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In Toulouse, everything starts with the Capitol, the very heart of the city. However if you have a wander through the areas round about, which stretch north, east, south and west all the way to the city boundaries, you’ll discover just what makes them tick. Visited this way, the city gradually unveils its many faces, its treasures and contrasts: reminders of the past coexist with modern developments, small quiet streets with busy shopping thoroughfares, lively areas with dormitory suburbs, parks with buildings.

The Capitol
An impressive building with an imposing façade, the Capitole, marks the very heart of the ‘Ville rose’ (Pink city.) Today it houses the town hall and the Théâtre du Capitole. Its vast square is brought to life by the markets that take place there in the mornings (the main market and the marché biologique du Capitole, market selling organic produce), as well as the crowds that meet on the terraces of Toulouse’s best-known cafés (Bibent, Grand Café de l’Opéra, Florida and Mon Caf”). All around, the colourful streets in the old part of the city provide an insight into its rich and vivid past, with their town houses, fountains and pretty squares, museums and churches.

Arnaud-Bernard, Amidonniers, Saint-Pierre
A picturesque and cosmopolitan area, Arnaud-Bernard’s distinctive character is all down to its lively nightlife, original boutiques, the closeness of the university (situated on the south side) and the grand boulevards (to the north). Reaching the Canal du Midi through the vast Jardin Compans-Caffarelli (Compans-Caffarelli park), it’s an area that benefits from the activities that take place in the sports stadium and the surrounding shops. Towards the west, the pleasant areas of Saint-Pierre and Amidonniers take it to the Garonne, while eastwards, it borders on the historic area of Saint-Sernin.

Saint-Sernin and Wilson
Rue du Taur, a partly pedestrianized street, links the Capitol to the magnificent basilique Saint-Sernin (Saint-Sernin basilica). Surrounded by old buildings (église Notre-Dame-du-Taur, Notre-Dame-du-Taur church), the marché aux puces Saint-Sernin (Saint-Sernin flea market) is a pleasant historic area. Close to big secondary schools, the university and libraries, it has a large student population and is dotted with specialized bookshops, student cafés (Simpson Café, Le 7 place Saint-Sernin) and cultural spots (such as the musée archéologique Saint-Raymond – Saint-Raymond archaeological museum -, the Toulouse cinémathèque – Toulouse film library – and Cave Poésie). To the right of here, the Place Wilson area and its grand boulevards give the city a modern feel.

A continuation of Saint-Sernin, this is a quiet, comfortably off area. You’re bound to see its charming old houses at some point as the city’s main roads (Lascrosses, Arcole and Lazare boulevards) come through here .

Close to the station of the same name, this area, the continuation northwards of Wilson, is busy day and night due to the main railway station and surrounding shops.

Pont-Jumeaux and Sept-Deniers
Continuations northwest of Arnaud-Bernard, these are residential areas nestling at the mouth of various waterways (Garonne, Canal du Midi and side canal.)

Minimes, Salade, Raisin, Bonnefoy
Mentioned in one of the songs by singer and local boy Claude Nougaro, who sings nostalgically of the “brique rouge des Minimes” (‘Minimes’ red façades’), this area that runs along the Canal du Midi from the other side of Chalets is mainly an administrative and residential one, just like neighbouring areas Salade and Bonnefoy. Close by, the Raisin area is constantly busy with traffic generated by its bus and railway stations.

Built around historic Place Saint-Georges, this pretty area’s appeal is down to its picturesqueness and colour. Many shops, restaurants and bars have long been established here. Carry on further eastwards and you come to Saint-Aubin.

With its beautiful Saint-Aubin church around which each Sunday the Saint-Aubin market takes place, this colourful area leads a rather village-like existence, much coveted by its inhabitants. The people who live in Rue de la Colombette have even declared their street as “commune dans la ville”, or ‘the village in the city’, and have a big party to celebrate this fact every autumn.

The city’s greenest area is a good place for a stroll. First of all you can explore its cultural side, through the magnificent Saint-Etienne cathedral, which has remained unchanged since it was built, the Monument aux Combattants de la Haute-Garonne (Haute-Garonne War Memorial) and the Halle aux Grains (Corn Exchange), which stands on Place Dupuy. Or there’s a more relaxing walk that takes you through the area’s pleasant streets and large adjoining parks (Grand-Rond Boulingrin, Jardin des plantes and the Jardin Royal), which show to advantage the fine buildings overlooking them (Palais Niel, the former Faculty of Medicine…) Going southwards, the area touches Saint-Michel.

