Toulouse Introduction Walking Tour, Toulouse

Toulouse Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Toulouse

Toulouse has always been an important trading center, communicating between the Pyrenees, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic coasts even before the Iron Age. Its name is from the Greek "Tolosa." The meaning is a mystery.

In 1096 Raymond IV, Count of Toulouse, left to join the First crusade. This move turned out to be a popular thing among the counts. While they were away, their influence at home was on the fade.

Prominent citizens saw their opportunity. They created a municipal body of consuls to govern the city. The so called capitouls achieved significant autonomy and self-rule.

Under the Treaty of Paris in 1229, Toulouse officially came under the authority of the crown of France through an inheritance of Louis IX. There would be many Louis to come.

Pogroms, Plagues, and the Hundred Years War have come and gone. Followed by revolution, Waterloo, trouble with Germany 1870, more trouble with Germany 1914, and again more trouble with Germany 1939. But these days France, and Toulouse, Queen of Occitane, are doing much better.

Monuments dating from the era of the counts of Toulouse have been restored. There is a Museum of modern Art, The Bemberg Foundation, with paintings and bronzes from the Renaissance to the 20th century, The fabulous Pont-Neuf, Gothic and Baroque architecture, world heritage sites, many more captivating historical buildings and monuments, and for the future, the Space City. Space City Park is the center of the European aerospace industry, a scientific learning center of the future.

This is a "must see" city in every sense. Take this self-guided walk to see and experience the journey of a great city from ancient times to now and to the future.
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Toulouse Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Toulouse Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: France » Toulouse (See other walking tours in Toulouse)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.1 Km or 1.9 Miles
Author: helenp
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Capitole de Toulouse
  • Rue Saint-Rome (Saint-Rome Street)
  • Quai de la Daurade (La daurade Quay)
  • Pont Neuf (Nine Bridge)
  • Hotel d'Assezat and Bemberg Foundation
  • Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Toulouse (Toulouse Cathedral)
  • Musée des Augustins (Augustins Museum)
  • Rue d'Alsace-Lorraine (Alsace-Lorraine Street)
  • Basilica of Saint Sernin
Capitole de Toulouse

1) Capitole de Toulouse (must see)

In 1096 Raymond IV, Count of Toulouse, took his army and headed for the Holy Land. The Pope said to do this. What could go wrong? Several religious expeditions and invasions later, the power of the Counts had waned.

By the 12th century the "Notables" who were watching the store, so to speak, while the Counts were away, created a group of capitouls (consuls) to manage the city. Thus the Capitole came to be. As the name suggests, the Capitole was for the Capitouls.

The facade of the Capitole is pink brick set in 1750 in Neoclassical style as designed by Guillaume Cammas. The Capitole is 456 feet long. It dominates the vast Place du Capitole in the heart of Toulouse. Eight columns above the main entrance are in memory of the eight original Capitouls. In 1873 a bell tower was erected atop the donjon.

A donjon is not a dungeon, but a keep, the strongest part of a castle. The donjon of the Capitole has a dark past. Jean Calas, an unlucky Protestant was interrogated here. The Duke de Montmorency was decapitated in the courtyard after losing an argument with Cardinal Richelieu. The donjon once housed city archives. Now it is the tourist office.

The Capitole is home to city hall, the Theatre du Capitole de Toulouse opera company and the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse. Murals recount great events from the past: The Cathar period, The early Counts of Toulouse, The sieges of the city, and the Floral Games.

The Floral Games were poetry competitions held every May since 1324. First prize was a golden violet. Second prize was a silver rose. The contests were judged by the Leys d'amor, a theme on Occitan poetry.

The Hall of Illustrious must not be missed. The paintings of Paul Gervais, Henri Martin, and above all the Hall of Illustrious. The room is 202 feet long. It is filled with sculptures, paintings and stunning murals and ceilings dedicated to famous historical people of Toulouse.

Why You Should Visit:
See first the power and perseverance of the city personified in the Capitole.
Rue Saint-Rome (Saint-Rome Street)

2) Rue Saint-Rome (Saint-Rome Street)

Rue Saint-Rome is a pedestrianized street. The street is lined with shops and restaurants. Not a difficult thing to shop and snack one's way from rue Esquirol all the way to the Capitole, a pleasant, easy way to spend an afternoon.

Rue Saint-Rome is situated in the heart of the Capitole quarter. It is one of the important commercial roads of the city. The rich fronts of old Guild houses, commercial establishments and hotels line the street. Many of these buildings, constructed between the 15th and 19th centuries testify to the prosperity of Toulouse bourgeoisie.

