Albi and Cordes sur Ciel: France’s favourite medieval villages!
During my stay in Toulouse, of which you can find the article here in the “Travel” section of the blog, I was able to explore its interesting surroundings in the Midi-Pyrénéés region, surroundings rich in art and history as well as enchanting natural landscapes, which I will tell you more about in this and in the next article.
Heading north from Toulouse, you will find one of the most famous medieval villages, which we’ve all studied at school, known for having written of one of the bloodiest pages in the history of medieval Europe: Albi.
Founded by the Roman Empire and overlooking the Tarn river, its original name was Albiga.
The Albigensians were part of the heretic movement of the Cathars, present throughout the region. In 1209 Pope Innocent III decided to wipe out the Cathar heresy, condemned by the Catholic Church, and King Philip II of France wanted to subdue the semi-independent county of Toulouse. Thus they began a terrible repression known as the Albigensian Crusade.
The victims were the innocent inhabitants of this ancient Languedoc region, who faced an army determined not to take prisoners.
In July 1209 the crusaders penetrated through the gates of the first major Cathar city, Beziers, slaughtering all the inhabitants. It was then the turn of Albi and all the other villages in the region.
The Cathars were totally exterminated and no trace remains of them, except for some procedural act.
With its pedestrial walks and its typical red tones, the historical center of Albi is a real gem and in 2010 it was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Albi is also the birthplace of the famous painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
The most spectacular monument is surely the Cathedral of Santa Cecilia, the largest brick construction in the world!
Built on a pre-existing cult building and commissioned by the bishop Bernard de Castanet, it was begun on 15 August 1282, when the echo of the struggles against the Albigensian heresy and of armed disputes with the counts of Toulouse was going off.
Mindful of the war vicissitudes that had torn those lands, Bernard de Castanet wanted the cathedral to also have the characteristics of a fortress.
78 meters high, in Gothic style, it is an imposing building that takes your breath away, and its interior is even more stunning, thanks to the painted vaults and the frescoes of the Last Judgment, on the inside that closes the nave.
Not far from Albi, just as characteristic is the village of Cordes sur Ciel, a delightful medieval citadel that climbs up a hill overlooking the whole plain below.
Typical gothic houses, artisan shops, walls and bell towers make this village an evocative picture of the life of many centuries ago, so much so that it was even elected the “favorite village of the French” according to France2!
All around is a fertile, undulating plain cultivated with vines and sunflowers, and the endless golden-yellow fields of these beautiful flowers remind us of Van Gogh’s paintings. I’d like to think that each of these sunflowers represents the soul of an ancient Cathar torn from his land, that will live forever through the amazement in our eyes.
Albi Tourism: www.albi-tourisme.fr
Cordes sur Ciel Tourism: www.cordessurciel.fr