Jolimont, Roseraie, Soupetard and Argoulets
It’s by climbing up through these areas towards Gramont, Balma that you realize that Toulouse is built in a “cuvette”, or hollow. These residential areas overlooking the city have many interesting places to offer: Observatoire de Jolimont Observatory (Jolimont Observatory), the Science and Environment Centre…

Guilhemery, Montplaisir, Pont des Demoiselles, Côte Pavée, Terrasse
The areas of Guilhemery and Montplaisir link the Canal du Midi to Côte Pavée, which is a particularly well-off area whose large, beautiful and very finely built houses with huge shaded gardens sit on a hill overlooking the city. Moving away further south-east, you come to the outlying areas of Montaudran, l’Ormeau et la Terrasse, where the Cité de l’Espace (Space City) and Montaudran airfield are situated.

Les Carmes and antique dealers
A bohemian and somewhat old-fashioned atmosphere reigns in les Carmes, this old area very close to the Capitol. Its pretty, pedestrian streets are pleasant to wander through as you admire its small squares, towers and fine buildings. It will take you to an area filled with antique shops – always a favourite with visitors – or towards the banks of the Garonne with their beautiful buildings.

Saint-Michel and Busca, St Agne and Rangueil
Close to the Saint-Michel area of the city, whose north side is marked by Place du Salin, the Busca area is joined on the south side by the Saouze-Loung and St Agne areas to Rangueil, which adapts to the comings and goings of its mainly student population. The university and schools here make it a city within a city. The huge splendour of Château Bellevue close by offers a striking contrast between the city’s classical and modern influences.

Ramier, Recollets, Empalot, Pech-David
Level with Saint-Michel bridge, the Garonne divides, creating two branches that surround Ramier island. In the middle, huge complexes have been built there, taking advantage of the wide-open space available: the parc des Expositions (Exhibition Centre), the stadium, Ramier park. The two branches of the river come together again level with the Empalot area, which is close to the Science faculties and Pech-David hill.

Saint-Cyprien and Bourrasol
In tune with the river, life in these areas is more carefree. Joined to the very heart of Toulouse by Saint-Pierre bridge and pont Neuf, they offer magnificent views over the Garonne, which you can also enjoy from Jardin Raymond-IV, from Hôtel-Dieu Saint-Jacques or even from the pleasant prairie des Filtres. Wonderfully transformed, places such as these are today much sought-after areas in Toulouse, where unusually, private clinics old and new exist alongside arts centres and museums (Espace Saint-Cyprien, Espace d’Art moderne et contemporain – Modern and Contemporary Arts Centre -, centre municipal de l’Affiche, de la Carte Postale et de l’Art Graphique – city arts centre devoted to posters, postcards and graphic arts.)

Purpan, Casselardit, Croix-de-Pierre, Arènes, Mirail
These are the industrial areas of Casselardit and St-Martin-du-Touch. Saint-Cyprien takes you towards the hustle and bustle of the shops in Patte-d’Oie, and then towards the areas of Arènes and Croix-de-Pierre, where Rapas cemetery and the Ecole Normale (teacher training center) are situated. To the south-west, after Fontaine-Lestang, the industrial and residential areas of La Faourette, Bagatelle, Bellefontaine, Reynerie, Papus and le Mirail open onto the greenery of the Ramée sports and recreation park.

History of Toulouse

Toulouse, France’s aeronautics and space exploration capital can today afford to look skywards: its history has given it a solid base from which it can move towards the future with confidence. Nestling at the foot of the Pyrenees that lie between it and Spain, the city known as ‘la Ville Rose’ (due to the delicate purplish-pink hues of its buildings) has an immensely rich past, which through the centuries has alternated between periods of prosperity and much gloomier times.

The first inhabitants and Tolosa

The city’s history goes back over 2000 years, starting with the Volques Tectosages, a small Celtic tribe that settled in the Garonne valley in 300 B.C. Because of its strategic position, Toulouse – which provided a link between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic – was already (in 100 B.C.) of great interest to the Romans, who made it one of their colonies in the 2nd century A.D. The colony subsequently prospered from the wine trade and by the 3rd century A.D. it had its first city wall, which reached northwards as far as the Porterie (now Place du Capitole), while its southernmost point was Porte Narbonnaise, which is now Place du Salin and the Place du Parlement. Around this time Christianity was introduced to the city by Saint Saturnin, who later died at the hands of a frenzied heathen mob who tied him to the tail of a bull. Many of the city’s buildings and monuments named in his honour recall his martyrdom: Rue du Taur (from ‘taureau’, meaning ‘bull’), Notre-Dame-du-Taur church, Saint-Sernin basilica and Matabiau station (from matar bios, meaning ‘to kill the bull’).

