Toulouse Impressions

The rose-colored Toulouse (La Ville Rose) is most certainly a she-city with its air - warm, the color - sublime Mediterranean blend of red, rose, taupe, and yellow, the breeze - gentle.  It is not hurried, in spite of being the 5th largest city in France (after Lille), but relaxed and content. Thanks to its color and temperament Toulouse is compared to Spain and Italy rather than other French towns. Located on the banks of the River Garonne, it has a perfect location - half-way between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, 2 hour-drive away from the Pyrenees ski resorts and the Mediterranean beaches.

The first recorded inhabitants are thought to be a Celtic tribe who settled here in the 3C BC. A century later it was colonized by the Romans and annexed to the Gallia Narbonensis colony. Till this day, a few architectural remnants of the Roman times remain. Conquered by the Visigoth in 418, it become the capital of a kingdom. In the 8C Charlemagne created the County of Toulouse, which was annexed to France in the 12C after the Albigensian Crusade by which the Papal Church reasserted its dominance. A period of prosperity of Toulouse marked the 15C, when a special blue dye extracted from locally-grown woad, made fortunes for many merchants in town. They built magnificent mansions and chateau that can still be visited today. After the decline of woad trade, maize, sunflower and other cereal crops were introduced in the 17C and they still remain the main agricultural focus of the area. The 18C saw the decline of the city and it was only after the WWI that Toulouse started to grow into France's high-tech centre. Aviation (Airbus plant) and space industries, electronics, satellite, software companies migrated to Toulouse.

Toulouse has a magnificent collection of the most unusual churches and basilicas: their history and architecture reflect tumultuous religious periods, having gone through stages of reconstruction and renditions. Nevertheless, this layer-upon-layer effect creates a puzzling and unique character that can be identified only with Toulouse. 

The Legend of St. Sernin
This story of the martyrdom is essential to the history of the area as it is omni-present. Saint Saturnin was one of 7 bishops sent by the Pope in an effort to christianize Gaul around 250. He was consecrated as the first bishop of Toulouse. The pagan priests ascribed silence of their gods to the presence of St. Sarnin. One day they seized him and on his unshakable refusal to sacrifice to the pagan gods, they tied him by the feet to a bull which dragged him about the town until the rope broke. The street taken by the bull exists today, Rue de Taur.

Religious buildings in Toulouse

Cathedrale St-Etienne
Its incoherent shape is a result of several periods of reconstruction, from 11 to 17C. Built on the site of an early Christian church of the 4C, the first building was ready in 1140. The 2nd wave of construction was interrupted by the Albergensian crusade in 1211 and when taken up again in 1268 the new bishop had a different vision- north Gothic instead of the Romanesque. When he died the nave was not built and so the earlier one remained. The cloisters and other buildings were demolished between 1812 and 1817 and some capitals of the Cathedrale that are now exhibited in the Musee des Augustins, date from the 12C.

Eglise des Jacobins
7 columns spread into ribs
The Dominican order was founded in Toulouse by Domingo de Guzman from Castile, later to become St. Dominic. in 1206 he was traveling from Italy to Spain and was horrified by the Albigensian heresy. He and his 6 followers initially lodged in a house of a wealthy resident of Toulouse; in 1215 he received a Papal approval for the Dominican order; in 1229 work began on a church and finished in 1235. In 1340 it was chosen as the final resting place of St. Thomas Aquinas whose relics still lie there.

Only the doorway remains of the first Romanesque building thanks to 4 different building campaigns that took place between 1230 and 1335. It was also badly damaged during and after the Revolution.

The inside of the church is quite austere, reflecting the Dominican postulates of self-denial. The rose and green colors of the columns and the ceiling faded.

Basilique St-Sernin
The original site built in 400, housed the body of St Sernin and the number of pilgrims was so great that a bigger building was required.

The work on this most photogenic religious building in Toulouse was started in 1096 and completed in the 14C.

Built of rose brick and stone in the shape of a Latin cross, it has radiating semi-circular chapels. The remains of the saint are vaulted in a lower crypt.

Eglise de Notre-Dame-du-Taur
Both the church and the street (Rue du Taur) take their name from the Occitan work for bull - a reference to the legend of St Sernin, who was dragged down the street. This church was the first burial place of the remains of the saint.

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