If we hadn’t already been to Albi, the birthplace of painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, I would have spent a lot of time during our visit to this city bearing a part of his last name trying to find his connection to the Ville Rose (Pink City because of the color of the bricks). As it turns out, the name meant that he was born into an aristocratic family with roots in the area rather than, as the museum in Albi dedicated to his works can confirm, being from there. All the better for us since we now had that much more opportunity to explore the museums, squares, medieval buildings, cafés, and 2000 or so restaurants in a city less than an hour by train from Carcassonne.
It made me laugh when I read someone’s comment that “the city seems to gravitate towards” Place du Capitole since that’s where we ended up by accident on our first and only other trip to Toulouse. The GPS on our rental car directed us there where it seemed most of the 100,000 university students who call the city “home” had gathered. Luckily on this recent trip classes hadn’t started yet so we could see, for example, the current City Hall and former palace dating from the 1100s. It was easy to find a snack and a refreshing beverage with lots of café choices.
Since Charlemagne plays an important role in the legends of Carcassonne, I definitely wanted to see the Saint-Sernin Basilica completed in the 1100s. An abbey was located there in the 800s and the story goes that Charlemagne donated many of the relics that are now stored in the church’s crypt.
Right next to the Basilica is the Saint Raymond archaeological museum that was originally built in 1523 as a school for poor students. One floor is dedicated to the discoveries made at the ancient Roman villa of Chiagran about 60 kms (37 miles) from Toulouse. Busts of emperors and their families are displayed as are others who were in power but have not yet been identified.
Carrying on chronologically from the Saint Raymond is the Augustines museum, housed in a building from the 1300s. A unique feature of their collection is the sculptures taken from churches and converts that were being demolished in the early 1800s shortly after the Revolution. The building is currently closed for renovations and they expect it to reopen next spring.
The Bemberg Foundation mansion took 30 years to build and was completed in 1581. It was constructed for Pierre d’Assézat who made his fortune on woad, that I had to look up to see is a member of the mustard plant family with yellow flowers but produces blue dye from the leaves. This art gallery contains works by Cézanne, Monet, and Matisse.
When I read that there was a palm tree inside the Church of the Jacobins, I definitely wanted to go inside to see it. In reality these are stone columns, supporting the roof, with up to 22 ribs that spread out to hold the weight, thus giving the impression of the top of a tree. Relics, believed to have come from medieval philosopher Thomas Aquinas, are housed in the church.
Another stop that we wanted to make was to see someone we had met in June while having lunch at a castle outside of Carcassonne. Éric Valat is a sculptor and wandering through his gallery was the perfect end to a great day. Although this was a whirlwind visit without the time to go into all of the museums we walked by that’s all the more reason to return to Toulouse, especially when the train is just one euro!
Éric Valat gallery: https://www.ericvalat.com/
The Indian restaurant where we enjoyed lunch: https://restaurantindientoulouse.com/