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PLACES TO VISIT
The Cathedral of Sainte Cécile
The Cathedral of Sainte Cécile, a masterpiece of the Southern Gothic style presents a startling contrast between its austere, defensive exterior and its sumptuous interior decoration. There are some huge brick buttresses which look like rockets, supporting the walls – bits of which form part of the city ramparts. When illuminated at night in the summer, the effect is quite striking.
The interior is no less dramatic. The frescoes of the vault, full of colour, are the work of Italian Renaissance painters (1509 – 1513). Under the organ is one of the largest frescoes in the world. It was painted in the 15th Century and depicts in graphic detail the Last Judgment (1474-84). It is all here in Glorious Technicolor (tempura technique) with the boiling in oil, beheading and sundry other torments. It originally covered more than 200m2. Because of late-17th Century vandalisation, the whole effect is somewhat ruined by an arched doorway in the part of the fresco where Christ should be, sitting in judgment.
There is also a rood screen which may not be the world’s biggest, but it has some wonderful stone carvings of Old Testament figures. It is decorated with a magnificent group of polychrome statuaries carved by artists from the Burgundian workshops of Cluny and comprising over 200 statues which have retained their original colours.
This gigantic brick structure was embellished over the centuries: the Dominique de Florence Doorway, the 78m high bell tower the Baldaquin over the entrance (1515 – 1540). The organ loft was built by Christophe Moucherel in the 18th century. Its extraordinary size (16.40m wide x 15.30m high) and its variety of decoration make it one of the finest in France.
Installed in a strong room dating back to the 13th century, the treasures can be visited (admission fee : €3 per adult) holds objects of religious art from the 14th to the 19th centuries and liturgical objects .
There is a programme of free concerts on Wednesdays and Sundays in July and August.
Since 2006, you can also hire an audio guide and choose the commentary language.
The Palais de la Berbie
The Palais de la Berbie is particularly interesting from the architectural point of view :
- an enormous keep, 50m high, flanked at the four corners by towers, three of which are solid throughout,
- walls 7 metres thick at the base,
Over the centuries, the Bishops transformed this stronghold into an elegant residence with a slate roof. They created vast reception rooms, terraces and French-style gardens masking the bulky appearance of the building, and added a Renaissance wing. Now it houses the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum with more than 1,000 paintings and drawings (including all 31 posters of the Montmartre nightclub) by the Albi-born artist, and is the most complete collection of his work left to the town by his mother. Born with a congenital bone disease into an aristocratic family, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec led a life of debauchery in the bars and brothels of late-19th-Century Paris. He sketched and painted what he saw: the less-salubrious side of life, which included such subjects as cancan dancers from the Moulin Rouge and prostitutes from Rue Pigalle. Also in the museum a special walking-stick brought to Toulouse-Lautrec by a friend who visited in the mental hospital where he had been sent by his family, to dry out. The walking stick was special in that it had been hollowed out and filled with alcohol and a miniature glass. There are also sculptures and paintings of Degas, Dufy, Matisse, Rodin which provide a pleasant contrast. Major refurbishment work on the museum was undertaken in 2002, enabling restoration of the Palais de la Berbie and revision of the presentation of the museum's collection. The 1st stage of the works, completed in autumn 2004, consists of a new visitor reception area and a new presentation format for the collection: his juvenilia, a room containing portraits and the world of the brothels, in rooms of the palace that were previously inaccessible to visitors.
Palais de la Berbie
Tel : 33 (0)5 63 49 48 70
Fax : 33 (0)5 63 49 48 88
Email : email@example.com
Price : Adult : 5 €, Children up to 13 : free
The Lapérouse Museum
Jean-François Galaup de Lapérouse is a famous explorer born into a noble family from Albi. He was born in 1741, at the Manoir du Gô. After studying at the Jesuit college, later the Lapérouse School, he became a Marine Guard in Brest at the age of 15, and sailed and fought around the French coast, then spent five years in the Mauritius before taking part in the American War of Independence, in which he distinguished himself. He was made ship's captain at the age of 36.
Louis XVI valued his human qualities and his seafaring abilities. He entrusted him with the great expedition of his reign with the two ships La Boussole and L'Astrolabe. 225 men, sailors, scholars and artists, set out from Brest in 1785, sailed along the Alaskan coast, past California, China, Russia and Australia… and were finally shipwrecked in Vanikoro (Solomon Islands) in the Pacific in 1788.
The shipwreck is surrounded in mystery.
A museum in honour of his exploits has displays on :
- The end of the 18th century, the Age of Enlightenment,
- The itinerary he followed
- The research done to find traces of the shipwreck on the island of Vanikoro.
- On display: models, articles found in the area of the shipwreck, items relating to Lapérouse himself, and to the life and times of the period…
Square Botany Bay
Tel : 33 (0) 5 63 46 01 87
Maison du Viel Alby
It is one of the oldest dwelling-houses in the city. In the 1970’s, this building was to be destroyed but it was saved and restored in 1970 to its former glory. This old Albi house is typical of the mediaeval period and uses both brick and timber-frame construction techniques.
