Sometime during August when it has been scorching hot for days on end I start to take the sun for granted, or even try to avoid it. Unlike the beginning of summer when all I want in life is to swim in the sea and spend all day outside, eventually I get bored and I start to crave something else. Now is a great time to visit Toulouse.
As you have probably heard Toulouse is known as la ville rose, or the pink city. It is a shame we didn’t come up with a more poetic and less literal translation. It sounds better in French, a bit like ‘la vie en rose’ (especially with a southern accent) which means life through rose tinted spectacles. In English everything preceded by pink sounds a bit cheap.
The Romans first used bricks when Toulouse was still Tolosa and part of their Narbonnaise Province. The Garonne River retreated after the last glacial era, stone became rare but clay was found in abundance. The Romans extracted it from the nearby hills and used it to manufacture bricks. It was economical, well insulating and also environmentally friendly. The clay had a high concentration of iron oxide which gave it a pink color during firing. There isn’t much left of Tolosa anymore but the pink brick architecture has become the signature style of Toulouse.
Here are a few brick buildings not to miss….
The Jacobins is a Dominican monastery built in 1229. In 1215 in Toulouse, Saint Dominic founded the Order of Preachers that bears his name, the Dominican Order. At the time of the battle against the Cathar faith, this community placed dialogue and discussion at the heart of its way of life and its teachings. This played a major role in the creation of the first university of Toulouse in 1229. For many years the classes took place in the city’s monasteries and convents, in particular at les Jacobins where the bell was used to mark the times for class. Toulouse is still a very important student city. Many university buildings are right in town so the students bring youth and vitality to the city streets as well as a huge amount of inexpensive places to eat and drink. They hold concerts in the cloister at les Jacobins sometimes or you can visit any day but Monday from 10 to 6pm. It is located pretty much in the centre of town just behind Place du Capitole. The admission charge is 4 euros which provides access to the cloister, the chapterhouse, the refectory and Saint Antonin’s Chapel.
The Basilica of Saint-Sernin is the former abbey church of the Abbey of Saint-Sernin or St Saturnin. Apart from the church, none of the abbey buildings remain. The current church sits on the site of a previous basilica of the 4th century which contained the body of Saint Saturnin, the first bishop of Toulouse. Constructed in the Romanesque style between roughly 1080 and 1120 it is one of the largest remaining Romanesque buildings in Europe.
The stone that killed Simon de Montfort in 1218, while he was besieging Toulouse, was thrown from the roof of Saint-Sernin.
photos : inside the medieval monastery at les Jacobins, la basilica St Sernin and the Musée des Augustins
Le Musée des Augustins
The Augustins Convent is a fine example of Southern Gothic architecture. It was home to the Hermits of Saint Augustine, a mendicant order (dependent on charity) founded in the first half of the 13th century.
It became an asset of the nation in 1789. A group of art lovers and professors from the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture lobbied until they obtained the opening of a museum to protect local masterpieces from the mob justice of the revolutionaries, and to protect them from pillaging. One of the oldest museums in France the original ‘Provisional Museum of the South of the Republic’ opened in 1795 not long after the Louvre in Paris. The fine arts museum of Toulouse houses sculptures and paintings, permanent and temporary exhibitions and is free for everyone the first Sunday of every month. Entrance is 6 euros; the museum is closed on Tuesdays.
Cathédrale Saint Etienne de Toulouse is a national monument and the seat of the Archbishop of Toulouse.
The construction of this cathedral spanned eight centuries. Two incomplete churches on one site, not built on the same axis displaying different styles of architecture make for a very unusual and beautiful monument inside and out. This photo is of the west front and shows the rose window from 1230 as well as the side of the baptism chapel north of the entrance. An oblong tower, composed of a Gothic portion on Romanesque foundations, with a 16th century gable belfry, completes the west façade. The cathedral is located once again in the city centre on the edge my favorite quarter, le quartier des antiquaires. You can wind your way through les ruelles (little streets) browsing and stopping for tea in one of the tea rooms or shopping for beautiful little things you don’t really need.
All four of these sites are close to each other and easily reached on foot or by bike. If you prefer not to walk there is a hop on hop off bus here, as in most cities, which only costs 14 euros. Having spent so much time entertaining myself ‘downroute’ on trips as a stewardess I found this to be a fantastic option when your feet are killing you. That said I tried hop on hop off in Mexico (city) and I was on that bus for what seemed like forever and only went four blocks because of the traffic. I was hopping mad by the time I figured out it was quicker to walk.
One of my favorite things to do in this world is troll for old records and weird books. I used to love to do this in Boston and San Francisco but one by one all my favorite record shops closed down.
Here there are still lots of independent bookshops and vinyl shops. You will find old DVDs and even CDs here as well as records. Jazz, rock, blues, soul or classic, whichever kind of music you like, you will find it here.
le Laboratoire Vinyles, one of the local shops selling vintage records
Enjoy your stroll through the city, visiting monuments or hanging out and shopping. Follow my next post ‘marketing‘ in Toulouse, when I visit some of my favorite markets here in the capital of my beautiful Occitanie.