Toulouse: a guide to a city of surprises

By March 6, 2020TO SEE, TOWN
TO SEE | TOWN
Toulouse

Toulouse is the fourth largest city in France, however many people skip this beautiful metropolis when visiting France. When, in fact, it has a lot to offer: history, architecture, culture, and of course great food. Known as “La Ville Rose”, or “The Pink City”, you can recognise Toulouse from afar because of the red-stained terracotta bricks used for their unique architecture. A city definitely worth exploring!

La Ville Rouge

By the way, until the 20th century, the city was called “La Ville Rouge”. But because red is also quite a political colour, they have changed it into “poetic” pink. Iron, found in the clay from the River Garonne, gives the bricks this typical colour. Because of that, the city glows pinkish (or red-dish, as you wish) in the golden hour of the day.

Toulouse

Look up

Toulouse is a lovely and lively city and the capital of the rather new region “Occitanie”. And it is too beautiful not to mention, or to visit. I have been to Toulouse a few times now, and I’m still struck by how elaborate the buildings are. If you look up while strolling around, you will see the most amazing sculptures. Or this remarkable clock, at the corner of the Rue Alsace Loraine and rue Rivals, showing 24 hours instead of the usual 12.

Toulouse

La Place du Capitole

One not-to-miss stop is La Place du Capitole, the heart of the local municipal administration. You will immediately be drawn to the Hôtel de Ville, or the Town Hall, with a length of 135 meters and built with the typical pink bricks. The building dates from 1750 and, remarkably, is constructed right on the spot where Saint Sernin, or Saint Saturninus, the first bishop of Toulouse, was martyred in about 250 AC. Saint Sernin was very popular in his time, and he soon had his own church. To reach this church, he had to pass the square where La Capitole is nowadays. The pagan priests didn’t really like Saint Sernin passing by, as, according to them, it silenced their oracles. One day, the pagan priests grabbed him and tied him to a bull’s tail, which dragged him around Toulouse until the rope broke.

La Place du Capitole

The Saint-Sernin basilica

Saint Sernin’s relics were eventually moved to a modest church by his successor Bishop Hilaire. Soon enough, this church became too small because of the great number of pilgrims visiting them. With the rise of the Saint James (Santiago de Compostella) pilgrimage route, the church needed more space to grow bigger. Therefore, in around 1080, they started the construction of the present Romanesque church. The Saint-Sernin basilica is now known to be the largest remaining Romanesque building in Europe.

The Saint-Sernin basilica

Le Pont Neuf

Another highlight of the city is the sixteenth-century bridge “Pont Neuf” over the River Garonne. Although its meaning is “New Bridge”, it is, in fact, the oldest bridge still standing with its feet in the Garonne. The floods of the river have washed all the other bridges away. It took almost 100 years to build the bridge, starting in 1544 and finishing in 1632. As Toulouse is such a vibrant city and the second university city of France, the banks of the river are the ideal meeting place for get-togethers. Perfect for a picnic, or, why not, a glass of wine. What a perfect way to end my visit to Toulouse!

Toulouse

Info

Toulouse is the fourth largest city in France, and you can easily spend a couple of days in this lively capital of Occitanie. The main tourist information office is right at the Donjon du Capitole and offers a lot of information as well as guided tours.

Office de Tourisme
Donjon du Capitole
Square Charles de Gaulle
31080 Toulouse
+33 (0)5 40 13 15 31

website

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