Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Albi back

We used Carcassonne (the lower city) as our base for visiting the region from Sunday to Wednesday, and on Thursday we headed north for a night in Albi. I had been obsessed with visiting Albi since I read about the city in the book about the Cathars. I had forgotten this, but when I mentioned Albi to my friend Liz, she rolled her eyes and said that when we drove past on the way to Toulouse, I treated the whole car to a lecture on the city. It's a wonder I have any friends at all. That was back in 2013, but clearly the ambition to visit the city hadn't died, and I made sure it was on our itinerary this time round.

It's not the biggest or most happening place, but it is really pretty, especially if you take a stroll on the river bank, enjoying the view of the cathedral and 11th-century stone bridge (which I think is the one in the background of the photos below).



I love the light in this one, the moody clouds did rain on us a bit, but made for dramatic photos




The main reason I had for visiting, though, was to see the cathedral. I think the photos above probably don't give a good idea of its scale. In a word, it's fricking massive. And really unusually shaped from the front, like some sort of strange titanic ship (but not the Titanic...) The Sainte Cécile cathedral, to give it its formal name, was built between the 13th and 15th centuries and claims to be the largest brick building in the world. The reason for the church's forbidding exterior is supposedly to symbolise the triumph of the church militant, commemorating its victory over the Cathars and reminding all who saw it of its might, both spiritual and earthly.




The bell-tower is 78 metres tall
What you wouldn't expect from the built-like-a-brick-you-know-what outside is the amazing interior. The austerity of the external architecture is completely forgotten when you step inside, with every surface covered in paintings, trompe-l'oeil decorations, carving and statues. Everything looks so dull and muted in photographs, but it was one of those breathtaking places where you hardly know where to look, so lovely is it in every direction.

Looking towards the rood screen, one of the few surviving examples in Europe that separated the areas reserved for those in orders and the rest of the congregation

The ceiling, which apparently represents the oldest and largest group of Italian Renaissance painting in France

The best impression I could capture of the painting which covered every surface

A close up of the beautiful stonework on the rood screen

Frescoes of the Last Judgement. To give an idea of scale, counting the doorway (which cut through the original fresco), the paintings here cover nearly 200 square metres
We also took an audio tour of the area behind the rood screen, which is full of amazing statues and carvings (it was too dim for these to really come out on photographs). I swear the audioguide went out of its way to be enormously boring, even for a huge nerd like me, but it's pretty. The treasury, upstairs, can be skipped, although I did find 20€ lying on the floor up there, so it lived up to its name.

We had a great dinner in the town, another cassoulet, but this time "à l'ancienne", made with pois carrés (square peas), which are mysterious little customers. As far as I can tell (Wikipedia came up with two options in French for pois carré), they may be known as grass peablue sweet peachickling vetchIndian peaIndian vetchwhite vetch in English, but since I haven't heard of any of those things, it doesn't help much. Frankly, the traditional lingot beans were nicer, but the pois carrés had a bit of a crunch and a nutty taste which was not unpleasant for a change.

8 comments:

  1. Love the punny titles :-)

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    1. Thanks! This one, I'm quite proud of. Not so much the next post's :)

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  2. What an amazing cathedral - can't believe the light-filled interior is even possible judging from the outside!

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    1. Not light-filled so much as colourful really

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  3. I’m not sure what I think of that cathedral’s exterior, but I would love to see the interior. Those paintings in your picture already look impressive, so I can only imagine how breathtaking they are when you’re standing looking up at them.

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    1. It was really great, I recommend it if you're ever around there. There is a Toulouse Saint-Lautrec museum in the town too, we didn't have time to see it.

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  4. The thing about those places is that you have to vetch what you are eating!

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    1. Only one person doing bad puns per blog please!

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