Settling prior to the 10th century
Cité épiscopale d’Albi
In the Stone Age, the Albi basin was not settled, the sites on hills or terraces were favoured for population. However, from the Bronze Age the triangle later known as “Castelviel” seems to have served as an ‘oppidum’ (settlement), a refuge for the sedentary populations dispersed across the plains.
Many necropoles with cremated remains dating from the protohistoric era (late 6th, early 5th centuryBC) have been found at the Maladrerie, rue de l’Ort-en-Salvy, and more recently at Vigan. Around 250 BC the Ruthenians supplanted these early cultures – significant traces of Celtic civilisations have been uncovered at Castelviel, at la Rivière and at Patus Cremat.
The information remaining from Gallo-Roman times is exclusively archaeological. The discovery of pottery shards, the location of potters’ kilns, of tombs and burial sites all indicate a reasonably sizeable occupation of the site of Albi but it appears to have been a disorganised, discontinuous occupation.
In 1999, when the place du Vigan was renovated, digs were carried out which demonstrate that the occupation became more extensive and better structured between 50 BC and 50 AD.
This can be seen from the evidence of solid buildings, protected from water run-off by gullies and coupled with a well, hearth and oven. There was also a refuse area which had been recovered several times and was bordered by a pathway. However, the absence of structures typically found in towns of this period - baths, an amphitheatre, temples and monuments - show that Albi remained a village, a modest vicus (Latin meaning provincial civilian settlement) abandoned after a prosperous campaign.
However the agglomeration proved to be sufficiently important in the wilderness between Toulouse and Rodez to become an administrative centre and diocese in the 4th century. This political and religious role ensured Albi’s permanence throughout the High Middle Ages. Around 655 Albi remained a ‘civitatula’ (latin meaning small city) dominated by the large family of Desiderii-Salvii. These names can be found today in Quercy’s Saint Didier and Saint Salvi in Albi itself.
In the Life of Saint Didier, written at the end of the 8th century, Albi is still qualified as an ‘oppidum’ in contrast to Cahors and Rodez which were designated ‘urbes’ (latin meaning city or walled town).
During the Dark Ages the town, protected by walls, was situated at the westernmost point of the plateau isolated between the River Tarn and the smaller Bondidou, the stream that played the role of moat in the area now occupied by rue de la Piale and the impasse de la Croix-Blanche.
The limits of the town extended over an area of three hectares. In addition to the aristocratic and clerical nucleus which, in the 9th century became known as “city”, there was the suburb of la Rivière which spread from the banks of the Tarn up to the district of the church of Saint-Affric, a suburban islet documented in the 12th century but already in existence in 878.