Here we are on the banks of the Tarn river in south-west France, in the old Episcopal (i.e. ruled by a bishop) city of Albi. This visit could so easily have been overlooked since Albi is described as small industrial town which it has been since woolen mills located along the river. Fortunately the ancient quarter is a superb blend of a medieval architectural and urban ensemble and other than the cars funneled through the surrounding area the best of the past has been carefully preserved. The Old Bridge (Pont-Vieux), the Saint-Salvi quarter and its church are virtually unchanged from their initial development (10th -11th centuries).
Following the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathar heretics (13th century) it became a powerful episcopal city. Built in a unique southern French Gothic style from local brick in characteristic red and orange colours, the lofty fortified Cathedral (late 13th century) dominates the city, demonstrating the power regained by the Roman Catholic clergy. Alongside the Cathedral is the vast bishop’s Palais de la Berbie, overlooking the river and surrounded by residential quarters that date back to the Middle Ages. According to the UNESCO description, “the Episcopal City of Albi forms a coherent and homogeneous ensemble of monuments and quarters that has remained largely unchanged over the centuries” and certainly this is what we were enthralled with today.