The Episcopal City of Albi was built around the original cathedral and episcopal group of buildings. Red brick and tiles are the main feature of most of the edifices.
Among the buildings of the town is the Sainte Cécile cathedral, a masterpiece of the Southern Gothic style, built between the 13th and 15th centuries. Built as a statement of the Christian faith after the upheavals of the Cathar heresy , this gigantic brick structure was embellished over the centuries.
The Palais de la Berbie, formerly the Bishops' Palace of Albi is one of the oldest and best-preserved castles in France. This imposing fortress was completed at the end of the 13th century.
The Old Bridge (Pont Vieux) is still in use today after almost a millennium of existence. Originally built in stone (in 1035), then clad with brick, it rests on 8 arches and is 151m long. In the 14th century, it was fortified, reinforced with a drawbridge and houses were built on the piers.
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Visit April 2013
I am the first on this website to "review" this WHS - pretty remarkable as it involves a midsize city in a popular tourist region of a West European country. Maybe it has been boycotted by the regular WH visitors because of its very doubtful admission to the List in 2010. The whole story about "Filling in the Gaps" seemed to have been forgotten, the AB ICOMOS was overruled, and here we are: another European town with medieval roots and a prominent Gothic cathedral.
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.
Albi is an attractive town that does not exactly rise to exceptional, but it is entirely worth a visit just for its cathedral. The huge church (it claims the title of the largest brick building in the world, but I believe that to be suspect) majestically towers above town. Inside, it is most incredibly painted every inch of its surface. Well-structured audioguide (€5 or €7, depending on whether you want to see the treasury or not) suggests that the frescoes never required restoration in centuries since they had been painted.
Next to the cathedral is the former Archbishop's palace, which houses an excellent museum of the favorite local son Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. If you are not into impressionist art, contend yourself with admiring the palace from the outside, since the interior retains only a couple of fragments of past grandeur. Walking around the palace to Jardins de la Berbie is a must: it is both colorful and offers excellent viewpoints over Tarn and the other side of the town. Walking over Pont Vieux to that side offers good views of the core part of Albi, crowned by the cathedral.
The core itself is pretty compact and fairly commercialized. Cloisters of St-Salvi is a quiet oasis, and some streets are impressive enough. The red-brick Languedoc-style architecture is unique to this part of the world, with occasionally exposed timber frames and painted shutters being practically the only adornments on the building façades; balconies are rare once you step away from main streets.
Minimal time allocation: The cathedral requires at least an hour, and covering the historic core, including the gardens, St-Salvi, and the bridge takes another two or so. If you, like me, cannot miss Toulouse-Lautrec, another hour and a half is the minimum required for the museum. Beyond the formal parts of WHS, there are a handful of minor museums in Albi that can stretch a visit to a full day.
Read more from Ilya Burlak here.
On the way back from Andorra via Toulouse, my friends and I decided to stop for a night in Albi to visit one of newest World Heritage of France. Before I planned to visit this city, I asked my friends who graduated from Toulouse and spent couples of year in that region, to my surprised none of them had been to Albi, so I initially thought Albi to be just a small normal French city that off the beaten track with few visitors. But when I approached Albi from highway, I was surprised that Albi is quite prosperous and has large young population and when I reached its historic quarter, even on weekday in March, I saw substantial amount of tourists around its gigantic cathedral.
The first place we visited was the famous Cathedral of Saint Cecilia, one of the largest brick building in the world. Its enormous size and unique design are already really impressive and can be seen from far away. Its interior is absolutely stunning and really contrast to its exterior. The cathedral’s nave size is very large together with side chapels making this cathedral to be very spacious. The decoration is really rich with impressive stunning wall painting of many colorful motif and its ceiling is amazingly golden blue. The quality of this Italian styled renaissance painting in Albi Cathedral is really a true masterpiece. Its choir and transept are also impressive. If this cathedral is located near Paris, it surly would be one of the landmark of France. Then I walk around the cathedral to see the equally lovely Bishop Palace of Barbie, its fortress shape is very eye catching. Later I looked around the old town. The area is very well preserved with interesting mix of red brick buildings and half-timber ones, something like a red brick version of Strasbourg’s Petit France. For the best view of the old city and cathedral, we walked to another side of the river and looked back. From that view we had a unanimous conclusion that Albi is a great place to visit.
I really pleased with Albi, its architecture is quite unique and I felt welcome that France chose Albi to represent this type of regional architecture that popular in Toulouse area. Its Cathedral alone is already made the visit very worthwhile, but its lovely old quarter made the trip more enjoyable. While France has many nice historic cities, I always wonder why only few cities have been push to be World Heritage Site by its own outstanding value. After visit Albi, Lyon and Strasbourg, I really appreciated what France offer to the UNESCO in term of OUV on historic cities.
Albi is mostly famous for its red brick cathedral, which is really quite impressive from every direction, and is interesting for the contrast between the lavish interior decorations (especially the famous fresco of the Last Judgement) and the plain, defensive-looking exterior (this, as well as the size, is probably related to the fact that the cathedral was meant to be a statement of the true Christian faith against the Cathar heretics who were strong in this area). It is said to be the largest brick building in the world. The Palais de la Berbie next to the cathedral has a nice courtyard, but is of course mostly famous for housing the museum for native son Toulouse-Lautrec, which I did not have time for, unfortunately. I did visit the St-Salvi Church, which is the oldest in the city and has a pretty garden, and walked down to the Tarn River and across the Pont Vieux, which was constructed in the 11th century and is still in use today, even by cars. Albi is a pretty city in general, and just a 1-hour train ride from Toulouse. I thought it was a nice excursion, but I'm not totally convinced about the WH value; maybe this is due to the relatively short time I had available.
'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.
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!
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