador of France to Rome and adviser of king Louis XI as well as lieutenant general of the province of Languedoc; he is of the origin of the installation here of Neumeister, a master printer from Mayence and collaborator of Gutenberg who opened a shop here only after those of Paris and Lyon.

In the 16C new troubles for the city and area with the arrival of Calvinism around 1540. By 1560 there was a huge procession of spies on the regent Catherine de Médicis after she name her cousin Laurent Strozzi to the Episcopal seat to defend the city against the protestants. The massacre of Saint Barthélemy of 1572 in Paris takes copy at Albi couple months later given rise to settlement of accounts in bloody upheavals. Albi sides with the League and in 1593 the League States were done in presence of Henri Duke de Joyeuse, the palais de la Berbie becomes a stronghold until 1598 at which time the League disappeared with the nomination of Henri IV as king of France.

The 17C there is an economic decline in the city due to the lost of the Pastel and upon the arrival of the French revolution the city is in diehard conditions. The following sale of the clergy properties such as the convent of Carmes becoming the current justice palace, and the convent of Cordeliers a prison, the palais de la Berbie becomes the administrative seat of the department until 1823. The clergy archives were totally burned in 1794 in the place du Vigan. During the WWII, the town is under the Vichy regime, collaborator of the Nazis, and open a foreigner assembly center or another name for concentration camp. A bit before the liberation of the town, The nazis tried to regain a bridge and are confronted by the foreigners many of them Polish and Spanish that fights them on the bridge or pont Neuf before leaving, a monument to the fallen is there now to remember their heroism. A bit outside of town by about 1-2 km,  on the road direction St Juéry there was a camp for Russian prisioners in October 1945.

The absolute must see in Albi are:

The Palais de la Berbie and its gardens one of the episcopal city built after the crusade against the Albigeois. It has a questions rooms and a prison. The name of Berbie comes from the Occitan language meaning bishop. In the 13C the bishop Bernard de Castanet an important person in the construction of the complex had built a donjon tower of 50 meters four towers and walls all around the palace with courts and exterior ramparts until the Tarn river.. This is the origin of the fortress that was change over the centuries in residence ,by 1905 the palace is property of the Department and mayor puts the museum of Albi. Later it becomes after the death of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in 1922 the museum on his honor with donations of his work from his mother. Now,also, the tourist office.

The Sainte Cécile Cathedral is built between the 13C and the 16C by the bishops of Albi who were the lords of the city after the crusade against the Albigeois (Cathars). It is of meridional gothic with bricks and inside has the biggest concentration of Italian paintings in France. The Cathedral is 114 meters long by 35 meters wide and 40 meters high; the bell tower are at 78 meters. The entrance on the side of the nave and not by the gate of entrance under the clock tower for lack of space. The Cathedral was restored in the 19C and by 1948 it was raise to Basilica. The square around the Cathedral of the same name has been renovated into a pedestrian way ,and very nice with restos all around even back of the Cathedral.

There is another Church this one Collegiale Saint Salvi, the oldest in the city carrying the name of the first bishop of Albi in the 6C The complex is in stone and brick with an architecture renovated in the 11C to 18C. It has a cloister from the 12C mixing roman and gothic styles. The Church is surrounded by beautiful mansions that were once the residences of the canons. The bell tower has a Roman base dating from the 11C and the first floor (2nd US) is gothic. The upper level of the tower is crowned in brick with a look out in Florentine style.

The old bridge or Pont Vieux crossing the Tarn river built since 1035 and still there. There is another new bridge or Pont Neuf done in 1868. The before mentioned Hôtel Reynés is a renaissance style mansion of 1520 it has a courtyard in brick and stone bordered by loggias and sculptures of king François Ier and his wife Eléonore of Austria, today is the seat of the Chamber of commerce and industry. The neighborhood of Vieil Alby is where the Castle of Castelnau. With many streets with wooden houses and decorations such as the renaissance period, such as the house or Maison du Vieil Alby located at the angle of rue Puec-Béringuer and rue Croix-Blanche, the most visited house in Albi as it is an exposition center on the childhood days of Toulouse-Lautrec. The pharmacy of the Pénitents or Maison Enjalbert another renaissance house dating from the 16C it has a scuplture in wood representing a phalic personage. See the old Roman baths near the Cathedral by the Tarn river now serving as water aqueduct for the city!

The city of Albi has another nice museum this is the Musée Lapérouse with the collection of the explorer Jean-François de Galaup count of Lapérouse of the 18C given us a view of the known world before Lapérouse to the navigator Cook and after Lapérouse. There is a nice municipal theatre done in 1893.

Some webpages to help you plan your trip to this magnificent wonderful city of the Tarn dept 81, and Occitanie, and my belle France! Hope you enjoy the post on Albi as I.

The city of Albi on its heritage:

The Albi tourist office:

The Tarn dept 81 tourist office on Albi:

The Occitanie region tourist board on Albi:

And remember, happy travels, good health, and many cheers to all!!!

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