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The first stones

Cité épiscopale d’Albi

Until the beginning of the 13th century, Albi’s Bishops lived in a group of houses lent to them by the Canons and located between the Romanesque Cathedral and the nearby ramparts. This was a relatively precarious arrangement for the Bishops that lasted almost a century.

But such a situation could no longer be tolerated in the 13th century when the Bishops had become the true Lords of the town.

The dignity of their role and the development of the Episcopal administration demanded the construction of residences more in keeping with Episcopal power.

This was begun with the first works undertaken by Durand de Beaucaire (1228-1254). De Beaucaire took advantage of the decline of Trencavel family, the Viscounts of Albi, after the Albigensian crusade in order to reorganise the distribution of taxes for his own benefit.

This sudden wealth opened up the possibility to mark his power through the construction of a new residence. The old palace (Bisbia vielha in Occitan) was replaced a resplendent ’Bisbia nova’ (a new Bishop’s palace).

The ’Bisbia nova’ was composed of a Grand Hall surmounted by a tower, the tour Saint-Michel on two levels at the west of the building, destined to house the tribunal, and the Ecclesiastical prisons. In this period in the construction of towers was used to convey prestige.

Durand de Beaucaire built two, one on the ’Bisbia Vielha’ which would become the tour Saint-Michel, later ceded to the inquisition which would make of it its tribunal and prison, the other beside quai Choiseul which he would call his home, an uninspiring cube furnished with gargoyles channelling the rain water, and on the upper level, a large chamber to be used for official events.

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