France - Albi, Carcassonne and Dordogne


LINKS to other pages in the Albi, Carcassonne and Dordogne website and the Colin Day Travelling Days series:

1 : Home Page
2 : Introduction (Hotels etc.)
3 : Albi
4 : Najac
5 : Cordes Sur Ciel
6 : Bruniquel
7 : St Antonin Noble Val
8 : Gaillac Vineyard
9 : Castres
10 : Carcassonne
11 : St Cirq Lapopie
12 : Rocamadour
13 : Sarlat
14 : La Roque Gageac
15 : Cahors
16 : Guest Book:
Albititle3.jpg - 89005 Bytes

The title picture (left) and the picture below shows the Saint Salvi cloister. Originally built in 1080, rebuilt in 1270 by Vidal de Malvezi it was largely destroyed during the Revolution and only the south gallery remains.

ALBI is the main town in the department of Tarn which is situated in the upper Languedoc region on the main Toulouse to Rodez road. Much of older part of Albi is built with red brick hence the name 'Albi le rouge'.

In the foothills on the French side of the Pyrenees, the earth has a rich red colour. After heavy rains this red earth washes into streams, and flows into the river Tarn from which, in the past, the red sediment was taken and made into bricks.

Albi12.jpg - 65397 Bytes

The Tarn river is navigable to a several kilometres upstream from the town site. The Rutens and Celts found the site eminently suitable for a settlement. Nearby land was settled by the Romans around 100 BCE and a port established during Roman occupation.
Albi became a trading town where wines, textiles and metals were exchanged for other goods imported into the area. A bridge was constructed over the river around 1040 (known today as Pont Vieux) which helped to link the three separate communities that by then had developed in the area, and the stage was set for a rapid expansion of the region as a commercial centre. Over the next 150 years or so Albi became the seat of various power struggles between the local bishops, the Counts of Toulouse and the local viscounts. During that period followers of the Cathar religion infiltrated the area and their belifs were taken up by the local people of all classes ranging from the nobles to artisans.

The story of Albi continues, using edited material taken from the Languedoc-France website ( and from other sources for which due acknowledgement is given:

"In the 12th-century, Albi was the first town to offer refuge to the Cathars who later became known as Albingensians. The extermination of the Cathar "heretics" forms a dark and sinister period in French history. The Cathars were a religious group who appeared in Europe in the eleventh century, their origins something of a mystery. Records from the Roman Church mention them under various names and in various places, occasionaly throwing light on basic beliefs.

"The Roman Church debated with itself whether they were Christian heretics or whether they were not Christians at all. In the Languedoc, famous at the time for its high culture, tolerance and liberalism, Catharism took root and gained more and more adherents during the twelfth century. By the early thirteenth century it was probably the majority religion in the area, supported by the nobility as well as the common people. This was too much for the Roman Church, some of whose own priests had become Cathars. Worst of all, Cathars of the Languedoc refused to pay their tithes.

"The Pope, Innocent III, called a formal crusade, appointing a series of leaders to head his holy army. There followed over forty years of war against the indigenous population. During this period some 500,000 Languedoc men women and children were massacred; the Counts of Toulouse and their vassels were dispossessed and humiliated, and their lands annexed to France. In Béziers alone, 20,000 followers of Catharism were slaughtered. Educated and tolerant Languedoc rulers were replaced by relative barbarians; the Dominican Order was founded and the Inquisition was established to wipe out the last vestiges of resistance; persecutions of Languedoc Jews and other minorities were initiated; the high culture of the Troubadours was lost; lay learning was discouraged; tithes were enforced; the Languedoc started its economic decline, and the language of the area, Occitan, started its descent from one of the foremost languages in Europe to a regional dialect. This so-called Albigensian Crusade lasted more than 30 years. Ultimately, the rich southern lords who were Cathar sympathizers were defeated and their lands taken from them. The crusade spawned the Inquisition, devised to find and denounce the last, secret Cathar worshippers.

"At the end of the extirpation of the Cathars, the Church had convincing proof that a sustained campaign of genocide can work. It also had the precedent of an internal Crusade within Christendom, and the machinery of the first modern police state. This crusade was one of the greatest disasters ever to befall Europe. Catharism is often said to have been completely eradicated by the end of the fourteenth century. Yet there are more than a few vestiges even today, apart from the enduring memory of their martydom and the ruins of the famous "Cathar castles". There are even cathars alive today, or at least people claiming to be modern Cathars."

At the height of its importance in the mid 15th to 16th-centuries many Renaissance buildings were constructed. The export industry created from textile production and through the cultivation of the woad/pastel plant (Isatis tinctoria), crushed to produce a vibrant blue coloured dye, brought great prosperity to the region.

The religious wars (1560-98) led to a downturn in the area's prosperity The production of indigo elsewhere also created less demand for woad. Restoration works were started in the 17th and 18th centuriesand streets were widened and the ramparts demolished. During the 1789 revolution Albi was pillaged and buildings were severely damaged. The cathedral was used for storage of hay!

In more recent times Albi has regained its prosperity through tourism, mining, and iron and steel industries. Local personalities include Rear Admiral Pascal de Rochegude (1741 to 1834) captain of the King's Vessels, The explorer Jean-Francois de Galaup, Count of Laparouse (1741-1788) and Georges Pompidou (1911-1973) President of the French Republic.

Albi was also the home of Toulouse-Lautrec, born there in 1864. The artist depicted the "Belle Epoque" of cabaret and Paris life. He died in 1901.The Musee Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec houses famous canvases (donated to the museum by his mother in 1922) by the artist himself and other works by Matisse, Utrillo, Dufy and Yves Brayer.

Albi13.jpg - 71376 Bytes

A reconstructed part of the north gallery, attached to the church of St Salvi, contains the tomb (1273) of the Malzevi brothers.   (Left and Below)

Albi9.jpg - 89103 Bytes

Albi11.jpg - 70839 Bytes
Albi14.jpg - 70980 Bytes

The turret of St Salvi church with its 14th century lookout turret ('gachole') built to house the city watchman.  (Right)

Albi16.jpg - 77434 Bytes

The tower of the 16th century Reynes residence in the old town.  (Left)

buttongo.jpg - 7212 Bytes
buttonnext.jpg - 5586 Bytes