The barbarian invasions

From the 5th century A.D., the city was subjected to barbarian invasions: whilst the Vandals were stopped by Gallo-Roman defences, the Visigoths, who came from the area around the Black Sea, made the city their empire’s capital. A century later, the Franks in their turn took possession of the city. Until the 9th century A.D. there followed a period of calm when Toulouse found itself relegated to the rank of simple county town. During the Middle Ages however it became (governed by Raimond II) capital of the County of Toulouse. Ruled by city nobles, Toulouse quickly expanded, due to a large influx of settlers from rural areas. The city then stretched beyond its walls to the north as far as Place Saint-Sernin, to the south as far as the Saint-Michel area of the city and to the west on the left bank of the Garonne. In the 12th century, the nobility lost the city to the Capitouls or city consuls.

The Cathars

In the 12th century A.D., the Cathars, members of a heretical sect, tried to establish themselves in Toulouse where they had many supporters. The king sent in his troops, led by Simon de Monfort (killed by a stone on the site where the Grand-Rond is today), which eventually succeeded in routing the heretics. As a result, the first wave of the Inquisition swept through Toulouse, bringing with it a religious fervour that was behind the founding of the Dominican monastic order in the couvent des Jacobins and, from 1229, the setting up of a theological university. Made a royal city in 1271, Toulouse experienced rapid economic growth (thanks to the Garonne river) and blossomed intellectually and artistically. However a dark period in its history was to follow from the 14th century onwards, when plague, the Hundred Years’ War, famine, floods and fire each ravaged the city in turn.


The year 1420 was a turning point in Toulouse’s history and marked the beginning of a wonderful century whose dominant theme was prosperity. Charles VII introduced a judicial body to the city: the Parliament. Pastel merchants, who had become rich by exporting this plant-derived blue dye throughout Europe, converged around the Grande Rue (today Rue des Filatiers, Rue des Changes and Rue St Rome), built magnificent town houses (Hôtel d’Assézat, Hôtel de Bernuy) and took control of a wealthy Toulouse society in which architectural design and fine arts flourished. From the middle of the 16th century however, Toulouse experienced its second major crisis: indigo, a much less expensive dye, arrived from America, wiping out the pastel trade. A new civil war, this time between Catholics and Calvinists, caused an enormous fire to break out causing untold damage and up until the 17th century, famine followed on swiftly from the numerous outbreaks of plague that befell the city. A period of development followed, which saw the coming to fruition of a number of industrial projects, such as the building of the pont Neuf, Place du Capitole and the Canal du Midi.

The Age of Enlightenment and growth during the 19th century

The Jean Calas affair caused uproar in 1761: accused of murdering his own son who wanted to become a Catholic, Toulouse merchant Jean Calas – in spite of protesting his innocence – was sentenced to death and burned alive in 1762. This prompted widespread condemnation by key figures in French society of Toulouse’s Parliament’s persecution of Protestants. Although somewhat hindered by the Inquisition and religious intolerance, the city was slowly but surely modernized during the 18th century. A period of urban reorganization began, which went on until the end of the 19th century. From 1750 onwards, Toulouse witnessed the building of the Jardin royal, the Grand-Rond with its six splendid avenues, the Canal de Brienne, Quai Dillon, the Patte-d’Oie area of the city, Place Wilson and Place du Capitole. The opening of Matabiau station in 1856 heralded the age of transportation, while boulevards replaced the city walls and main thoroughfares were created at the end of the 19th century, following the example of the wonderful improvements made by prefet Haussman in Paris. These large-scale projects were to give the city, which had long outgrown the original and very cramped medieval town, a whole new look. Meantime, the French Revolution of 1789 marked the end of the Capitouls’ reign, and Joseph de Rigaud was voted in as Toulouse’s first mayor.

The 20th century: the age of aeronautics

The beginning of the 20th century was characterized by a huge population increase, caused by the arrival of immigrants fleeing the numerous fascist regimes of the period (immigrants came from the north of France in 1914, from Italy in the 1920s and Spain in 1934). World-wide conflict forced the city, due to its strategic position close to Spain, to change and undergo its own industrial revolution, which resulted in the arrival of chemical industries in 1915, the Latécoère aircraft factory, and the setting up of Aéropostale, the French airmail service. Aérospatiale (the internationally-known aeronautics firm) was created here in 1920. During the Second World War, Toulouse’s resistance network went from strength to strength during the Occupation. A new wave of immigrants arrived just after the war in Algeria and forced the city to spread further west towards the suburbs. Since then, industries – particularly the aviation industry – have continued to flourish, as have electronics and space exploration sectors. France’s fourth biggest city, home to the country’s second biggest university and France’s aeronautics capital, Toulouse is a dynamic, forward-looking city whose pinks (for its buildings) and blues (for its pastel) are a constant reminder of its rich and colorful past.