Toulouse travel information and guide

What keeps this region from dozing in its vats of duck fat and wine is that big pink dynamo on the Garonne. Toulouse, nicknamed La Ville Rose for its millions of pink bricks, has 1,360,000 inhabitants, more than 110,000 university students, a well-preserved historic center with the largest Romanesque church in the world and most of the aeronautical, space and related infrastructures of the EU. technological industries.

Instead of being France’s fourth city, Toulouse should have been the capital of an Occitan-speaking nation called Languedoc, but it was knocked out of the major leagues in the 1220s by the popes and kings of France and their sidekick. Simon deMontfort. Eight centuries later, Toulouse is rediscovering its mojo as the capital of Occitania, a large region stretching from the Dordogne to the Rhône, encompassing almost all the former territories of the former Counts of Toulouse.

Spain extends its course here, distilling enough passion to make Toulouse a city of emotion, emotion that overflows when his beloved rugby team, Stade Toulousain, enters the field. The city’s motto is By Tolosa totjorn May (“For Toulouse, always more”). Ever more sprawl and traffic jams, but also ever more things to see and do, showing off its air and space technology at the Cité d’Espace and Aeroscopia – as well as the nifty steampunk marvels to ride in the Halle de the machine.

To see and do in Toulouse

Capitol Square

Toulouse’s front saloon dates from 1850, after a 200-year campaign to rid it of surplus buildings. As a permanent memorial to the southern kingdom forever, the center of the pavement is marked by a huge Cross of Languedoc, complete with Zodiac symbols added in 1993, by Raymond Moretti, who also decorated the ceilings of the porticos of the square with scenes from the city’s history. This same golden cross on a red background is proudly hung on the town hall of Toulouse, the CapitolWhere Capitol as it reads on the facade, bowing to a 16th-century story claiming that ancient Rome got its idea of ​​the Capitol from the Toulouse temple of Jupiter Capitolinus.

The Théâtre du Capitole is even more impressive at night © Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, Wikimedia Commons

The portal on the right belongs to the Capitol Theater, while above the central door eight pink marble columns represent the eight Capitouls. Pedestrians can cut through the magnificent walkway to the interior Henry IV Court, with a statue of the said king, who in 1602 gave permission for the construction of the court. Henry would have said Nope! if he had known what was going to happen there 30 years later, thanks to the jealous rivalries and shenanigans of his two neurotic sons, Louis XIII and Gaston d’Orléans (“Monsieur” for short), and the Prime Minister and arch-puppeteer Cardinal de Richelieu.

The grand the staircase leads to the lovely public rooms, decorated between the middle of the 19th century and until the 1920s with monumental illustrations from picture books on the history of Toulouse. The vast Hall of the Illustrious is lined with paintings of Toulouse’s moments of glory, including the prodigious Pope Urban II entered Toulouse in 1095 to summon Raymond IV to the First Crusade by Benjamin Constant and the Victory over Simon de Montfort by Laurens, with the Apotheosis of the woman who killed Simon de Montfort on the ceiling, honoring the anonymous heroine of the city.

Augustinian Museum

Housed in a 14th century Augustinian convent, this art treasure chest owes its foundation to Alexandre Dumège, the self-taught son of a Dutch actor passionate about medieval art. During the Revolution, while the Ville Rose was busy blithely smashing its fabulous architectural heritage as ordered in 1790 by the Convention, “so as not to allow any monument evoking slavery to remain”, Dumège alone and by defiance saved the essential of the contents of this museum, then opened its doors in 1794.

Augustinian Museum Toulouse
The Musée des Augustins is housed in a 14th century convent © Didier Descouens, Wikimedia Commons

The Romanesque and Gothic sculptures, in particular the capitals of cloisters that have disappeared, steal the show. The finest come from St-Étienne – a delicate, almost fluid scene of the dance of Salomé and the beheading of Jean-Baptiste. There are scenes from a 14th century altarpiece, the Group of three people, one of whom is strangled by a monster, and a singing chorus of gargoyles; there is a sarcophagus with a webbed-footed bird carved on the side, believed to belong to the Visigoth Queen Ranachilde – Queen Pedauque, the crow’s feet, which was said to paddle around Toulouse in the aqueducts. There are reliefs by Nicolas Bachelier, and portraits by Capitouls; one of their oldest prerogatives was image rights – the right to have their portraits painted, a rare honor in the 13th and 14th centuries. There is a very unpleasant Apollo flaying Marsyas by Guido Reni, and the paintings are by Van Dyck, Rubens, Murillo, Rigaud, Simon Vouet, Delacroix, Ingres, Manet, Morisot, Vuillard, Maurice Denis and Toulouse-Lautrec.

