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Religious power affirmed

Cité épiscopale d’Albi

Fearing for his safety, Bishop Bernard de Castanet (1277-1306) reinforced once again the buildings of the Berbie palace. He wished to construct a system of defence that could defy both rioters and royal forces.

The Bishop’s ambitious and authoritarian character effectively saw both the hatred of the people and royal anger turned against him.

Convinced of his authority and firmly resolved to demand the respect of all, King included, upon arriving on the Epsicopal throne in 1277 the Bishop decided to fully exercise his rights and to consolidate his power.

Conscious of the risks and difficulties he might face his first step was to provide himself with an impregnable fortress.

To Bernard de Combret’s palace he added the tour Sainte-Catherine, built alongside the tour Saint-Michel. To best see this tower it is necessary to descend towards the gardens and the ramparts protecting them.

We arrive at an enormous spurred, circular bastion, then, by the western patrol path, the tour de la Rivière with its vault stamped with Bernard de Castanet’s arms. From this tower we pass over a 14th century curtain wall until we reach ’Dionysus’ tower.’ It is from this vantage point that we can best appreciate the tower built on the palace’s northern flank.

The tour Sainte-Catherine appears, despite the mutilations it as submitted to over the years, as a crushing mass of brick.

This oblong keep was flanked at its corners by enormous buttressed towers, seven metres wide at the base and built entirely in brick.

The chambers of each floor were given ribbed vaults with strongly broken profiles; this is visible today in the remains of one of these vaults which was partially destroyed at an unknown date.

The arches, still visible today, are very sharply pointed, date from the end of the 13th or the beginning of the 14th century. They give us an insight into the architectural character of Bernard de Castanet’s constructions.

The construction of the tour Sainte-Catherine required the heightening of the tour Saint-Michel, the upper part of which housed a second chapel dedicated to the Archangel.

The rest of Bernard de Castanets’ modifications were centred of the northern part of the Episcopal palace. On the northern flank of the Suffragans’ Wing he added three enormous buttresses which were shortened by Monseigneur Le Goux de la Berchère in the 17th century to provide the ornamental terrace that is still present today.

These buttresses were built for an entirely different, defensive, purpose. They were intended to support the arches, with their machicolations which protected this side of the palace. This same motive lies behind the construction of the curtain walls and the towers surrounding the lower court.

To the protection provided by the curtain wall between the tour de la Rivière and the tour de l’Octogone was added the tour de Dionysos, thus definitively closing the northern side of the lower court and closing the palace off from all external attack.

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