Home > France, Travel Stories > Albi, The Red City

Albi, The Red City

Our visit to the medieval town of Albi, about 40 miles from Toulouse, was a memorable one. Prior to my trip, I knew absolutely nothing of the town nor had I even ever heard its name. It had been recommended to us by our host, Ariane, who drove us there. Upon arrival in the city, I was pleasantly surprised to find such a delightful town. Its red bricked buildings shine brightly under the sun and reflect perfectly upon the Tarn River, giving rise to the nickname of la ville rouge. It has a charming historic city centre, which we barely explored due to our limited time, but would certainly reward a couple of days of amiable strolling.

This river town is famous for its towering cathedral and it was recognized as a Unesco World Heritage site in 2010. Everything of sightseeing is within a few blocks the towering cathedral. We walked over to St. Cecile Cathedral, enjoying its gorgeous and very massive exterior. The Cathedral looms over Albi and dominates the horizon.Flipping through a guide book, I came to learn that Albi was the administrative center for 465 churches. Back when tithes were essentially legally required taxes, everyone gave their 10 percent or dime to the church. The local bishop was filthy rich and with all dimes, he had money to build a dandy church. “In medieval times, there was no interest in making space so people could step back and get a perspective,” the author wrote. Hence, a large fortress-like Gothic cathedral was built.It is a dramatic reminder of the town’s violent religious past. The town was at the heart of the Albegensina heresy of the 12th and 13th centuries and the bloody crusade that crushed it.
I read that the ceiling, which was absolutely stunning with its deep blue and gold hues, has not been restored nor touched in 500 years; quite an amazing feat.


Aside from being absolutely huge, it was immensely colorful with nearly every square inch being painted with detailed color. The oldest art in the church (1474), this is also the biggest Last Judgment painting from the Middle Ages. The dead come of out the ground, then line up with a printed accounting of their good and bad deeds displayed in ledgers on their chests. Those on the left (God’s right) look confident and comfortable. Those on the right- the hedonists- look edgy.

The Berbie Palace and its gardens are one of the most visited sites in the city. They occupy the ancient bishop’s garrison and follow the style of des jardins à la française.

Near the cathedral stands the Toulouse-Lautrec museum housed in the Palais de la Berbie, a fortress with medieval architecture which was renovated between 2001 and 2012. Some of the most famous Toulouse-Lautrec’s art includes the posters with the cancan dancers from the Moulin Rouge and the ‘Chat Noir’ (Black cat). Albi is Toulouse-Lautrec’s native city and the place where he grew up.

Our trip to Albi was just a short one, and not nearly long enough to absorb this amazing interior. Another one to add to the Wonder list, I reckoned.

  1. September 8, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    I am impressed with your write up about these nice place. However, what the use of reading for a poor Ethiopian, whose life is measured if he/she are going to eat on a given day. I suggest, spend your time visiting Ethiopia and writing about Ethiopia or to that matter any African country. To tell you the truth, as the deceased PM stated what is good for Gurage the history of Axum. With that though, why are you wasting your time and others writing about a France, which does not have any connection.

    • September 9, 2013 at 8:30 am

      Thanks for stopping by. This blog is about anything and everything to do with life in Addis Ababa in particular and Ethiopia in general (starting from May 2006). But now I happen to be travelling to Europe (a month and week in France and in the next two weeks to Italy and Holland and another week to Paris). I am chronicling about my travel because these are places that I am visiting for the first time and I am excited about my discoveries. I will be returning to issues related to Ethiopia when I go back home after a month. So if you are not interested to read about those stories, I could only say I am sorry but I can’t help it. There is also a point that you made in your comment that I don’t agree with. Those “poor Ethiopian, whose life is measured if he/she are going to eat on a given day” don’t even have computers and are not literate to read something written in foreign languages. But at the same time, not every Ethiopians are clueless to foreign travels.

    • Miitku
      September 14, 2013 at 4:35 pm

      Abdi, Make sure you eat your only meal for the day; or else you will be facing the same fate as the deceased PM. Unfortunately, Gurage and Axum do have much too much in common. I suspect you are sending this note from a cave via the winds? All the same I welcome you to a globalized world where both information and people travel at electronic speed.

      Arefe: keep sending your observations our way and try also to relate them on returning to the Ethiopian quest for freedom from fear.

      • kitcho
        September 15, 2013 at 2:48 pm

        Mitku, like you I can afford to eat my meal everyday. Naturally, you must be sending this note from one of your posh underground cave, while you are day dreaming and living in your dream world of imagining that Ethiopia is just like that of the pictures that you see, when this dude is printing them.

      • shiferaw
        September 15, 2013 at 8:16 pm

        It is funny. Some people try to dictate what others should say, write and think. They want to reduce others in to their insular way of looking at the world. Mitiku, may be you are an naive and deluded person, but do you know that is very disgusting to do so? Please don’t tell others what they should say, write, focus on. Just listen to what say and tell them if you agree or not.

  2. Demirew
    September 8, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    For a long Time we Ignore other civilizations for that we become the ignored one, we need to know about the rest of the world. I applaud Addis Blog for a wonderful contribution for the followers of your blog.

  3. Abay
    September 16, 2013 at 12:05 am

    Shif, I read your response and then Miitku’s comments. Could it be you are responding to Abdi? If not, you’re making up your own. You also complain about others dictating what they should say, write and think. What do you think you are doing?

  4. Lemlem B
    September 16, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    Abdi came up with a miserable comment followed by kitcho and shiferaw. And now we’ve been distracted from enjoying the blogger’s posts and pics. Instead we are inundated with words like ‘deluded’ ‘disgusting’ insular’ and thoughts about poverty, ethnic division, death, etc. What commenters forget is that this is one man’s [Arefe’s] blog for those interested in such things. Incidentally, disrupting and bullying seems to be a sickness many Ethiopians suffer from.

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