Of the twenty-one new additions this year to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites, France has two – the city of Albi and a stunning, natural landscape on the island of Reunion. Albi is on the River Tarn in the south of France, about 85 kms to the northeast of Toulouse.
Like many significant towns and cities in France, and Europe for that matter, Albi has evidence for human occupation that extends back in to prehistory, in this case the Bronze Age. But archaeological evidence seems to suggest that there was only a modest Roman settlement here.
The Pont-Vieux, by Sebastien.b on Wikimedia Commons.
But, the reason for Albi’s UNESCO recognition is its medieval architecture. Today the Old Bridge (Pont-Vieux, above), the Saint-Salvi quarter and its church bear testimony to the early development of the city in the 10th and 11th centuries. The city then became a powerful Episcopal city in the 13th century after a crusade against the Cathar heretics. The fortified Cathedral built at this time dominates the city’s skyline, a sign of the power regained by the Roman Catholic clergy. The medieval cathedral and surrounding urban area were built in a Gothic style that is unique to this part of southern France, and from local brick with their red and orange colours.
Besides the internationally recognized Medieval heritage, Albi is also home to the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum. With over 1000 of the artists works, including 31 of his iconic posters, the museum has the largest public collection of Toulouse-Lautrec’s art in the World. The museum is in the Palais de la Berbie, older than the Palais des Papes in Avignon and once the Bishop’s Palace, this ‘palace’ is one of the oldest and best-preserved castles in France.
The Toulouse-Lautrec Museum by Samuel David Ogden on flikr.
The World Heritage site of Albi is the prefect destination for those holiday makers who greatly enjoy the unique mix of art and ancient architecture that Europe offers.