Monday, 15 October 2012



Toulouse is a city in the Haute-Garonne department in southwestern France. It lies on the banks of the River Garonne, halfway between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, and 590 km (366 mi) away from Paris. The city of Toulouse can be traced back to ancient times. It was the capital of the County of Toulouse in the Middle Ages and today is the capital of the Midi-Pyrénées region.

Archaeological evidence dates human settlement in Toulouse to the 8th century BC. The location was very advantageous, at a place where the Garonne River bends westward toward the Atlantic Ocean and can be crossed easily. It was a focal point for trade between the Pyrenees, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Immediately north of these hills was a large plain suitable for agriculture. People gathered on the hills overlooking the river, south of the plain, 9 kilometers south of today's downtown Toulouse. The name of the city was Tolosa. Researchers today agree that the name is probably Aquitanian, related to the old Basque language, but the meaning is unknown.

The first inhabitants seem to have been Aquitanians, of whom little is known. Later came Iberians from the south, who, like the Aquitanians, were non-Indo-European people. In the 3rd century BC there came a Celtic Gallic tribe called the Volcae Tectosages from Belgium or southern Germany, the first Indo-European people to appear in the region. They settled in Tolosa and interbred with the local people. Their Gaulish language became predominant. By 200 BC Tolosa is attested to be the capital of the Volcae Tectosages, which C. Julius Caesar later called Tolosates in his famous account of Gallic wars, singular Tolosas. Archeologists say Tolosa was one of the most important cities in Gaul, and certainly it was famed in pre-Roman times for being the wealthiest one. There were many gold and silver mines nearby, and the offerings to the holy shrines and temples in Tolosa had accumulated a tremendous wealth in the city.

The Romans started their conquest of southern Gaul (later known as the Provincia) in 125 BC. Moving westward, they founded in 118 BC the colony of Narbo Martius (Narbonne), the Mediterranean city nearest to inland Toulouse, and so they came into contact with the Tolosates, famous for their wealth and the key position of their capital for trade with the Atlantic. Tolosa chose to ally with the daunting Romans, who established a military fort in the plain north of the city, a key position near the border of independent Aquitania, but otherwise left the inhabitants of Tolosa free to rule themselves in semi-independence.

Tolosa was then fully incorporated into the Roman Provincia (Provincia Romana—the usual name for what was officially called the province of Transalpine Gaul, with its capital at Narbo Martius). Tolosa was an important military garrison at the western border of the Roman realm. However the city remained a backwater in the Provincia, people were still living in the old Celtic city in the hills. No Roman colony was established; few Roman soldiers settled in the area.

The Basilica of St. Sernin

Things changed after the conquest of the rest of Gaul by Julius Caesar. In a sign that Romanization of the people was already well under its way, Tolosa did not take part in the various uprisings against Rome during the Gallic wars. In fact southern France would prove to be the most romanized part of France after the fall of the Roman Empire. Caesar established his camp in the plain of Tolosa in 52 BC, and from there he conquered the western regions of Aquitania. With the conquest of Aquitania and the whole of Gaul, Tolosa was no more a military outpost. It capitalized on its key position for trade between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, now both under Roman control, and the city developed rapidly.

At the beginning of the 8th century, the Arabs appeared in the region. Coming from Spain along the Mediterranean coast they captured Narbonne from the last Visigoths in 719. Then al-Samh ibn Malik al-Khawlani, the wali (governor) of al-Andalus (Muslim Spain), mustered a strong army (from North Africa, Syria, and Yemen) and set to conquer Aquitaine. 

Moving west from Narbonne he besieged Toulouse, capital of the duchy of Aquitaine, but after 3 months of siege, just as the city was about to surrender, Duke Odo of Aquitaine (also known as Eudes) who had left the city to find help managed to come back with an army and defeated the Arab army at the Battle of Toulouse on June 9, 721, just outside of the city walls. Noticeably, the Frankish Charles Martel had refused to help, wishing to take advantage of the situation to recover Aquitaine, and Odo is recorded as leading an army of ('Roman' and maybe Basque speaking Gascon) Aquitanians and regional Franks to fight against the Arabs. 

The Battle of Toulouse was a crushing defeat for the Arabs, who perished in battle by the thousands. The Arab army scattered and most of the soldiers were killed, al-Samh died of his wounds, and the remainder of the Arab troops under second-in-command Abd al-Rahman al-Ghafiqi fled back to Narbonne where Duke Odo decided not to pursue them. This battle is still remembered today among Arab historians as the major check in Arab expansions toward the west.
The French Revolution is a major event in the Toulouse history. It changed the role of the city, as well as its political and social structure.

The city was one of many spectators of the Parisian movement. The on-coming of the protests of July 14, 1789 had minor repercussions, punctuated by some plundering. Five months later, when the Ancien Régime was abolished, a new order took over. The members of the Parlement and the Capitouls fought to preserve their privileges, they demonstrated on September 25, and hardly received any support from a population which did not recognize its former protectors.

