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.
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.