Albi cathedral, Tarn visitors guide

Photo of Albi cathedral

Visit Albi cathedral, France

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Albi cathedral is a very imposing cathedral in the heart of the historic centre of Albi, a town to the north-east of Toulouse. It is listed as a UNESCO heritage site, and of the most interesting French cathedrals.

Explore the cathedral of Albi

France This Way comment: the cathedral in Albi is very interesting, with many features of interest to see, above all in the inside but also the outside. Note that the best view of the cathedral is from the slope on the other side of the river.

Earlier cathedrals and churches stood in the same location from the 5th century but the current cathedral was built between the 13th and 16th centuries, in the style called "southern gothic" (gothique méridional), and little remains of these earlier versions apart from some fragments of wall and cloisters.

Rood screen in the cathedral of Albi

The first thing you will notice about Albi cathedral is that because it is built of red brick, it is different in appearance to any that you have seen before.

The cathedral itself is rather austere, although arched windows and half-columns along the sides add some interest. The belltower is built in a lighter red brick than the main cathedral, and has four levels that are square and then two levels that are octagonal.

One unusual characteristic, you enter the cathedral by a door in the side rather than through the front. This doorway is very ornate and made of stone, in contrast to the red brick of the main cathedral. The door is behind a porch and under a canopy, with two towers on either side and numerous statues around the arched doorway and in the canopy of the porch, as well as two sundials.

The unusual layout, with a clocktower at the west end and the main door in the side of the cathedral, was due to the limits on the space available when the cathedral was first constructed.

When you enter Albi cathedral you are first struck by the size: it is about 114 metres long and 35 metres wide. You are then also struck by how the decorated inside contrasts with the austere outside...

Inside the cathedral there are more Italian renaissance style frescoes than anywhere else in France, with almost 20 000 square metres of walls decorated: that is nearly two hectares / five acres of wall paintings! Almost all surfaces in the cathedral have been decorated - so none of the austere stone walls you have seen in lots of other French cathedrals!

The highlight is the painting of the Last Judgement below the organ, which is on both sides of a chapel and has three levels representing heaven, earth and hell. This was painted in the second half of the 15th century. The paintings elsewhere in the cathedral are often decorative patterns or small scale paintings but they add colour to every surface including the ceiling.

Another remarkable highlight in Albi cathedral is the rood-screen (the screen between the nave and the choir section). This is 18 metres long, eight metres high and in the flamboyant gothic style and as with all screens of this type it is overlooked by an image of Christ.

The detail and workmanship of this screen is extraordinary, and often called 'lace stonework' because of its appearance. This detail continues the other side of the screen, in the choir area, where there are intricate carvings on all four sides, still overlooked by the brightly painted ceiling and walls.

Although these are the main highlights in the cathedral, you wll also see numerous other points of interest such as furnishings, paintings, statues and a substantial 18th century organ

There is no charge to enter Albi cathedral, but you need to buy a ticket to see the treasury and certain restricted areas.

Renaissance frescoes in Albi cathedral

Attractions nearby

Albi is an attractive and interesting town to visit with several sites of interest including the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, the Jardins de la Berbie next to the river, and the cloisters at the Collegiale church of Saint-Salvy: see the Albi guide.

Other towns nearby that you will want to visit include Gaillac, another town that is built almost entirely of red bricks, and the pretty village of Cordes-sur-Ciel.

You can find more travel ideas in the Tarn guide and the Midi-Pyrenees guide.

See also:

Map of Albi cathedral and places nearby

Visit near Albi cathedral with France This Way reviews

... or see ALL recommended places to visit in Tarn

Plan your visit to Albi cathedral, Tarn

Sightseeing & tourist attractions to visit nearby

  • Parc Rochegude: remarkable garden
  • Jardin du palais de la Berbie: remarkable garden
  • Episcopal City, Albi: heritage site
  • Albi: secteur sauvegarde
  • Gaillac: recommended detour (20 km)
  • Jardin de Paradis: remarkable garden (21 km)
  • Jardin des Martels: remarkable garden (35 km)
  • Najac: town of art and history (35 km)
  • Sauveterre-de-Rouergue: town of art and history (35 km)
  • Rabastens √©glise Notre-Dame-du-Bourg (monuments on French pilgrim routes): heritage site (36 km)
  • Jardins de Quercy: remarkable garden (36 km)
  • Gorges de l'Aveyron: site of natural beauty (36 km)

The French version of this page is at Albi cathedral (Francais)