View on Cathedral of Ste-Cecile in town of Albi in south France; Shutterstock ID 9695551; your: Sloane Tucker; gl: 65050; netsuite: Online Editorial; full: POI

Shutterstock / Elena Elisseeva

Cathédrale Ste-Cécile

Top choice in Tarn

Resembling a castle more than a cathedral, this formidable edifice in orange brick rises above Vieil Albi like an apparition. Its defensive walls hark back to the many religious wars that scarred medieval Albi. Begun in 1282, the cathedral took well over a century to complete; eight centuries later, it's still one of the world's largest brick buildings, and has been on Unesco's World Heritage list since 2010.

The exterior is resolutely Gothic, with tracery set in blush-coloured sandstone, but the most visually arresting craftsmanship is inside. The apocalyptic fresco behind the altar, Le Jugement Dernier (The Last Judgement, painted 1474–84), depicts horned demons cranking wheels with tormented victims attached, souls of the unrepentant tied to the Earth in agony, and the faithful floating to heaven (their naked chests obscured by well-placed prayer books). Also noteworthy are the grand chœur (great choir) with its frescos, chapels and biblical figures – each carved from stone and painted by hand – and the treasury, which houses a superb collection of ceremonial and ritual objects from the 13th to 19th centuries.

Don’t miss the chapel to the cathedral's namesake saint, martyred in the year 223, on the right-hand side as you enter. Legends state that pious Cécile, victim of a forced marriage, converted first her husband, then her jailer, to Christianity. Three attempts to behead Cécile failed; note the neck scars on the unnervingly realistic statue in the chapel.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Tarn attractions

1. Musée Toulouse-Lautrec

0.05 MILES

Lodged inside the Palais de la Berbie (built in the early Middle Ages for the town's archbishop), this wonderful museum offers an overview of Albi's most…

2. Maison du Vieil Alby


Lodged in a timber-framed medieval building, this museum houses a small exhibition on the city's history and its connections with Toulouse-Lautrec.

3. Collégiale & Cloître Saint-Salvi

0.11 MILES

This delicate church is worth a look for its lovely 13th-century cloister whose columns are decorated with Gothic and Romanesque flourishes.

4. Pont Vieux

0.21 MILES

This 19th-century bridge across the River Tarn provides a fine perspective over Albi's pink-bricked cathedral.

5. Musée de Lapérouse

0.33 MILES

This intriguing museum explores the adventures of Albi-born explorer Jean-François de Galaup (aka the Comte de Lapérouse), who made several pioneering…

6. Maison des Vins

12.5 MILES

This well-organised winegrowers' cooperative is a great place to get acquainted with Gaillac wines. It stocks about 100 local vintages. Friendly,…

7. Jardins des Paradis

13.37 MILES

Feel stress melt away as you idle by frog-filled ponds and under shady palm trees in these sculpted flower gardens.

8. Église St-Jean

21.71 MILES

Two hundred metres below the Forteresse Royale de Najac is the austere 13th-century Église St-Jean, constructed and financed by local villagers on the…