Albi is the chief city of the Le Tarn ‘department’ (translation = county), in South West France. A beautifully preserved medieval town, its renown is entrenched by its elevation to prestigious UNESCO world heritage status in 2010.
Most of my time in this city was trailing my mother and aunt in a whistle-stop tour of the city (we were anxious not to miss a sporting fixture). I would love to return and spend more time getting lost in the bustling streets, alleyways and secret gardens. My kind of place! My aunt was a fantastic guide – knowledgeable about the history of the city, and a great navigator. Although having previously lived in the city, possibly she had a slight advantage.
The cathedral at Albi dominates the city, and moreover the surrounding area; the bell tower is an impressive 78 meters tall. It is claimed to be the largest brick building in the world. The austere brick exterior creates a fortress-like impression, a deliberate symbolism, considering the purpose of the building. It was originally built in 1287 as a grand symbol of domination of the traditional Catholic Church following the Albigensian crusade. Initiated by Pope Innocent the III, the destructive crusade successfully submitted the ‘heretical’ cathars, an alternative religious sect that dominated the region and threatened the Catholic Church.
However, the interior of the cathedral contrasts greatly with an intricate decorations with paintings, engravings and statutes in every direction, and, of course for a Catholic church, a magnificent ceiling.
In its more recent history, the city boasts the famous resident of the artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. I admit, I hadn’t heard of him. Yet you may recognise his work:
Time constrained, we didn’t enter into the museum. Nonetheless, my aunt was informative about Toulouse-Lautrec’s’ story. A young aristocratic man, physically disabled, he had considerable talent as an artist and became part of the bohemian and artistic set in Montmartre, Paris.
Garden just next to the museum of Toulouse-Lautrec
Furthermore, my aunt recommended visiting the Fashion museum of Albi. Unfortunately it was closed when we popped around. Apparently the diminutive museum consists of a private collection that changes each year, with this year featuring a monochrome theme.
Another of my favourite places was the garden behind the chapel of the Saint-Salvi Church. It was planted with fruits and vegetables, and is designed to reflect a medieval garden:
The visit to the city was moreover enhanced by the parade of 15,000 bicyclists weaving throughout the centre; a wonderful spectacle. They were part of the “77th Federal International Week of Cycle Tourism” that takes place in the first week of August each year in various cities. This year, Albi was the host and, for the preceding days, these hardy cyclists (it was boiling, I barely moved – except to reach for a glass of rosé) had weaved and sweated through the surrounding countryside, including Monesties. This extravaganza was their farewell to the city, while proudly showing off their hometown – with traditional dress, food and other products – while waving and the occasional ‘au revoir’ to spectators. My personal favourite was the bicycle with skis attached:
More pictures from around town: