Sunday, May 24 - Toulouse

Today we left Pau and were taken to Toulouse, a large city that is the center of the aerospace industry in France and that is often called the Pink City because of its brick architecture. It is the connection point between the River Garonne, flowing to the Atlantic and the canal that carried trade to the Mediterranean.

We checked in to the Holiday Inn on the Place Wilson and then went on to lunch in a very pleasant, very busy restaurant on the second floor of a building with an outdoor balcony. We ate inside and dined well. Then we had a lecture at the hotel on the architecture of Toulouse by our local guide Emeline Lair. After that we started on a walking tour of the city with her.

First we went to the Capitole. This has been the seat of government in Toulouse since the 12th C and today houses the city hall, as well as an opera company and symphony orchestra. The Salle des Illustres contains 19th century works of art done in pointillist style.

Some of the interior of the Capitole can be traced back to the 16th century, but the current façade, 135 meters long and built of the characteristic pink brick in Neoclassical style, dates from 1750, built according to plans by Guillaume Cammas. 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. 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.

The Place de Capitole is huge, and on Sunday part was devoted to a tennis-like game that seemed to be associated with handicapped children, as well as others. Across the Place from the Capitole was an attractive arcade filled with shops and restaurants. We gawked here a bit and then moved on, along the rue du Taur, past the Church of Notre Dame du Taur with its strange facade, toward the Basilica of St. Sernin.

The abbey of St. Sernin was an ancient foundation, but its importance increased enormously after Charlemagne donated a quantity of relics to it, as a result of which it became an important stop for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela, and a pilgrimage location in its own right. The current building was built to accommodate these pilgrims. The plan of the abbey church here was also used in the construction of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The stone that killed Simon de Montfort in 1218, while he was besieging Toulouse, was thrown from the roof of St. Sernin's. In 1860, Viollet-le-Duc restored the church, but his changes are currently being removed to restore the original appearance.

The Basilica is the largest conserved Romanesque building in Europe. On the exterior, the bell tower, standing directly over the transept crossing, is the most visible feature. It is divided into five tiers, of which the lower three, with Romanesque arches, date from the 12th century and the upper two from the 14th century. The spire was added in the 15th century. The central nave is barrel vaulted; the four aisles have rib vaults and are supported by buttresses. Directly under the tower and the transept is a marble altar, consecrated by Pope Urban II in 1096 and designed by Bernard Gilduin.

Then we moved on to the 13th C gothic Couvent des Jacobins, the first home of the Dominican order. The exterior is quite striking due to its use of brick. The interior is noted for the 12th C columns which are similar to palm trees. Under the very plain altar is a reliquary holding the relics of St. Thomas Aquinas. There is a beautiful cloister and from there the chapter house and the chapel of St Antonin.

By this time it was 6 PM and we went back to the hotel. Dinner was at 8 in Le Cave au Cassoulet restaurant. It was, indeed, Cassoulet, a special regional dish and it was delicious.

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