Wednesday, 9 June 2010

An afternoon in Albi

It should have  been a good deal longer than the afternoon, but we chose the same day to travel to Albi as the lorry carrying paper for recycling, the one that caught fire and melted the carriageway of the autoroute we had hoped to use.  The cross country route ate up most of our time.

Albi is in the department of the Tarn, in what used to be the Quercy region of France.  It looks very different from many French cities, being built with Languedoc red brick.  Montauban is similar, though not as attractive, and I believe Toulouse is too.

The town grew around the rather forbidding looking cathedral, built between 1282 and 1480 on the site of earlier religious buildings.  It is the largest buildng made of brick  in the world and was designed to make a statement after the Cathar or Albigensian Crusade.

The wonderful porch and entrance does lead you understand that the interior is going to be completely different from the austere exterior.

Even though I visit so many cathedrals, I am still surprised that they are all so different.  Albi is no exception.  Sadly, but understandably, in order to preserve the beautiful decorations they keep the lighting subdued and don't allow flash photography.  As result my photos are very limited.

After the cathedral, a short walk down to the river.  In fact you can see the cathedral's position in the town better from there, from the bridge, the Pont Vieux or old bridge.

The old bridge dates from 1040 and yet it's still in daily use.  At the time it allowed the far bank to be developed and trade expanded.  At one time, between the 14th and 18th centuries it had houses along its length and a toll gate at the centre.  These were demolished after the enormous flood of 1766 which is marked on one of the buildings beside the bridge.

In 1820 the original stone bridge was clad in brick and widened.  At the time The river Tarn carried a great deal of river trade and the old port bustled with activity.  The bridge remains one of the oldest bridges still in use in France.

The mills of Albi - there were once ten or so of these mills on the banks of the river.  They flourished from the 13th century, finally stopping in 1976.  They have now been refurbished and put to other uses, one was the hotel where we stayed the night.

Next to the cathedral is the bishop's palace, the Palais de la Berbie.  It was finished at the end of the 12th century making it even older than the Palais des Papes in Avignon.  Now it holds the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum which has the most complete collection of his work in the world. 

Nearby is the church of Saint Salvi even older than the Cathedral.  The building was started before the Cathar Crusade.  It is topped by a watchtower added in the 15th century and used by the city as a look out.  The city emblazoned its arms on the tower so the church had an effigy of St Salvi added in an equally prominent place.  Unfortunately the church hasn't been as well preserved as many of the other buildings.

By this time it was getting late and all we could do was admire from outside followed by a quick tour around the town.

Through beautiful streets where old buildings have been put to modern uses, via parks and green spaces enjoyed by all.

This post has been rather longer than intended, but it's a reflection on how much I enjoyed the place.  I found it relatively unspoilt and a pleasant mingling of the old buildings with modern city life.  There was no feeling of being in a museum.

Albi is in the process of being approved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  I do hope that it won't change the character of the city, even with the expected 30% increase in tourism.

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  1. A, great series of photographs. They present quite well in this format. It looks very different with the brick work. I like the bridge and the shot looking up the narrow street particularly.

  2. Amazing! (The pictures, not the recycling truck fire). But you know how I like stone bridges and narrow streets.

  3. Love love the cathedral! Gorgeous.


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