10 largest cities in France





Albi is a town in southwestern France, capital of the Tarn department in the Occitanie region and the seat of the archdiocese of Albi, Castres and Lavaur. With its 48,970 inhabitants in 2017 called the Albigenses, Albi, which is the main town of the urban community of Albigensia (84,551 inhabitants in 2017), positioned itself as the third municipality of the former Midi-region. Pyrenees, after Toulouse and Montauban in number of inhabitants. Albi was also the second economic city of the region in 2010. The suburb extends towards Arthès, Saint-Juéry, Le Sequestre and the other communes of the Albigensian agglomeration and its urban area regroups 100,832 inhabitants in 2017. Albi is nicknamed the "red city" because of the color of the bricks of its cathedral and its historic center.

Albi is remarkable for its impressive fortified Sainte-Cécile cathedral and its Berbie palace, the former palace of the archbishops of Albi, which dominates the historic city center and the river. Birthplace of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, it houses a museum with the largest collection in the world of works by the Post-Impressionist painter. Finally, Albi is above all a historic landmark whose name was given to the followers of Catharism, the Albigenses, who suffered a violent repression in the thirteenth century by the Roman Catholic Church known as the Albigensian Crusade. The Sainte-Cécile cathedral was built by the Catholics to fight against the Cathars.

On Saturday July 31, 2010, in Brasilia, the episcopal city of Albi was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list. It includes in its perimeter the Sainte-Cécile cathedral, a fortified church in visible ocher bricks built between 1282 and 1480, the Berbie palace, which houses the Toulouse-Lautrec museum, the Saint-Salvi church and its cloister, the banks of the Tarn and the Old Bridge as well as several buildings classified as historical monuments.



Cathedral Sainte-Cécile d'Albi
The Sainte-Cécile d'Albi Cathedral is the seat of the Archdiocese of Albi, in the Tarn department in France. It is built on a rocky peak overlooking the Tarn. Two centuries were necessary for its construction, from 1282 to 1480.

The building surprises by the contrast between its austere exterior appearance of a military fortress and the pictorial and sculptural richness of its interior. Unparalleled monument, it asserts its power through a style typical of the South West of France, the southern Gothic. Its unique style is reinforced by its interior decoration.

The Sainte-Cécile cathedral, classified with the episcopal city of Albi since July 31, 2010 on the UNESCO World Heritage List, is today one of the most visited cathedrals in France. The archiepiscopal seat (of Albi, Castres and Lavaur) is occupied by Mgr Jean Legrez. The pastor-archpriest of the cathedral is Father Paul de Cassagnac.

In addition to its status as an archiepiscopal church, it was elevated to the title of minor basilica, a dignity given by Pope Pius XII on May 9, 1947. The celebrations were chaired by Mgr Roncalli, apostolic nuncio in Paris, future Pope John XXIII .

Collegiate Church of Saint-Salvi d'Albi
The Collegiate Church of Saint-Salvi is a Catholic church located in Albi, in the southwest of France. The church has a motley appearance, reflecting the evolution of construction methods, mixing Languedoc Roman art and Gothic architecture. The caesura between the two styles is also opposed in the materials, stone for the old and red fairground brick for the most recent. The duration of the work, over nearly seven centuries, was determined by the alternation of good and lean periods. Reading the construction is complex for historians, as architectural changes have also occurred on the completed parts.

The adjoining cloister and the canourgue, a group of former residences of the canons, together with the collegiate church, form a remarkable ensemble about a hundred meters from the Sainte-Cécile cathedral and the Berbie palace. They belong to the episcopal city of Albi, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010.

Berbie Palace
The Palais de la Berbie is a former episcopal palace located in Albi, in the southwest of France. Built during the second half of the thirteenth century, under the episcopate of three successive bishops, its work took about fifty years. Wanted as a prestigious residence by Durand de Beaucaire, it became a fortress under Bernard II de Combret and Bernard III de Castanet, faced with the hostility of the Albigensian population, both economically and religiously, with the Cathar heresy. Subsequently, it was redesigned several times by the bishops of the city between the sixteenth century and the eighteenth century, gaining in comfort without losing entirely the appearance of austere fortress.

It was classified as a historical monument in 1862 for construction and in 1965 for isolated interior elements: ceilings, fireplace, woodwork. Since 2010, it has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site by its belonging to the medieval architectural ensemble of the episcopal city of Albi. It is next to the Sainte-Cécile cathedral for which it has tested certain architectural techniques. It shares with her and many buildings in the old town the red fairground brick.

During the law of separation of churches and state, the palace is seized. Since 1924, it has housed the Toulouse-Lautrec museum, dedicated to the painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, a native of Albi. It houses the most important collection of the artist’s works.

