Wednesday, February 10, 2010

June 8, 2009 - Albi, France

Although the Romans conquered this area of Gaul (as it was then) in 51 BCE, it seems that they never really put down roots in Albi. After the demise of the Roman Empire, this entire region, nowadays part of France, enjoyed great independence from outside interference. By the 11th century Albi was very prosperous and, after opening the Pont Vieux connecting to the north bank of the river Tarn, enjoyed a further rapid spurt of trade.
During this time, the Cathars, who dominated the regions religion, had developed their own version of Christianity - a big Catholic No-No at the time - and, in 1208, the Pope and the French King ganged up to root out the infidels. The subsequent Draconian housecleaning gutted the region to the extent that left annexation by France the only viable way forward.

This period of upheaval
and repression left the local Bishops none to popular and, in their paranoia, they morphed their little housing complex into the massive fortified Palais de la Berbie and, when this was done, ordered the building of the massive cathedral of Sainte-C├ęcile in 1282. This colossus of a church was almost 200 years in the building and now sports the Dominique de Florence doorway sheltered by a fabulous Baldaquin and set off with a 260 feet high bell tower.
Today, the Palais de la Berbie is the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, housing more than 1000 of the artist's works, including the 31 famous posters, and is one of the oldest and best-preserved castles in France. Pont Vieux - the Old Bridge - with its 8 arches and 500 feet span, remains in daily use after almost 1000 years of service. See here for more pictures.

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