The Jacobins

Just west of Place du Capitole stands the grand Dominican Mother Church, Les Jacobins, one of the masterpieces of French Southern Gothic. The Spanish priest Domingo de Guzmán or Dominic had attempted to convert the Cathars before the Albigensian Crusade, though even a holy man’s powers of persuasion proved negligible in the face of an intellectual revolt against the openly corrupt clergy. By 1206 Domingo had converted enough women to found a convent, which became the germ of his Order of Preachers, established in Toulouse in 1215. Confirmed by the Pope in 1216, the new Dominican order quickly found adherents across the Europe.

The Jacobins of Toulouse
Les Jacobins is one of the masterpieces of Southern Gothic © Pom², Wikimedia Commons

The church is the perfect expression of the 13th century reaction to Rome’s love of luxury. The gargoyles are the only exterior sculpture of this immense but harmonious cluster of brick buttresses, alternating with flamboyant windows; its octagonal bell tower in brick and stone crowned with small towers is a landmark of the Toulouse skyline. The interior is breathtakingly light and spacious, consisting of twin naves divided by seven enormous columns, 28m the tallest of any Gothic church anywhere, criss-crossed by a fantastic interweaving of ribs in the vault, reaching an epiphany in the massive Flamboyant palm in the apse. The painted decoration dates from the 13th to 16th centuries, but only the glass of the rose windows on the west side is original. The 19th century gilded reliquary of Saint Thomas Aquinas was returned to the high altar in 1974.

Hotel de Bernuy

It was one of the most beautiful residences in the city, built in 1504 by a merchant of pastels from Burgos, Don Juan de Bernuy, a Spanish Jew who became a citizen – and Capitoul – of Toulouse. Although Gothic on the outside, architect Loys Privat designed an eclectic courtyard, a mix of Gothic, Plateresque and Loire Chateau, topped with a tall tower rivaling those of any other pastel moguls. De Bernuy had a chance to repay France for the fortune he made when Francis I was captured at the Battle of Pavia by Charles V and imprisoned in Madrid; the king fell seriously ill, but no one could pay the ransom of 1,200,000 gold coins shield demanded by the Emperor – until de Bernuy bailed him out.

In his distress the king had promised an ex-voto to Saint Sernin if he survived, and in the ambulatory you can see the black marble statue he donated when he came in 1533 to thank Saint and Bernuy. Shortly after Bernuy’s time, the Jesuits took over his mansion and turned it into a college, now the prestigious Pierre de Fermat high schoolnamed after his star student.

Basilica of Saint-Sernin

Sernin’s tomb at Notre-Dame-du-Taur attracted so many pilgrims and Christians wishing to be buried near it that in 403 AD a martyrium was built 300m to the north. The saint’s remains were moved here; Charlemagne, who always seemed to travel with a trunk of sacred bones, donated a heap, and it was not long before graves lined the Rue du Taur. In 1075, as the pilgrimage to Compostela gained momentum, the canons of Saint-Sernin decided they needed something much bigger to cope with the pious crowds. The construction of a new basilica was of such importance that in 1096 Pope Urban II consecrated its marble altar while recruiting Count Raymond IV as leader of the First Crusade.

Basilica of Saint Sernin Toulouse
St-Sernin is the largest surviving Romanesque church in the world © Didier Descouens, Wikimedia Commons

In 1220, St-Sernin was completed. 115m long, with a 46m transept, it is the largest surviving Romanesque church in the world (only Cluny, destroyed during the Revolution, was larger). Started at the same time, it takes up the plan of the basilica of Santiago de Compostela, intended to welcome the crowds of pilgrims: a cross, ending in a majestic semi-circular apse with five radiating chapels. In the 19th century, the abbey and the cloister were demolished and in 1860, Viollet-le-Duc was called upon to restore the basilica. He spent 20 years on the project – and botched the roof so badly that a century later it was in danger of collapsing, hence an expensive ‘de-restoration’ project to undo the misdeeds of Viollet-le- Duke. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.

Getting to Toulouse

By plane

Toulouse International Airport at Blagnac, 10 km northwest of the centre, is one of the busiest in France.

By train

Toulouse’s main train station is Matabiau. Trains from Paris-Austerlitz via Gourdon, Souillac, Cahors and Montauban take 6h30; The TGV from Paris-Montparnasse does the same in 5 hours – via Bordeaux. Slow trains to Bordeaux take 2.5 hours and stop at Montauban, Castelsarrasin, Moissac, Agen and Aiguillon.

By bus

La Gare Routière is next to the train station with buses mainly to towns around Toulouse. The low-cost European bus line Flixbus also uses the station.

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