The regional influence of Toulouse, formerly ensured by its Parlement, was reduced to a department, Haute-Garonne. The clergy was required to yield to the "Civil Constitution of the Clergy" imposed by the constituent assembly. A new archbishop was named despite the disagreement of Loménie de Brienne. Part of the population was hostile to these reforms and their financial impact.

The prerogatives of the Capitouls were abolished on December 14, 1789. Joseph de Rigaud was the first mayor, elected on February 28, 1790.

In 1793, during the Commune, Toulouse refused to join the Provence and Aquitaine federalists in going to Paris. The prospects of the war against Austria and those of the interior resistance's initiated the Terror, purifying Toulouse from part of the refractors to the Revolution.

In 1799, the fortified city resisted the attack of the British and Spanish royalist armies, during the first battle of Toulouse. The elevation of Napoleon to the head of the new regime, then empire, restored partially the regional statute of the city. The emperor even came to Toulouse in 1808, and gave in particular the Daurade cloister to the tobacco factory.

In 1814, during the battle of Toulouse, the British army entered the city abandoned by the imperial army. Hence 10 April 1814 marks the last battle of the Empire: Napoleon having abdicated eight days earlier (but unfortunately the French commander, Soult, hadn't yet been informed!) The army of Wellington was welcomed there by a great number of royalists, which prepared Toulouse for the Restoration of Louis XVIII.

                                                        Toulouse’s Top 5:
  1. Toulouse Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Toulouse) is a Roman Catholic cathedral, and a national monument of France. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Toulouse. The exact date of the original building is unknown; the first mention of a church building on that site is found in a charter of 844. In 1073 the bishop of Toulouse commenced work on a more elaborate structure, followed by additional construction in the 13th century. The irregular west front exists because the cathedral consists of two incomplete churches, the first dating from the early 13th century, which includes the rose window from 1230; and the other begun in about 1272, on a new plan and a different axis, which was later abandoned, although by 1445 a triforium had been added to the choir and a Flamboyant west portal had been inserted. It is off-center because the architect took care to save the baptismal chapel north of the entrance. An oblong tower, composed of a Gothic portion on Romanesque foundations, and capped by a 16th-century gable belfry, completed the west façade. Also in the 15th century the nave and choir vaults were unsymmetrically connected, while in 1609, after a fire, the choir vault was rebuilt. It was not until the 1920s that its north wall was cleared of abutting buildings and a doorway added, similar in style to the west entrance.
  2. The Basilica of St. Sernin is the former abbey church of the Abbey of St. Sernin or St. Saturnin. It was built in the Romanesque style between about 1080 and 1120. It is located on the site of a previous basilica of the 4th century which contained the body of Saint Saturnin or Sernin, the first bishop of Toulouse in c. 250. The basilica was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites under the description: World Heritage Sites of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France since 1998.
  3. The Pont Neuf, French for "New Bridge" (a.k.a. Pont de Pierre and Grand Pont), is a 16th century bridge in Toulouse. Original planning for the bridge started in 1542 by the assembly of a committee of master masons and carpenters. Construction started on the foundations in 1544; the first arch was started in 1614. The bridge was finished in 1632, and was inaugurated on 19 October 1659. The bridge is not symmetrical; the longest arch is the third from the right-hand bank. The openings through the piers were originally supposed to represent the face and mane of a lion. A triumphal archway added in 1686 constricted traffic and was removed in 1860.
  4. The Musée des Augustins de Toulouse is a fine arts museum which conserves a collection of sculpture and paintings from the Middle Ages to the early 20th century. The paintings are from throughout France, the sculptures representing Occitan culture of the region with a particularly rich assemblage of Romanesque sculpture.
  5. The Capitole de Toulouse is the heart of the municipal administration of the French city of Toulouse. The Capitouls (governing magistrates) of the Toulouse embarked on the construction of the original building in 1190, to provide a seat for the government of a province growing in wealth and influence. The name "Capitole" referred not only to the Roman Capitol but also to the capitulum which was the chapter of the governing magistrates. In the 20th century, the structures surrounding the vast (2 hectares) Place du Capitole were redesigned. Some of the interior of the Capitole can be traced back to the 16th century, but the current façade, 135 metres long and built of the characteristic pink brick in Neoclassical style, dates from 1750, built according to plans by Guillaume Cammas. The eight columns represent the original eight capitouls. In 1873, Eugène Viollet-le-Duc built a bell tower typical of the style of northern France on top of the donjon of the building. It was in this donjon that Jean Calas, a Protestant victim of a religiously biased trial, was interrogated. Only the Henri IV courtyard and gate survive from the original medieval buildings. It was in this courtyard that the Duke de Montmorency was decapitated after his rebellion against Cardinal Richelieu.


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