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In the second half of the 19th century

Cité épiscopale d’Albi

With the second Empire Albi experienced large-scale industrial development and a population boom. The town, birthplace of the artist Toulouse-Lautrec, once again became a building site. In the town’s history, never had there been such a flurry of construction and restoration undertaken in such a short period.

Two new streets were established, rue Mariès and rue Sainte-Cécile. Three great works were undertaken at the same time in this medium-sized town; the current Lapérouse high school (1864-1867), the Pont-neuf or new bridge (1862- 1868) and the railroad viaduct (1864). A principal preoccupation in each of these works was the preservation of the integrity of the urban framework. At the same moment the restoration works on the Cathedral of Sainte-Cécile began along with the enlargement of the place Saint-Cécile, an important project which would take almost half a century to complete.

Clearing the area surrounding the Cathedral

The area surrounding the Cathedral was originally built up and filled with houses and other buildings but in the second half of the 19th century it underwent a radical transformation. In Albi, as in other towns, the “Haussmannien” town-planning (named after its instigator the civic engineer, Georges-Eugène Haussmann) so characteristic of the industrial age was prevalent and steps were made to open up space within the town and give a neat, grid-like structure to the streets.

The city fathers wished to isolate Sainte-Cécile to facilitate its admiration and give “honour and a spotlight” to this “magnificent Cathedral”. Besides this, the place du Marché needed to be enlarged, its mediaeval structure proving too small for it, and a convenient link needed to be established between the town centre and the rapidly growing quarters to the west. As soon as the many individual buildings on the current place Sainte-Cécile were removed along with buildings which hindered the traffic to the north and south of the Cathedral two roads could be established on these sides. Between 1880 and 1892 houses pressing around the north of the apse and sacristy were removed. The sacristy, part of the interior of which dates from the 13th century, had parts of its exterior shell rebuilt to the east and north. A remainder of the fortifications which subsisted at the foot of the tower was also demolished.

By isolating the Cathedral at the centre of this open space these works evidently reinforced the power and monumental affirmation of the edifice. Since this time, a road has been opened which links the place Sainte-Cécile with the boulevard Sibille and the rue du Castelviel.

The artist Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) was born in Albi in the Hôtel du Bosc. This celebrated French painter, descended from the illustrious counts of Toulouse, was struck with a congenital bone disorder from an early age. Rather than follow the easy path familiar to provincial landed gentry, the young man followed his passion for painting and drawing and moved to Paris. In the quarter of Montmartre he became a painter of popular dances, café concerts, cabaret artists, and ladies of the night. His posters advertising cabarets and events became defining images for “la Belle Epoque” (beautiful era) and even today he is considered one of the fathers of modern publicity.

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