Cité épiscopale d’Albi
The name Castelviel (old château) reminds us that at the beginning of the Middle Ages the château of the Counts of Toulouse, all-powerful Lords of Albi, stood at the point of this promontory.
The promontory advances like the prow of a boat between the cliffs of the Tarn and the Bondidou stream, providing an excellent defensive site, ideal for the establishment of the fortified refuge of early Albi.
Archaeological remains reveal that the site was occupied in the Bronze Age (4000 years ago) and again in the Gallo-roman era. Unsurprising that Castelviel is considered the ’cradle’ of Albi.
Separated from Albi, both by nature and by history, for many years, Castelviel was like an island, isolated from the rest of the town.
After the Albigensian Crusade which precipitated the fall from grace of the Trencavel family, which ruled over Albi in the 12th century, the ’Castelviel’ fell into the hands of the Montfort family and formed a separate community with its own council.
This lasting isolation explains why Castelviel has kept the appearance of a mediaeval village. Its strong identity comes from the configuration of the houses organised around the principle axis of the rue du Castelviel.
Narrow streets fan out from this central axis, threading their way between the many small houses: a quarter of the houses have a surface area between 18 and 30 m².
The houses are modest, sprouting up from the promontory while picturesque little squares offer superb views of the Cathedral.
History seems to have stood still with street names that evoke times past: rue du Paradis, rue des Orfèvres (goldsmith’s street), rue du Théron (Théron is the name of the fountain), rue Bouscaylet. A haven of peace and serenity where old traditions live on.
The best way to discover Castelviel is to approach it from the south, from the bell tower of the Cathedral. Following the path of the arcades, we discover picturesque houses built on many levels with terraced gardens.
This route allows the visitor to appreciate the elevation above the Bondidou, the stream that passes below Castelviel, as well as the arches of the supporting walls that in earlier times supported ramparts (demolished in the 17th century).
The original escarpment of the ravine through which the Bandidou passes has been well conserved.
Upon arriving at the bridge, the pont de la République straggling the Bondidou, we can begin the gentle climb back up to the château, built upon the site of the ancient château, demolished in the time of Richelieu in the 17th century. From here we can see the Tarn flowing past at the foot of an abrupt 30 metre slope. The strategic importance of the site is clear.
We can now return along the rue du Castelviel, the neighbourhoods spinal column, with its series of little side streets and two larger streets leading to two small squares. The first, the charming place Savène, is evocative of a village square surrounded by small brick and timber houses.
Place Saint-Loup, close to the church of the same name, which became the property of the Revolution, offers a seductive view of the Cathedral’s bell tower. The rue du Castelviel, opening onto the Cathedral, presents a fine collection of timber houses and corbel arches, and a house built in wattle and daub.