Albi is a town located on the banks of the River Tarn about 45 minutes east of Toulouse. We stopped here for a night before joining up with our tour in Toulouse the next day. Don’t be fooled by the colourful photos. The Albi skyline is dominated by the cathedral – the largest brick built structure in Europe. Built in the 12th century it was created in direct response to the Cathar heresy by the Vatican to show that they – not the people – wield ultimate power.
There was nothing about this town that we particularly enjoyed except for our charming B&B which was located away from the town centre. We all felt out of sorts during the afternoon while visiting the Cathedral and Toulouse-Lautrec Museum. The famous Albi blue colour sold as scarves and table linen in town is muted and grey as if to show the depressive state of the place. The town centre felt devoid of colour. It was as if every bit of colour had been sucked from the town and put on the seemingly vibrant ceiling of the cathedral as if to say that the church is all-powerful and there is none else. Even the church tower looks like people are being given the middle finger.
Supposedly the shining glory of the cathedral is the altar painting – a grotesque painting of the Last Judgement. I felt sick. Starving for feminine imagery we looked in just about every nook and cranny of the church interior for some sort of sign – there was little. On the building map we spotted a chapel dedicated to Martha and Lazarus…but were told that it was off-limits and not open to the public…another sign of a lack of progress.
Walking to the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum next door, Matt was about ready to go to sleep. I’ve never seen him walking in such a groggy, seemingly drunk state. It was as if all energy had been zapped from him. He was about ready to go to sleep on one of the big red sofas in the museum. We were all tired, ansy and ready to flop.
It was only after we had shared our disappointing experience with a couple of friends that we were told the cathedral was built on the site of a Cathar prison and torture chamber where hundreds – maybe thousands – were tortured for their way of life. No wonder we felt depressed and out of sorts.
Fortunately equilibrium was restored once we reached our charming B&B on the outskirts of town. Only recently opened, Maison Julia was a beautiful, tranquil sanctuary for the night and highly recommended…breakfast was fabulous!