Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Toulouse
Toulouse, France's fourth largest city, the cultural and economic center of southern France, the see of an archbishop, a university town since 1230 and chief town of Languedoc and the département of Haute-Garonne, lies on the right bank of the Garonne and on the Canal du Midi, which since 1681 has provided a link between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic by way of the Garonne. Known as the "red city" because of its numerous brick buildings, it is rich in art and architecture, and is also the center of the French aircraft and space industry.
Around 200 BC the Volcae Tectosages, a Celtic people driven from their homeland in southeastern Germany, established a settlement here. This was succeeded by the Roman fortified town of Tolosa, on the road from Narbonne to Bordeaux. The town was Christianized by St Saturninus in the third century. After the end of the Roman period Toulouse was from 419 to 506 capital of the Visigothic kingdom, and later became the principal place in Aquitaine. From 845 to 1249 it was ruled by the Counts of Toulouse. Under the treaty of Paris in 1229 Toulouse passed to the French crown along with the rest of Languedoc. The University was founded by Pope Gregory IX in 1230, after the Albigensian wars. The Académie des Jeux Floraux was founded by Louis XIV.
Place de Capitole
From the Place du Capitole Rue du Taur runs north, passing the 14th C. church of Notre-Dame du Taur, with a fortified facade, to the church of St Sernin.
The basilica of St Sernin, a wide brick-built church with a five-aisled nave and three-aisled transepts, is one of the most magnificent pilgrimage churches on the pilgrim road to Santiago de Compostela and one of the finest of all Romanesque churches. The choir was built between 1075 and 1080 and consecrated in 1096, and the church was completed during the 13th C. It was restored by Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th C. It stands on the site of an earlier church in which St Saturninus (Sernin) was buried. Particularly fine are the choir with its ring of nine chapels and the six-story tower over the crossing which was much imitated in Languedoc and Gascony. It has imposing doorways, particularly the Porte Miégeville in the south aisle, with 12th C. Romanesque sculpture (on left King David, on the lintel the Apostles, in the tympanum the Ascension). In the south transept is the Porte des Comtes, with capitals depicting Lazarus and the rich man and the torments of the damned; to the left of the doorway is a recess containing four sarcophagi of Counts of Toulouse.
The cruciform interior has some notable features including seven 11th C. marble reliefs in the ambulatory, the 16th and 17th C. choir screens and the choir-stalls of 1670. In the apse is the tomb of St Sernin and in the north transept a large carved Romanesque crucifix. In the crypt is the church treasury, with numerous relics and six large polychrome wood statues of Apostles (14th C.).
Musée St Raymond
Opposite St Sernin is the Musée St Raymond, with prehistoric and Roman antiquities and a rich collection of medieval and Renaissance decorative art.
Canal du Midi
Eglise des Jacobins
West of the Place du Capitole is the brick-built Gothic church of the Jacobins (1260-1292), with a cloister of 1307. On one side is a handsome tower, built in 1301-1304 on the model of St Sernin. The two-aisled nave has dark-veined groined vaulting, which radiates in fan form from the last of the seven central piers in the choir. The remains of St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) were deposited in this church in 1974.
Hôtel de Bernuy
The Hôtel de Bernuy was built in 1509-1534 by a Spanish merchant of that name, with a beautiful courtyard in early Renaissance style.
Notre Dame de la Daurade
From the Hôtel de Bernuy, Rue J.- Suau runs southwest to the Place de la Daurade, with views of the Garonne, the Pont-Neuf (1543-1614) and the St-Cyprien district across the river. On the banks of the Garonne is the Baroque church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Daurade, built in 1773-1790 on the site of an earlier 12th C. church. Southeast is the church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Dalbade (1503-1545), with a large Renaissance doorway of 1537. Farther south is the Hôtel de Pierre (16th and 17th C.), and to the east of this the Hôtel Béringuier-Maynier (1517-1527), the earliest example of the so-called "Toulouse Renaissance" style. Around this church and in all this quarter of the town are many handsome old houses.
A little way east of the Pont-Neuf, in Rue de Metz, is the Hôtel d'Assézat, the most elegant of the city's burghers' houses, built by Nicolas Bachelier in 1555-1557 for the Capitoul d'Assézat, with a beautiful courtyard.
Cathedral of St Etienne
Near the east end of the Rue de Metz, in a spacious square, is the Cathedral of St Etienne, dominated by its massive tower. Its irregular plan is the result of the long period over which it was constructed (11th-17th C.). The 13th C. rose window in the west front is similar to the one in Notre-Dame in Paris. When it was built at the end of the 12th C. the three-aisled nave, in northern French Gothic style, was the widest vaulted structure of the kind in Europe, with a span of 19 m/62ft. The windows date from the 14th-17th centuries, the choir-stalls from 1611, the numerous tapestries from the 16th-18th centuries.
Musée des Augustins
The Musée des Augustins, housed in a former Augustinian monastery, including the chapterhouse and the cloisters (14th and 17th C.), has a large collection of sculpture, with fine examples of Early Christian sarcophagi and medieval sculpture, and of pictures.
The Musée d'Histoire Naturelle is in the Jardin des Plantes, and the Musée du Vieux Toulouse (history of the town) is housed in a handsome 16th-17th C. mansion to the south of the Place du Capitole.
3km/2mi west is the new district of Toulouse-le-Mirail (pop. 100,000), designed by G. Candilis.