The ’Palais de la Berbie’
Among the residences constructed by Southern France’s Bishops in the Middle Ages, there are few that match the grandeur of Albi’s Episcopal palace.
Known today in its role as home to the Toulouse-Lautrec museum, the palace’s name ’Palais de la Berbie’ or Berbie palace, comes from a deformation of the Occitan word ’bisbia,’ meaning Bishop. The oldest parts of this impressive fortress were commissioned by a number of Albi’s 13th century Bishops.
The first Bishop of Albi was named in the 5th century when the city of Albi was created, detached from the gallo-roman city of Rutènes. Built on high ground on the site of a gallic fortification, the Berbie palace was built between 1250 and 1260 under the episcopacy of first Durand de Beaucaire and then Bernard de Combret.
Secular in its architecture and religious in its function, the early construction took the form of an imposing brick keep (the donjon Sainte-Catherine) flanked by four towers (the tours d’angle). It was under Bernard de Castanet (1277-1308) that it became the impressive monument that we know today.
The palace was extended by the addition of a second keep (St Michael’s Keep) and a vast rectangular wing (the Suffragans’ wing) with massive walls, housing the Chapel of Our Lady (chapelle Notre-Dame).
The palace has the look of a fortress, affirming, by its dominant position and imposing size, the Bishop’s power over the town.
The construction was possible thanks to the resources amassed by Bernard de Castanet when he was able to recuperate the tithes due to the parishes at the time of the crusade against the Cathars which consolidated his power.
Beside the Berbie palace he began construction of a new Cathedral which, with its powerful, Gothic architecture defined the style of the Episcopal city.