Remarkable terracotta tiles dating from the origins of the building were found in the 2000s; the research is not finished and other architectural treasures are probably still dormant. In the heart of the episcopal city, free access to its gardens makes it a place for walking with a breathtaking view of the right bank of the Tarn and its hanging gardens or of the old medieval bridge, other sites that are part of the area classified by UNESCO.



City created during Antiquity, it is the stronghold of the Trencavel lords in the Middle Ages and then of Catharism. It became an episcopal city from the thirteenth century. It was during the Renaissance that the city grew rich thanks to the culture of pastel. Several mansions remain witnesses of this era. During the French Revolution, the goods of the Clergy were sold and the various buildings became administrative centers. The nineteenth century was marked by the rise of industry with glassmaking and headgear as well as the extraction of coal near Carmaux.

The first men settled on the banks of the Tarn attracted by the water and the abundance of pebbles. They leave behind many cut stones like bifaces, scrapers or choppers. Then the remains of bronze and then iron objects were found in the surroundings of Albi. A foundry's workshop is discovered near the natural oppidum of Castelviel. The Tarn is navigable from Albi from where the first men settled in this region. In addition, the site is close to fertile valleys and exploitable mineral wealth. During the second half of the 4th century BC, the Rutenes, of the Gauls, create a large field corresponding to the future dioceses of Albi and Rodez.

In 120 BC, the region is conquered by the Romans, but Romanization is weak and Albi retains its character as a small Gallic city. The port of Albi becomes a place of exchange and transit of many goods and travelers. Agriculture still remains the major economic activity of the city. The first bishop of Albi is Diogenes around 405 and the first mention of Civitas albigensium dates from 406.

In 418, the Visigoths invaded the region and took control, then the Franks seized it in 507. Duke Didier submitted it temporarily to the tutelage of Chilperic I, the king of Neustria. Quickly, the kingdom of the Franks recovers the Albigensian under the governance of Clotaire II. In July 666, a big fire ravaged the city.

Middle Ages
During the Middle Ages, the city was an oppidum surrounded by walls. In the tenth century, the first bridge over the Tarn was built in Albi. This is the current Pont-Vieux. This bridge allows the development of the city on both banks of the Tarn. Around the Year 1000, Albi entered the stronghold of the Trencavel family, the lords of Ambialet. The city is nonetheless an ecclesiastical fiefdom, but as a Trencavel was still a bishop, the family uses it as their own.

In the twelfth and thirteenth century, Albi was a center of the Cathar religious movement; a controversy which takes place there also gives the Cathars the nickname of Albigensian (those who defend the doctrine advocated in Albi). Heresy progressed rapidly and the various missions and preaching of priests of the Roman Catholic Church did not prevent its development. Catharism was violently repressed during the crusade against the Albigenses. Albi nevertheless passes into the Catholic camp without resistance; the viscount of Carcassonne, Raimond-Roger Trencavel, lost his stronghold in 1209 when Carcassonne was taken. Subsequently, under the aegis of the lord of the city and vice-inquisitor of France Bernard de Castanet, the construction of the fortified episcopal palace of Berbie and of the imposing Sainte-Cécile cathedral anchors the city in the bosom of the Church. The bishops want to mark the power of the Church with these new buildings. The city is also an important cultural center known for its scriptorium. It makes it possible to copy texts and books of the liturgical life.

In the fourteenth century, the structure of the city changed significantly. It is divided into six districts, or “gaches” surrounded by walls. The Old Bridge is fortified on both the suburb and town side, with a drawbridge at each end. It is surmounted by houses with in its center a chapel dedicated to the Virgin. La Plassa is the heart of the city located at the foot of the cathedral. In the suburbs are mills and tanneries. The large number of these mills, ten for cereals, plus fulling mills, mills operating forges (bellows and tools beating metal) and finally the mills installed on boats for lack of space on the banks, clutters the bed of the river, which can no longer flow. Its natural course being modified, the deposit of sediments as the erosion are also modified, leading to sacrifice some of these mills to let the water flow.

The strong Catalan earthquake of February 2, 1428 was felt as far as Albi.

Modern times

The Renaissance period was marked by prosperity thanks to the cultivation of pastel, a plant used, among other things, to make a very popular blue dye at the time. The region is called "land of plenty". Many bourgeois quickly become rich and influential in the life of the city. It is the time of the construction of many residences and mansions still visible today in the streets of Albi. The Enjalbert house, the Gorsse hotel and the Reynès hotel are good examples of the architecture of this period. It is characterized by the exclusive use of fairground brick for the walls and stone for the corbellings and the surrounds of doors and windows.

