Toulouse (fr. Toulouse) is a commune in the South-West of France, divided in half by the Garonne River and located near the border with Spain.

The violet culture development in the nineteenth century led to the fact that they chose this flower as the city’s emblem and the city itself earned its “pink city” name.

Toulouse has historically been the capital of the Visigoth kingdom (an early feudal state entity, historically the first of the so-called barbarian kingdoms that developed on the territory of the Western Roman Empire during its collapse in the 5th century. The capitals were Barcelona, Toulouse, Toledo, Narbonne, it is the Languedoc historical capital as well.

Toulouse is the capital of the Occitan’s Upper Garonne department and the Toulouse metropolis headquarters (a metropolis that unites part of the Toulouse agglomeration in Upper Garonne and has 37 municipalities) today.

Toulouse is France’s fourth most populous municipality after Paris, Marseille and Lyon. About 1.4 million residents lived in the municipality in 2021.

City History

The Gallic peoples confederation occupied West Languedoc from the middle of the third century BC, long before the Roman settlement; there is the belief that they were the first settlers of Old Toulouse, which was located several kilometers to the South from the modern Toulouse. Local settlers had trade relations with Spain, Italy and the rest of Gaul; they exchanged wine, wheat, leather and metal products.

Romans conquered Toulouse (Tolosa in Latin) in 107 BC. The Gallo-Romans built here, as in other large cities, aqueducts, as well as a theater amphitheater and roman baths buildings. They surrounded the city by the huge brick wall; some parts of it still remain.

The city grew and flourished rapidly. They built the first Saint Sernin basilica in the year 403 due to the increase in the number of Christians in the region.

However, because the city was far from the Mediterranean Sea, it was not the most influential in the region.

The “ephemeral” Toulouse Kingdom creation was in the year 629 and then the city became the capital of the Grand Duchy in the seventh and eighth centuries; the duchy borders stretched from the Pyrenees to the Loire and from Rodez to the Ocean (l’Océan).

The Arab army besieged the city in the year 721; they defeated the army finally at the Battle of Toulouse on June 9th, 721, which marked the end of the army advance to the north.

The city remained independent for a long time in the Middle Ages. The counts of Toulouse spread their possessions to most of the South of France.

Pope Urban II (leader of the First Crusade) went to Toulouse to consecrate the basilica of Saint-Sernin in 1096.

The first general council was created in 1152; it was the court prototype. The council collected taxes, held trials and maintained order in the city.

The Capitol appeared at the northern gate in 1190; nowadays it is the city’s symbol. One of the first joint-stock companies appeared at the same time; the Bazacle mill on the Garonne River.

The Catharism became the occasion for the Albigensian crusade in 1209.

The Treaty of Paris was signed (le traité de Paris) on April 12th, 1229, it ended the Albigensian conflict between the King of France and the Count of Toulouse and marked the final accession of Occitan countries to the royal estate of Les Capétiens.

The University of Toulouse was founded in the same year.

The county became part of the Languedoc French kingdom in 1271.

Dominique de Guzmán (Catholic priest canonized by the church in 1234 as Saint Dominic) founded the order of preaching “Dominican brothers” in 1215 to counter the influence of the “the Cathars heresy”.

The city became the fourth city of the kingdom of France in the fourteenth century. However, there was the bad damage to the city in 1348 by the Black Death, which repeatedly returned here in the 14th and 15th centuries. It was also robbed during the Hundred Years War.

Toulouse experienced the great prosperity period in the Renaissance, from the late fifteenth to sixteenth century.

This is the time when large mansions were constructed such as the Bernuy Hotel or the Assézat Hotel.

The terrible fire occurred in the city on May 7th, 1463; it destroyed three-quarters of the city and destroyed several churches and monasteries.

King Louis XI decided to restore the Parliament and the court in Toulouse on December 23rd, 1468, as their powers had previously been transferred to Montpellier.

Toulouse was the fourth city in France where printing began (the year 1476).

Protestants and Catholics entered into bloody battles in 1560.

Catholics defeated the Huguenots and their homes were looted during the riots in 1562.

Catholicism was victorious in the seventeenth century. There were many monasteries established in the city.

Two symbols of the city, Pont-Neuf and Canal du Midi, were created in 1632 and 1682, respectively.

They rebuilt Capitholium in the 18th century.

Toulouse accepted the French bourgeois revolution without any problems. There are records showing several robberies and attacks on castles. Conflicts erupted in the late 18th century due to church reform. The city lost the regional capital title and became the Upper Garonne’s main city.