Its main features are:
The open attic storey, or « Soleilhou » used for drying pastel, and other produce such as grains,
The corbelled upper floor , where the living quarters were, projecting out over the street to make more room space.
All year round, this house is host to exhibitions on the architectural heritage of the area and there is a slide-show featuring Albi and Cordes. The Maison du Vieil Alby is the local headquarter of the Association de Sauvegarde du Patrimoine (Heritage Conservation Society), which instigated its restoration.
Just outside this museum, there is a shop where you can buy pastel and all the by-products.
Maison du Vieil Alby
1 rue de la Croix Blanche
Tel : 33 (0) 5 63 54 96 38
Unfortunaly the Waxwork Museum (Musée de Cire) is now closed.
THINGS TO DO
In the Centre :
Have a walk along the River Tarn : The Palais de Berbie is surrounded by terraces and the gardens overlooking the River Tarn which were first planted by the 1st Bishop of Albi at the end of the 17th century and have been recently beautifully restored. A rose and wild-vine arbour punctuated by the statues of Dionysius and the four seasons gives a splendid bird’s eye view of the lovely sunken garden below.
Admire the Old Bridge (Pont-Vieux) : Originally built in stone, then clad with brick, it rests on 8 arches and is 151m long . Constructed in 1035 , it opened Albi up to the outside world, and imposed itself as the obvious Tarn river crossing not only for local people but also those travelling between Le Puy and Toulouse, or Italy and Spain. In the 14th century, it was fortified, reinforced with a drawbridge and houses were built on the piers. Until the end of the 18th century, commercial river traffic flourished along the Tarn , carrying wine from Gaillac, hemp from Canavière, pastel, saffron, glass from Grésigne and pottery from Montans. This helped to make the city wealthy.
Have a rest in the Cloister garden: One of the favourite spots in Albi is the Cloister of the Church St Salvy. It is hidden in a maze of little passageways. It is well worth searching for it as it offers a haven of peace and tranquillity. Carved capitals exemplify the Romanesque and Gothic styles.
Contemplate the Renaissance town houses in the Viel Alby : The Hôtel Reynès, Hôtel de Gorsse, Hôtel de Rivière and Maison Enjalbert are all fine town houses built during the period of prosperity that Albi enjoyed in the 15th and 16th centuries. Merchants and townspeople grew rich in the pastel trade. pastel was a blue plant dye extracted from woad). Round or square towers, Italian – style loggias, mullioned windows, interior courtyards are all lovely features can often be hidden by plain brick walls and elegant doorways.
Admire the Medieval House in the Rue de Grande-Côte and the Rue d’Engueysse, which are tucked away old medieval shopping streets, on the way to the Pont Vieux, with corbelled timber-framed houses.
Have a cruise on the River Tarn on a gabarre (flat bottomed boat on which the Gaillac wine used to be taken to Bordeaux from the middle-ages) from May to end of September.
Try one of the Heritage trails and tours : Guided tours are offered to groups and individuals who would like to learn about the old town. You can also pick up English leaflets from the Albi tourist office by the Cathedral about the 3 cultural heritage circuits. These three heritage trails wind their way through the historic centre, with information panels along the route to enrich the experience:
- the Purple Circuit : a 90 minutes circuit to get to know the heart of Old Alby- its historic figures and buildings, its monuments – all witness to Albi’s glorious past.
- the Gold Circuit : a 90 minutes circuit to discover the different stages of Albi’s development through its beautifully restored old town centre and its 20 centuries of history.
- the Azure Circuit : a 60-minute circuit taking you on a gentle stroll along the banks of the Tarn, and over the Pont-Vieux and Pont-Neuf, with superb views over Albi.
To complement these city walks, there is also:
- l’Echappée Verte consisting of 3km of paths within the city limits beside the River Tarn. (detailed brochure available from the Tourist Office).
On the Outskirts:
Espace Nautique Atlantis : In the summer the children will appreciate the outdoor and indoor swimming pools with slides Adults can exercise in the gym or relax in the spa. For more information, opening times and price list, consult the French website : http://www.grand-albigeois.fr/1-6177-...
SHOPPING & MARKETS
The city centre has escaped the ravages of the Hundred Year’s war and is still much as it was in the middle Ages. It is a warren of narrow cobbled streets and alleyways lined with gabled houses and half-timbered shops with ancient signs outside, like the pharmacy on Rue Timbal. The city had a face-lift thanks to a major urban renovation programme.
On Saturdays morning:
The whole place comes alive on Saturday morning. There is a flea market (les puces) and a pet market under the Halle Castelviel (west of Albi). In the city centre, there is a lot of activity. There is also a farmer’s market where you can find chickens, ducks, rabbits, goose livers, honey and any other produces from the surrounding area on Place Lapérousse. There is also a general market on Place Fernand Pelloutier and Boulevard de Strasbourg.On Rue Mariès, there is a creative arts and second-hand book market all day Saturday.