In 1474, Louis d'Amboise was appointed bishop of Albi. He was previously French Ambassador to Rome then advisor to King Louis XI and Lieutenant General of the province of Languedoc. He is behind the installation of Neumeister, a master printer from Mainz and collaborator of Gutenberg. It is one of the first printing workshops in France after that of Paris and Lyon.

In the sixteenth century, new troubles appeared with the arrival of Calvinism in France around 1540. The bishopric of Albi is considered one of the most important in the kingdom, because of its considerable income. However the civil wars which devastated the Albigensians made it one of the most difficult to administer. Several Italians succeeded one another on this seat. By choosing them, the authorities were no doubt convinced that they would find in them more firmness and more eagerness than among the French prelates to carry out the severe measures which they had to order to suppress internal disorders.

On February 25, 1560, Albi organized a large expiatory procession and the regent Catherine de Medici appointed her cousin Laurent Strozzi to the episcopal seat, who was responsible for defending the city against the Protestants. The massacre of Saint-Barthélemy (August 24, 1572 in Paris) was repeated in Albi on October 5, and gave rise to settling of scores. Albi adheres to the political sling of the League.

Around 1581, in addition to the wars of religion, the plague wreaked havoc in Albi.

In 1593, the Estates of the League took place in the presence of Henri duc de Joyeuse. The Palais de la Berbie became an armed stronghold until 1598, when the League disappeared with the appointment of Henri IV of France as King of France.

The seventeenth century is a period of economic decline for Albi and its region. Pastels are losing ground and the city is looking for new economic outlets. Glassmaking, tannery and weaving are important activities but the city is unable to return to the level of past prosperity. Several brickyards have been set up on the outskirts and provide the building material for the city. The economic context on the eve of the French Revolution in 1789 is particularly difficult.

French Revolution and Empire
During the Revolution, Albi lost his driving role for a while in favor of Castres, which had become the capital of the new Tarn department in 1790. But the Republicans considered Castres insecure and fled it to take refuge in Albi. The city became the capital in 1797, after this brief period of Castres hegemony. The goods of the clergy are sold and the Carmelite convent becomes the current courthouse and that of the Cordeliers is transformed into a prison. The Palais de Berbie became the seat of the departmental administration until 1823. In 1794, the clergy archives were burned on the Place du Vigan.

In the 18th century, the Marquis de Solages, Lord of Carmaux, attempted one of the first industrial coal mining operations in France. He obtained permission to build a horse-drawn railway line to Albi. Thus was born the Faubourg de la Madeleine.

Contemporary period
The railway arrived in Albi on October 24, 1864, attached to the Cie line of P-O Toulouse-Lexos by the branch from Tessonières. A second bridge, the current Pont Neuf, was built over the Tarn, as well as a viaduct for the train opened in October 1864. Metallurgy was established in Saut du Tarn leading to the appearance of specialized foundries, but the activity the best known is the workers 'glassworks in Albi, founded in 1896 as a self-managed workers' cooperative thanks to the help of a national subscription and from Jean Jaurès, and following the Carmaux strike of 1895. The hat industry is also a important industry in Albi, placing it among the first in France in the nineteenth century. In 1931, this self-managed glassworks moved to the status of a worker cooperative production company (SCOP).


During the Second World War, the inhabitants of the city suffered an episode of the Vichy Regime, with the creation of a Center for the assembly of foreigners. In August 1942, demonstrations took place against the Relève.

The Archbishop of Albi, Mgr Moussaron, openly protested in 1942 against the persecutions against the Jews. At the same time, he organized the clandestine reception of Jewish refugees in certain Catholic institutions in the region and secretly appointed chaplains in the maquis. Arrested by the Gestapo on June 12, 1944 then imprisoned in Toulouse, Mgr Moussaron was greeted triumphantly by the Albigenses on his release.

Shortly before the Liberation, a German column tried to cross the Tarn, coming from the Madeleine. Local and foreign resistance fighters (many Poles and Spaniards) fight fiercely on the Pont-Neuf before having to win. A monument to the dead always recalls their action66.

We can note the presence of a camp of 1,200 Russian prisoners of war located 1 to 2 km from the city on the road to Saint-Juéry in October 1945.

Military units stationed in Albi, including the 143rd Infantry Regiment in 1906.

Nowadays, Albi is a promising innovation hub with the Albi-Carmaux mining school (research on solar energy, cars and clean fuels). The city highlights its natural (pleasant climate and landscapes) and cultural assets to develop green tourism, which is expanding. In addition, the city is making sustained efforts to improve and embellish itself: the Place du Vigan, as well as, quite recently, that of the Cathedral, have been completely redone.


How to get there
By plane
The nearest airport is in Toulouse.

By train
There is a train station in Albi. You can check the schedule on the SNCF website.