The Jacobins managed to keep it from the federalists uprising (which avoided the connection of the West with the Southeast). The Republicans managed to defeat the popular uprising in exactly the same way in 1799; the main motive of the uprising was the refusal to take part in compulsory military service.

The Battle of Toulouse took place on April 10th, 1814; it was the last Franco-British battle on French soil.

The railroad reached Toulouse in 1856.

A severe flood occurred in Toulouse on June 23rd, 1875. Garonne climbed to 9.47 m flooding almost the entire left bank and destroying most of the bridges. 208 people were killed, more than 1200 houses were destroyed, and about 25,000 people were left homeless.

Tourism, sights, architecture and major attractions

Toulouse’s architecture is typical for the South of France. People call Toulouse the “pink city” because of the traditional local building material’s color; the terracotta brick.

The main city attraction is the Saint-Sernin basilica (La Basilique Saint-Sernin). They built it to bury the relics of St. Saturninus, the first bishop of Toulouse and the great martyr. This place was one of the most important pilgrimage centers of the medieval West from the 9th century until the French Revolution.

Saint Saturninus led the Christian community of Toulouse. He did not abandon Christianity contrary to the requirements of the Gentiles; they tied him with a rope to the bull that dragged him around the city. The rope broke in the place where the basilica stands today; however, this did not save St. Saturnin since death had already come. Two nuns buried him in the same place. The Basilica is a symbol of Southern Romanesque architecture.

Capitole Theater (Le Théâtre du Capitole) is a public institution that has been under municipal control since 1994. It is dedicated to lyric art and ballet. The theater’s location is on the Toulouse Capitol territory. They opened it on October 1st, 1818 on the site of the old theater erected by the Capitals in 1736. There are 1,156 seats in the largest Italian hall today. The Capitol Theater is a member of the ROF (the lyrical theater’s association of France, created in 1964, which promotes the development of opera in its historical, cultural, institutional and political context), RESEO (the European network of institutions for the popularization of opera and dance) and Opera Europa (an international service organization for professional opera companies and opera festivals in Europe). There is also the Halle aux Grains in the city center; it is a symphony concert hall, where the National Orchestra of the Toulouse Capitol performs.

Sorano Theater (le Théâtre Sorano) created in 1964 by Maurice Sarrazin in the former auditorium of the Natural History Museum of Toulouse (Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle de Toulouse). The theater houses a drama center founded by Charles Dullin in 1945. Its name is a tribute to Daniel Sorano, a famous Toulouse actor and friend of Maurice Sarrazin. The capacity is 430 spectators. The theater’s focus is on creative intelligentsia and youth.

The Théâtre de la Cité, the former National Theater of Toulouse, is a national drama center located in the heart of the historic center between Wilson Square (La Place Wilson) and Occitane Square (La Place Occitane). The theater receives up to 100,000 spectators per year.

Among modern cultural and business places is the Congress Center Pierre-Baudis (le center des congrès Pierre-Baudis), named after Pierre Bodis, mayor of Toulouse (1971-1983), the media library Jose Cabanis (la médiathèque José-Cabanis) located in the Marengo area of the former Toulouse Veterinary School (which was demolished in 1965). The Jean-Pierre Buffi architectural firm developed this monumental work. The Media Library has been open since 2004.

Zénith Toulouse Métropole Show Arena opened on April 17th, 1999 and its capacity is 11,000 spectators. The multi-functional arena is “flexible” and can adapt to any kind of show with the audience capacity.

The Museum of Natural History and Ethnology located in the Botanical Garden of Toulouse, Busca-Montplaisir houses collections of more than two and a half million coins in an area of about 6,000 m2. It is the second-largest in France after the Natural History National Museum (MNHN) in Paris.

Barrière Toulouse Casino is a complex that includes a concert hall with 1200 seats and a casino. It is located on the Ramier island (l’île du Ramier).

You can take a cruise along the Canal du Midi connecting the Garonne River and the Mediterranean Sea. There are bicycle and pedestrian paths along the canal too.

Toulouse is the European aeronautics and space industry capital

Toulouse became an aviation pioneers’ city in the 1920s under the influence of Pierre-Georges Latécoère who established air links with Casablanca and Dakar. Aéropostale (a transatlantic mail carrier) was established in 1927.

Former mechanic, Emil Dewoitine, took the first steps in the aerospace field; he designed the first metal aircraft with a windshield. The state began supporting the Toulouse aviation industry after that.

Airbus and its parent company Airbus Group, as well as the Space Research National Center (Center national d’études spatiales) are located here today.

