Cité épiscopale d’Albi
Castelnau is the name given to the district bordering the southern edge of the Cathedral of Sainte-Cécile. It developed in the 12th and 13th centuries together with the suburbs of Puech Bérenguier, Puech Amadenc and Verdusse.
It was born of a deliberate urbanisation resulting from the agreement between the Count of Toulouse, the Bishop of Albi and the Viscount Trencavel who shared the rights to develop a new district on vacant land.
The regular layout of the streets reveals a more ordered urbanisation with straighter, more spacious streets than elsewhere in the town.
The ’Bourgetnau’ (or new district) is also called ’Castelnau’ in opposition to ’Castelviel’ the primitive settlement which constituted the town in the High Middle Ages.
The Castelnau district brought together many aristocratic residences. At the end of the Middle Ages, the richest and most important of Albi’s citizens. Today it is one of the districts of the old town which has best preserved and restored its old buildings.
A remarkable view of the southern face of the Cathedral’s bell tower can be had from the platform which dominates the crossroads of the rue de la Piale, the rue Caminade and the rue des Prêtres.
Today the boulevard Sibille takes the place of the ancient ramparts that ran alongside the stream called the Bondidou. The start of boulevard Sibille, where it joins the rue Caminade, was the site of one of the town’s six gates, the porte de la Trébaille.
The Castelnau still contains beautiful residences and offers views of the Cathedral’s bell tower rising up above the roofs.
Rue Caminade follows the path of the old wall that enclosed the Cathedral and continued to the porte Dominique de Florence. The base of the wall and the corner tower are still well preserved.
The rue de la Piale, leading towards the old square, follows the course of the ’ruisseau de la Barriere,’ a stream which may have marked the limit between the city and the new suburbs of Verdusse and Castelnau. The rue de la Piale opens onto the rue Sainte-Cécile, bordered on the western side by houses with beautiful timber-frame façades and wide corbel arches.
The hôtel de Rivières, on the rue Saint-Clair, has a tower and two elegant gates dating from the Renaissance, while in the courtyard we can see the modifications and openings made in the classical style which dominated the 17th and 18th centuries and which sumptuously frames these perfectly restored Renaissance gems.
This hotel also has an enormous vaulted, brick cellar, one of many vaulted cellars in old Albi – characteristic of Albi’s houses. Today they are often used by restaurants, shops or art galleries.
Via the rue Saint-Clair we arrive at the triangle defined by rue de la Croix-Blanche, rue des Prêtres and rue Puech Bérenguier, a picturesque location that bewitches photographers, painters and artists with its timber frame and brick houses and seductive views of the Cathedral.
The rue de la Croix-Blanche presents a fine alignment of brick façades, perfectly restored. Number 9 is home to the ’Forge de Vieil Alby’ and has conserved its Renaissance elements. At the end of the street, at number 19, is a building called the ’Castelnaou’ which houses two Renaissance style town houses.
Albi’s housing office undertook a marvellous restoration uniting these two buildings into a pleasant residence, in which its arcades, galleries and interior courtyards are displayed to their best potential. This is certainly one of the most beautiful restorations in the protected area of the town.
Rue Puech Bérenguier (from the name of a mediaeval family) contains many brick façades, timber frame and with corbel arches. It offers a microcosm of the general aspect of Albi’s mediaeval streets. The façades have been restored and the street paved with attractive paving stones and with floor level lighting.