The street is named for the 12th century church of Saint-Romain and has always been a favorite place to do business. The first major guild to use the street was the Butchers Guild in the mid 1200s. The butchers were quickly followed by the fishmongers. The locals did not like the smell of the way things were going, so the fish guild was out.

The fish people were replaced by leather workers. They passed the smell test and the Leather guild and other artisans moved in. During the French Revolution the street was briefly named Liberty Street, but so were a lot of other streets. The name change did not pass the test of time and rue Saint-Rome reappeared.
Quai de la Daurade (La daurade Quay)

3) Quai de la Daurade (La daurade Quay) (must see)

The Quai is named for a Benedictine priory that had been there since the 9th century. In 1761 The Archbishop of Toulouse built the Quai and a dock by the river. Come the French Revolution, the name Quai de la Daurade was changed to quai Rousseau and the church became a tobacco factory.

By the 19th century, better heads prevailed and the tobacco factory regained its spiritual destiny and became the Basillique Notre Dame de La Daurada. It is celebrated today as the home of the Black Madonna. The Palace of Arts and Science was built on the Quai in 1895.

Promenading on the Henri Martin promenade on the Quai next to the river has always been popular. Descend the steps to the river and take a cruise. Boat tours are available in the mornings and afternoons. See the finely engineered Nine Bridge, erected in 1632, it is the only bridge consistently impervious to the Garonne's ravaging floods.
Pont Neuf (Nine Bridge)

4) Pont Neuf (Nine Bridge) (must see)

King Francis I of France had learned not to trust Charles V of Spain. It was vital to be able to move defending armies across the Garonne quickly in any weather or season. In 1541 King Francis declared a tax levy to finance construction of a bridge, but it did not become a reality until 1561. The result was the sturdy, invincible Nine Bridge.

Like the old Roman bridges, extensive use was made of arches. However, these were "basket handle" arches, wider than high, allowing for fewer piles. The biggest arch has a span of 185 feet. There are crests before each pier, to part flows, and openings to allow water to pass through the bridge when the arches are submerged.

The Nine Bridge replaced the Daurade Bridge which had provided a link between the pilgrim hospital Sainte-Marie de la Daurade and the Benedictine monastery across the river.
Hotel d'Assezat and Bemberg Foundation

5) Hotel d'Assezat and Bemberg Foundation (must see)

Pierre Assézat needed a house. He needed a Hotel, a mansion. he was a wealthy merchant at the top of his profession and society. He wanted his mansion convenient to The Merchant Exchange because he was one of the founders of the Exchange. The Hotel was completed in 1562. Pierre died 1n 1581. The Hotel is now owned by the City of Toulouse.

The building is L-shaped, set beside the staircase pavilion. The facades have Doric, Corinthian, and Ionic columns on each floor. The doric pilasters at the front gate sparkle with diamond shaped stones. The pilasters by the mullioned windows are fluted. All in all the designers and builders created an edifice of power and delicacy.

Starting in 1994, The Bemberg Foundation Art Gallery has made its home in the Hotel d'Asezat. The Gallery shows the collection of Wealthy Argentine Georges Bemberg (1915-2011). The collection has paintings, Drawings, Sketches, sculptures, antique books and furniture. French impressionism and fauvism expressions form the bulk of the collection.
Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Toulouse (Toulouse Cathedral)

6) Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Toulouse (Toulouse Cathedral) (must see)

The Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church and it is listed as national monument since 1862. Rumor has it that the cathedral was erected over the remains of a third century chapel built by Saint Saturnin or Sernin. Saint Saturnin was martyred for his trouble but Saint Exuperius honored his memory 150 years later with a cathedral in the same location.

During the French Revolution the cathedral was sacked and reopened as a "Temple of Reason." The inside of the cathedral were unreasonably destroyed and the building was used as a warehouse for scrap iron. By 1802, Napoleon had made up with the Pope, and the cathedral was returned to the Catholic Church. The City of Toulouse made repairs.

The Cathedral is made mostly of brick. The front facing west is made from two unfinished churches from two different times. The oversized buttresses were formed for a choir much higher than the one that was eventually built. There is a bell tower joined with a donjon of fortress-like proportions. The interior of the church is also a source of confusion.

The two sections of the building are not aligned and try to combine two styles of Gothic architecture. A massive pillar stands between the two sections. Stained glass is mainly 19th century, but there is glass salvaged from almost every decade since the 13th century. Still, with all the chaos of its history, the Cathedral is an island of peace.
Musée des Augustins (Augustins Museum)

7) Musée des Augustins (Augustins Museum) (must see)

The Augustins Museum (Musée des Augustins), located in Toulouse, is a distinguished fine arts museum that showcases an extensive collection of sculptures and paintings dating from the Middle Ages to the early 20th century. The museum is especially renowned for its remarkable assortment of Romanesque sculptures and its comprehensive collection of paintings sourced from various regions across France, each emphasizing the rich Occitan culture of the area.