An important attraction of Toulouse is the space city (la Cité de l’espace). It is a space-oriented center of science culture dedicated to both astronomy and astronautics. They opened the space city in June 1997. Nearly 5 million people have visited the city during its 20 years of existence.

The city is a European “industrial field”, uniting many advanced industries: electronics, computer science, chemistry and medicine.

There are many medical research centers in Toulouse as well: Onkopol (oncology research campus, European Cancer Research Center); the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM, a French government-owned research and technology institution specialized in medical research, under the tutelage of the French Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation and the French Ministry of Health); and the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS).

Toulouse’s University is one of the oldest in France along with the universities of Paris and Montpellier.

French politician, Jean Jaurès, known for his pacifism and opposition to the outbreak of World War I, was a lecturer at the Faculty of Arts. The famous French chemist and Nobel laureate in chemistry in 1912, Paul Sabatier, was the dean of the faculty of sciences, and Vincent Auriol, president of the French Republic IV (1947-1954) had a doctorate in law. More than 100 thousand students study at the University of Toulouse today.

Toulouse and sport

Toulouse’s symbolic sport is rugby. Among the members of the Stade Toulousain sports club are outstanding athletes of both national and world level who have won 20 titles of champions of France and 4 titles of champions of Europe.

Toulouse’s cuisine and restaurants

As in any big city, in Toulouse, there are a huge number of restaurants offering French, Mediterranean, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and other cuisine types. The best restaurants are concentrated within the Old Town.

Toulouse’s traditional meal, cassoulet (caçolet), is made from white beans and meat. The name comes from cassoulet terracotta cookware made in Issel; it gives a special refined taste to the meal.

Shopping in Toulouse

The first department stores in Toulouse appeared in the 1870s: les Galeries Lafayette, Au Printemps, and Au Gaspillage were the main stores of Toulouse in the late 19th and early 20th years. There was fierce competition between the shops of Toulouse and Paris in the past (the Gompel brothers opened “Au Capitole” and they opened the Dames de France in Toulouse as well).

The Gramont Shopping Center (2 Chemin de Gabardie) can now be found in the city, where one can purchase items from the latest collections. Centre Commercial Basso Cambo, Centre Commercial Espace Saint-Georges, and Centre Commercial Labege are among some of the other shopping centers.

It is definitely worth paying a visit to the Violets House floating boutique store dedicated to violets. You can buy clothes and jewelry, cosmetics, sweets made from violet petals, floral-flavored liquor, eau de toilette, as well as flowers for seedlings here.

How to get to?

Distance by car:

From Biarritz (tolls): 3 h 7 min (312 km) via A64

From Dax (tolls): 2 h 58 min (279 km) via A64

From Nantes (tolls): 5 h 25 min (585 km) via A83, A10 and A62

From Saumur (tolls): 5 h 27 min (543 km) via A10 and A62

From Bordeaux (tolls): 2 h 37 min (244 km) via A62

From La Rochelle (tolls): 4 h 10 min (422 km) via A10 and A62

From Carcassonne (tolls): 1 h 14 min (93.7 km) via A61

From Monaco (tolls): 5 h 41 min (583 km) via A8

From Nice (tolls): 5 h 31 min (561 km) via A8

From Marseille (tolls): 4 h 7 min (404 km) via A9 and A61

From Avignon (tolls): 3 h 26 min (331 km) via A9 and A61

From Montpellier (tolls): 2 h 41 min (243 km) via A9 and A61

From Béziers (tolls): 2 h 1 min (181 km) via A61

From Perpignan (tolls): 2 h 12 min (207 km) via A61

From Narbonne (tolls): 1 h 45 min (151 km) via A61

From Andorra (tolls):2 h 51 min (184 km) via N20

There is an international airport in Toulouse (Blagnac). The airport features flights to 74 destinations mostly in Europe and Northern Africa with a few additional seasonal long-haul connections.

Toulouse Matabiau railway station is the main railway station serving the city of Toulouse, in southern France. The railway station is located very near to Toulouse’s city centre, about 1.2 km away from the famous Place Capitole. High speed TGV trains, regional trains (TER), and Intercity trains call at Toulouse Matabiau railway station.

Toulouse Matabiau railway station is served by trains from major French cities such as Bordeaux, Lyon, and Marseille. Travellers from Paris, usually stop at Bordeaux before continuing to Toulouse. Regional towns such as Carcassonne and Narbonne can be reached directly by train from Toulouse.

Main information

Area: 118.3 sq. km

Coordinates: 43°36′19″ 1°26′34″

Population: 475 438

Languages: French, Occitane

Currency: euro

Visa: Schengen

Time: Central-European UTC +1

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