By the time you work your way to Albi, you've probably seen a half dozen cathedrals. They may all be running together in your mind. But, believe me, this one will stand out, and it makes the trip to Albi worthwhile. Ste. Cecile differs significantly in its architectural details, and you can spot the distinctions as soon as you walk up. Your first clue is that it's made all of brick. It also differs for the reason it was built. Many cathedrals were built out of the medieval version of community pride. This one was built as a statement of raw political and military power -- the final punctuation point on the Cathar crusades of the 1200s.
Every square inch (or centimeter, if you prefer) of the church interior is covered with artwork. A unique feature is the completely preserved rood screen and its intricate carving. How did this thing escape the revolution and church modernization?
Touring the church is easy. You can do it on your own, of course, but we recommend you take advantage of the excellent audio guide, especially for the area on the sides and behind the original choir. We found the staff at the cathedral to be very friendly and helpful with suggestions on how to order our visit to make sure we got it all done.
If you're staying in the central city, just walk to the cathedral. Historic Albi is a pleasant place for walking, and with the major investments being made in expanding their pedestrian zone, it will be even more pleasant next year. Parking is available. There is one public lot that's called Cathedrale, but it isn't right beside the church. It's about a five to ten minute walk. Seeing the church combines very well with a visit to the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum (which is right beside it). See the cathedral in the morning. Have lunch at one of the many cafes on the Cathedral Square. Then tour the art museum in the afternoon.
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