Brick: universal material, exceptional at Albi
Cité épiscopale d’Albi
The use of brick is so extensive throughout the Episcopal city that this humble universal building material is elevated to sublime architectural and aesthetic expression.
In sharp contrast with Gothic edifices across Europe, Albi’s Cathedral and the Berbie palace figure amongst the largest constructions in fired brick in the world.
Their architectural force is an enduring testament to the talented men who built them. The geometric notions behind the assembly of the masses, inspired by military defence and magnified by the use of this construction material, unique in that era, give a clear coherence to the Episcopal city.
Albi represents the successful conclusion of an architectural quest and represents an exceptional model of the style known as Southern Gothic. Here, brick transcends its humble origins forming extraordinary aesthetic art. Whilst brick constructions can be found in many Italian and Northern European towns and cities, the architecture is markedly different. For example, in the towns of the Hanse region of northern Germany, the merchant and harbour towns with their belfries bear witness to the commercial success of their Aldermen.
Albi, even more then Toulouse, deserves to be known as the town of brick. In Toulouse, stone was integrated in the constructions of the church of Saint-Sernin, the Cathedral of Saint Etienne and the Capitole. However, in Toulouse the city authorities continually endeavoured to distance themselves from Saint-Sernin, pressing around the Jacobins and eliminating its spire, they left the Cathedral of Saint Etienne incomplete in order to emphasise their own power at the Capitouls. The whole city was orientated towards and around the Capitole with its magisterial square. In comparison, Albi remained faithful to its organisation around the Episcopal city.
In the same way the Italian city of Sienna (Tuscany), frequently compared to Albi due to the colour of their bricks, contains only a single principal monument – the Palazzo publico – home to the civil authorities.