Originally constructed in 1309, the museum's building was designed in the Gothic architectural style. It served as the Augustinian convent of Toulouse before it was secularized in 1793 during the French Revolution. The convent was transformed into a museum and first opened its doors to the public on August 27, 1795, making it one of the oldest museums in France after the Louvre and the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Besançon.

The museum was officially founded as part of a nationwide initiative to establish museums in provincial centers, as decreed on August 31, 1801, by Jean-Antoine Chaptal, the then Minister of the Interior. This initiative aimed to promote cultural devolution and ensure a diverse representation of artistic works across the regions.

Throughout the 19th century, significant renovations and expansions were undertaken to accommodate the growing collections. Notable architects such as Viollet-le-Duc and his pupil Darcy were involved in constructing new exhibition galleries and a Gothic Revival monumental staircase in the museum. Further, the medieval buildings, including the refectory, were demolished and replaced with structures suited for the museum's needs.

The museum's collections, which now total over 4,000 works, primarily originate from the confiscation of church property during the French Revolution and the seizures of private collections from émigrés. This includes notable artworks from artists such as Guercino, Pietro Perugino, Rubens, and Philippe de Champaigne.

Additionally, the Augustins Museum features a reconstructed medieval garden within its cloister, which was renovated to house the medieval collections acquired from Toulouse's demolished religious buildings. The museum itself was designated as a Monument Historique in 1840, acknowledging its historical and cultural significance.
Rue d'Alsace-Lorraine (Alsace-Lorraine Street)

8) Rue d'Alsace-Lorraine (Alsace-Lorraine Street)

Alsace-Lorraine Street marks the boundary within Sector One of the City between the Capitole and Carnes districts in the west, and Saint-Etienne and Saint-Georges in the East. As with Saint-Rome Street, it is a main shopping street. It also qualifies as one of the Haussmann Roads of Toulouse, La Ville Rose.

It stretches from the entrance of the Ciron-Fumel hotel north to Place Esquirol. At this point it becomes pedestrian. After passing rue de Remusal it reopens to vehicle traffic.

Until 1872 the street was called Longitudinal Street. This was a temporary name used during the Urban development stage of the City. On November 26 the Municipal Council named the Alsace-Lorraine Street in honor of the two provinces lost to Germany in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. The Alsace-Lorraine Street was opened by 1873.

The Alsace-Lorraine Street accesses several historic monuments and buildings: The Augustin Museum; the Couular Palace, and department stores. There are the Universal House, Au Capitole, Grand hotel Tivolier, Cazeaux et Martin building and many others.
Basilica of Saint Sernin

9) Basilica of Saint Sernin (must see)

Prominent on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites is the Basilica of Saint Sernin in Toulouse. The church is on the site of an earlier basilica dating from the fourth century. This older Basilica may have had the bones of Saint Sernin, the first Bishop of Toulouse.

The basilica was built in the Romanesque style in the early 12th century. It was a favorite stop for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela and even a pilgrimage destination in itself. Construction continued over the centuries with many fits and starts. It is estimated to have been at least four major building undertakings.

Viewed from outside, the bell tower over the transept is the most prominent aspect. It is divided into five tiers. The lower three tiers have Romanesque arches and date from the 12th century. The upper two tiers have pointed Gothic arches from the 13th century. There are two doorways to the Basilica, the Comtes Gate and the Miegeville Gate.

On the Comtes Gate is a scene of Lazarus and Dives. Poor Dives is shown in Hell. Above the Miegeville Gate is sculpture of the ascending Christ. The interior of the Basilica is enormous for a Romanesque church. The nave and the aisles are vaulted with buttresses. Below the transept is a marble altar, consecrated in 1096.

In the middle ages churches were equipped with small chapels in the apse. These chapels would hold relics of interest to the pilgrims who were continually filtering in. The pilgrims could gather at the chapels on the sides of the church without disturbing services in progress. In Saint Sernin's there are nine radiating chapels housing relics.

Why You Should Visit:
To see the reemerging of Cathedrals and shrines throughout the centuries is to witness the no-surrender spirit of the Occitan civilization.

Generally there is no admission charged but donations are welcome.

Walking Tours in Toulouse, France

Create Your Own Walk in Toulouse

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Architectural Jewels of Toulouse

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Travel Distance: 3.8 Km or 2.4 Miles
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Travel Distance: 1.2 Km or 0.7 Miles
Historical Churches Tour

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
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