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Unmoving city

Cité épiscopale d’Albi

The walls of Albi were reinforced between 1345 and 1350 in operations generated by the Hundred Years War. The fortified line passed west between Castelviel and the Cathedral looping around its bell-tower.

The structures within the walls remained intact and were not modified in any real detail until 1750 so four centuries of growth were followed by a similar period of stagnation.

The town was struck by a succession of particularly disastrous famines and plagues. The Albi population declined sharply from 10,000 people in 1343 to just 3,200 in 1483. A new cemetery had to be built to the south east outside the city walls to bury the dead.

A partial demographic recovery occurred in the early 16th century but was quickly checked by a new regression which continued up to the 1630 plague. From the 14th century mortality rates and wars caused the retraction of the new suburbs of Ronel, Verdusse and Vigan.

From 1340 to 1740 the town grew within the narrow confines of the city walls and the few transformations effected are still visible today.

In 1475 a trend for town expansion was predicted when saffron and woad production for the international market began to build the prosperity of the area. Bishop Louis d’Amboise, envoy to Kings Louis XI, Charles VIII and Louis XII therefore ordered the Cathedral to be equipped with additional levels in the tower, the choir and beside the Last Judgement. Later a nephew to the Bishop, Louis II, summoned Italian painters to Albi to decorate the vaults of the Cathedral.

However, a financial and spatial respite on land within the city walls was offered by the depopulation experienced from 1348 and this led to a slew of aristocratic private homes. Merchants whose fortunes had been made by the woad industry, which experienced a boom between 1460 and 1560, were soon elected to royal offices. These merchants constructed beautiful dwellings adorned with towers offering the best views over the southern ramparts at Verdusse or along the length of the rue du Vigan, urban thoroughfare along which all formal processions would pass.

The spaces liberated by the population decline made way within the walls for the reconstruction of the hospital of Saint-Jacques and the Carmes convent along with other religious institutions.

The monarchy also played a role in the modification of the city panorama; Henri IV ordered that the top of the Sainte-Catherine tower of the Episcopal palace be removed. In 1624, during the Rohan revolt, the parliament of Toulouse caused the fortified house situated at the western end of Castelviel to be razed; this building had once been the residence of the counts of Toulouse and their vassals.

It was not until the reign of Louis XIII that the political engagement showed an awareness of general urban gentrification and easing of traffic.

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