Albi lies just under an hour north of Toulouse, and on the way to another fairly recent French WHS - the Causses and Cevennes. I visited it on a glorious Sunday, and certainly wasn't the only tourist around. The main area of interest is the cathedral and the adjacent bishop's palace. And I have to say: these both are perfect harmonious structures, with curves featuring prominently in their architecture. And of course both are made out of the local red brick, which seems to have been the main reason why it has been allowed to be a WHS. It has even be compared to the Minaret of Jam!
The designated area also includes four historic quarters with some timber-framed buildings. And there's an old bridge. The core zone is not that large. I found it a bit similar to Strasbourg, though smaller. The best surprise I got from the cathedral's interior - behind the austere walls there's a wonderful blue glow in the exuberant gothic interior. I so wanted to be critical of Albi, but it really is worth a short detour.
Hubert Scharnagl (Austria):
'Well, just another Gothic cathedral on the list', I thought when we added Albi to our itinerary for June 2013. But when I had a first look into the nomination documents and saw the photos of the interior of the cathedral, I realized that it might be more interesting than it appeared at first sight. And indeed, Albi turned out to be a rewarding detour. The opulent interior decoration of the cathedral is amazing: the rood-screen of limestone with plenty of statues, the carved choir and the frescoes in the nave. The entire length of the ceiling (about 100 metres) is covered with paintings in deep blue as main colour. I can not remember a cathedral, where I gazed longer and more intensively at the ceiling as in Albi. But the highlight was the large painting of the Last Judgement (photo shows a detail). The garish depiction of Heaven, Perdition, and Hell must have been awe-inspiring for the worshippers.
The tall and largely undecorated outer walls look more like a fortress than a cathedral and – like almost every other building in the old city – are built of red brick. Actually, the WHS is named "Episcopal CIty of Albi" and comprises also the Palais de la Berbie, some quarters of the medieval city, and the Pont-Vieux. The panorama of the entire WHS can best be admired from the opposite bank of the Tarn. The inclusion of the former bishop's palace seems reasonable, as it forms a harmonious complex with the cathedral. But the surrounding medieval quarters are similar to other historic towns. Nevertheless, we enjoyed to stroll through the narrow streets with half-timbered houses. In the evening there were only a few tourists and some locals, a pleasant change from the crowded Carcassonne that we had visited two days before.
Today, the Palace de la Berbie houses the Toulouse-Lautrec museum. I would recommend a visit only if one is interested in the work of this artist, the interior is adapted to the use as a museum and there is not much that is reminiscent of the former use.
Yes, Albi is just another example of an already well-represented category on the World Heritage List. But if Albi was the last Gothic cathedral that got an inscription, the list has a worthy end.
Date posted: April 2014 Clyde (Malta):
I visited this WHS in February 2014. I would definitely recommend anyone a visit and if you have the time it wouldn't be a bad idea to spend the night there. The main highlight of the city is the huge and peculiar red brick cathedral that is visible from almost every part of town. The exterior resembles that of a castle or a fort and it is said to be the largest building in the world that is almost entirely made out of bricks. However the real treat is the interior of the cathedral. The WHS list includes far too many cathedrals and churches and is especially true in France! However, the interior of this church alone to me is definitely worth the inscription. The adjacent episcopal ensemble is now an excellent museum also worth visiting. The timber houses in the city centre and the enormous bridges on the Tarn River did remind me of Strasbourg too but on a much smaller scale. There is a small cloister right in the middle of Albi with a quiet courtyard where you can sit down and relax. A few steps away then, there is an exquisite tea shop called Au Moulin A Cafe which I highly recommend. They serve an excellent lunch menu with local products and home-made goodies that are worth the trip alone (at a reasonable price too!). For those who love tasting wine, do try the Gaillac red wine! A useful tip for anyone visiting by car: once you arrive near the cathedral parking, don't let the high gradient put you off; do drive downhill beneath the bridge, as parking there is free of charge! Don't worry, you have sweat your way back uphill ... there are a few steps that lead to the rear of the cathedral in no time!
Date posted: February 2014
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