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Hôtel Fenasse

Cité épiscopale d’Albi

This building known as the “Romanesque house” or hôtel Fenasse dates from the 12th century and can be found on the corner of rue Saint-Étienne and rue des Foissants at their junction with rue de la Grand’Côte.

The hôtel Fenasse is one of the rare private Romanesque buildings in the Midi-Pyrénées region. It was originally owned by the rich local Fenasse family.

Around 1300, Guillaume Fenasse was condemned for Catharism and his house was confiscated. The property was granted to a brother of the Bishop Béraud de Fargues and then passed to Pierre-Raymond de Rabastens, viscount of Paulin, steward of Toulouse before finally becoming the property of Étienne Lacombe a rich Albi merchant.

This vast building (19m by 23m) is constructed along the lines of a bourgeois household and occupies three plots of the current town plan (cadastral). Although restored in brick over the course of the centuries, it bears witness to the use of limestone in the construction of prestigious buildings in Albi in the Romanesque era.

The building, at the intersection of two roads, comprises three stories of which the last is half-timbered.

The façade is the largest on the rue Saint-Étienne and care has clearly been taken in its decoration. The ground floor is composed of two large arcades, one in brick whilst the second, in stone, is today partially filled in. The two arches, probably both in stone in mediaeval times, open onto a commercial space (a shop or workshop) accessed from the rue Saint-Étienne, at the time an important commercial thoroughfare.

On the upper level a Romanesque bay bears witness to a certain luxury. This is one in a series of bays lighting the principal living area, the aula or atrium, which were linked by a cord moulding. This bay includes a large voussure softened with moulded decorations which today appears as empty space since the sculpted elements have long been removed.

The archivolt includes a bevelled moulding ornamented with palmettes and scrolls. Two columns with attic capitals and bases support a Roman arch. The care taken in the decoration of this section of the building suggests a desire to emphasise the power and wealth of the owner.

Conversely, the section opening onto the rue des Foissants is characterised by its more sober decoration. The single opening which remains, a door opening onto a secondary street, is free from ornamentation. This house is typical of the polyvalent style conceived to respond to the two dominant functions; residential and professional.

The Romanesque house or hôtel Fenasse is an excellent example of the beautiful households in the Combes district along the banks of the Tarn. Most of the habitations in this district, whether timber framed or in stone like the Romanesque house, betray a certain opulence, situated as they are on the main axes of the city such as the rue de la Grand’Côte or the rue Saint-Étienne.

These streets leading away from the Pont-vieux, the only access to the right bank of the Tarn, served the commercial centre of the city as they led towards the place de la Pile, the Cathedral of Sainte-Cécile and the collegiate of Saint-Salvi.

In this same district, an unexpected discovery was made in 2007 during renovations at number 11 rue Saint-Étienne, in an area where a program of urban development has allowed the restoration of a majority of the edifices. These works revealed a section of corbel timber decorated with sawteeth, rare to Albi, which had been hidden beneath plasterwork.

In 2004, the dwelling was one of a number of buildings dated by dendro-chronology (a dating technique using the analysis of wood components).

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