The tourist map of Toulouse shows an abundance of historical buildings, scattered across the city. Usefully, a tourist guide book, produced by the Toulouse Tourism Office, splits the city into different zones. This makes it a bit easier to tackle the sights in manageable chunks. Our apartment is close to Le Capitole, so it was an easy choice to start our sightseeing with the Capitole to Marengo zone.
We started our route at Le Capitole and then took a counter-clockwise walking route to see Eglise Notre Dame du Taur, Basilique Saint-Sermin, Eglise St. Pierre des Cuisines, the Garonne River, Eglise Notre Dame de la Daurade and Le Couvent des Jacobins. The entire route took us about 2.5 hours.
Le Capitole building dates back to the 17th century. It is still a functioning administrative building and houses the town hall and the Capitol Theatre. Whilst the exterior of the building is attractive in its own right, you need to go inside to experience its true beauty. And it is free to enter!
You get your first glimpse of the splendid interior when you approach the Grand Staircase (constructed in 1886), as the staircase itself is decorated with large colourful murals, a painted ceiling and gold-trimmed adornments.
Having climbed the stairs, you enter into an equally beautiful room with its own painted walls and ceiling, by the artist Paul Gervais (1859-1944).
The next room displays paintings by Henri Martin (1860-1943). These large paintings cover the walls of the room.
The final room is the Hall of the Illustrious that was redesigned by architect Paul Pujols between 1892-1898, when he converted three smaller rooms into this one impressive larger room. Interestingly, it seems that the Hall of the Illustrious is used for civil marriage ceremonies. What a beautiful setting for a wedding!
After visiting Le Capitole, we walked west a short distance to the Eglise Notre Dame du Taur. This 16th century Gothic church is listed as a historic building and features an impressive bell wall tower, although it is difficult to photograph the exterior of the church as it is wedged between other buildings on a narrow street. Admission is free and it only takes a few minutes to look around the interior.
A short walk along the street and we came to the Basilica Saint Sernin, that dates back to the 11th century. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is claimed to be one of the most important preserved Romanesque basilicas in Europe today. Admission to most of the interior is free of charge. However, there is a fee to enter the crypt area, where several relics are on display.
The next stop on our route was Eglise Saint Pierre des Cuisines. However, on arrival we saw a sign saying that no photographs were allowed and that there was an admission fee of €5. So we kept on walking.
Our circular route then took us along the banks of the Garonne River.
Further along the bank of the river is the Basilica Notre Dame la Daurade. It was completely rebuilt in the 18th century but is on the site of a temple that was constructed by the Romans in the 5th century. Again, admission was free.
The final stop on our route for the day was at the Couvent de Jacobins – ‘a medieval monastery at the heart of the city’. This imposing Gothic structure was built in 1229 by the Dominican Order. It played a role in the creation of the first university in Toulouse and some of the first classes were held here. The interior of the building is majestic, with huge pillars holding up the roof and creating a large open space. The largest of these pillars is known as the ‘palm tree’. It’s an impressive building and admission is free for the main section. There is a fee for those who wish to visit the cloisters, refectory, chapterhouse and Saint Anthoninus Chapel.
It was a good start to our sightseeing. We’ll tackle another zone on another day.