The exceptional heritage of Albi was recognised by UNESCO in 2010, with the inclusion of its Episcopal City as a World Heritage Site. First of all, for its historical value, but also for its authenticity and its remarkable architectural unity.
Seen from the right bank of the Tarn River, the Episcopal City of Albi appears to be an ornate mass, both harmonious and powerful. With the Cathedral of Saint Cecilia as its highlight, it dominates the city in this red-gold glow of its unique building material: the so-called Toulouse brick, which gives it an extraordinary visual consistency.
It was built in the 13th century around the cathedral and its bishops’ residence, the Berbie Palace. Their architecture, worthy of the greatest fortresses, signified the power of the Church, which emerged victorious from the long crusade against the Cathars.
It forms an urban complex of 20 hectares, a medieval layout including the Church of Saint Salvi and its cloister (11th-13th century), the Old Bridge (11th century) as well as the banks of the Tarn River. Around the Episcopal City, a protection zone radiates over 64 hectares.
The Albi - Tarn Valley complex has been classified among the Great Sites of Occitania.
The bishops of Albi secured the ultimate honour as the Cathedral of Saint Cecilia is the largest brick cathedral in the world. Its walls form a massive envelope. From a base that is 2.5 m thick, they rise to 40 m in height. Measuring 114 m long, the building is surmounted by the unusually tall, slender bell tower-keep, culminating at 78 m., or 10 m higher than the towers of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris.
Inside, this southern Gothic masterpiece displays treasures of refinement with, in particular, a painted decoration covering a total of almost 2 hectares. A down-to-earth figure that in no way erases the very strong spiritual dimension of the Albi Cathedral.
Did you know?
Since Antiquity, brick has established itself as the main building material in the Toulouse region, due to its clay resources. Resulting from know-how brought by the Romans, Toulouse bricks are wide and flat, their colour varying from orange to powder pink. These dimensions have faithfully adhered to those of bricks of Italian origin. The Tuscany charm of Toulouse, Albi and Montauban comes from them.
Adjoining the Cathedral of Saint Cecila, the Berbie Palace looks like a citadel. Its construction began in 1228. Until the 1300s, the Palace had been transformed into a real castle with a keep, towers and walls. From the 17th century, its fortifications were opened on the Tarn side and the palace was embellished with a beautiful French garden on the balcony overlooking the river.
Berbie Palace owes its fame to the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, housed within its walls since 1922. It maintains the largest collection in the world of the works of the painter born in Albi. In the 2000s, the museum underwent several phases of extension and renovation.
The Cathedral of Saint Cecila is home to an exceptional decor: the largest Last Judgement of the Middle Ages (1485-1500), painted in tempera by Franco-Flemish artists.
In addition, the large painted scenes of vaults, on a gold and azure background, constitute the largest and oldest collection of Italian paintings produced in France at the start of the Renaissance (1509-1513).