Yesterday, the city of Albi on The Tarn River in the Haute Garrone in South Western France was officially named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I was pleased because I have always loved to visit Albi. The town itself is a very homogenous blend of red brick buildings. The red brick was used because the region doesn't have limestone and the sandstone quarried there is very soft.
The city is very important in a historical sense and the story of the Albigeois Crusade is
one of the episodes that made the power of the Catholic Church and unified France as a nation. Albi was a center of the Cathar Religion and it was brutally suppressed. The supression of the Cathars gave France a reason to crush the independant Counts who ruled the region. In fact, French was not spoken in the region at the time, it was another language, Occitan. The southwestern region of France is still referred to Langedoc. Oc is the word that meant yes. In recent years after centuries of suppression. Occitanian culture is enjoying a revival. There are even OC rock and rap records. Here, where I live, many of the old people still speak it. It was a regional language, written, but as a spoken tongue, it varied greatly because it was always local dialects.
When the Catholic Church and the French of the North vanquished the Cathars, to establish their presence and might, they built The Cathedral of Ste. Cecile. It was started in the late 13th century and finished in the 15th. It is perhaps the largest brick structure in the world. It is a regional gothic style. The brick construction made it possible to eliminate the buttresses and supports, the effect is brute force, almost industrial, but in spite of this, For me, it is one of the most awe inspiring buildings I have ever seen.
Inside the stark bulding, the incredible open space is one of most wildly painted places I have ever seen. There is a rood screen carved of limestone that is indescribable.
The altar painting was reputedly art directed by Bosch and is considered to be the largest composed painting in the world. The organ is the 3rd largest in France.
There is so much more in Albi, Toulouse-Lautrec was a native and the best collection of his work is in the museum in the Bishops Palace, below the cathedral on the River.
I can recommend some great restaurants if you are going to visit. For now, perhaps, if you'd like, here is a recital on the huge organ with some pictures of the site. The musician is Francis Chapelet and he is playing a modern impressionistic improvisation.