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Visiting Toulouse, France, and its Capitole: splendid 18th century architecture

Updated on September 27, 2012
Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
'Capitole' detail, Toulouse, France
'Capitole' detail, Toulouse, France | Source
Market on 'Capitole' square, Toulouse
Market on 'Capitole' square, Toulouse | Source
Map location of Toulouse, France
Map location of Toulouse, France | Source

An unforgettable City Hall and square

While parts of it are much older, the Capitole building in Toulouse, in south-west France, is mainly an 18th century structure by architect Guillaume Cammas, the fine frontage of which is among the city's most famous sights.

Some history and features

The pink brickwork of this striking frontage has earned Toulouse the title of la ville rose (the pink city). The interior of the building contains some sumptuously furnished rooms, including the salle des illustres (hall of the illustrious).

A tower dating from the 16th century, was restored by the architect Viollet-le-Duc from 1873 to 1887. This once served as a prison, in which notably a local citizen, Jean Calas, was once incarcerated and subsequently executed in 1762 on account of his minority, Protestant family connections; a crime which Voltaire famously condemned and greatly publicized in an early, 18th century equivalent of a press campaign.

The Capitole also gives its name to the adjacent square, upon which a market and various public demonstrations are periodically held.

Grand centre of administration

As well as being an architectural gem, the Capitole also functions as the City Hall (Hôtel de Ville ). It may be noted that in France political has seemed to revolve as much around prominent individuals as it has around parties, and, with Toulouse being a large city, some of its mayors have also served in high office nationally. For example, having previously been French Minister of Culture, Philippe Douste-Blazy administered the affairs of Toulouse from the Capitole in the early years of the 21st century, before becoming French Foreign Minister.

The name Capitole is derived from the office of capitoul , which from the Middle Ages denoted a local, elected representative. With Toulouse having for centuries been a city with considerable privileges, the rule of the local Capitouls was consequently of note. This local governing system survived until the French Revolution.

Also worth seeing

In Toulouse itself, the cultural and architectural heritage is too great to describe here comprehensively, but some noted sights include: the Saint-Servin Basilica, dating from the 11th and 12th centuries, has a striking, octagonal tower design; the Hôtel d'Assézat , dating from the 16th century, houses a distinguished art gallery; with Toulouse being a major centre for the Airbus aeronautical industry, the Aérothèque museum offers absorbing information about aviation heritage.

Montauban (distance: 55 kilometres) is an historic town on the Tarn River , with remarkable architecture, including the Ingres museum and the arcades of the place Nationale .

Cahors (distance: 113 kilometres) ; the 14th century Valentré fortified bridge and the city's monumental Cathedral are major landmarks in this historic city.

Foix (distance: 87 kilometres) in the foothills of the Pyrenees, has a Medieval castle of the Counts of Foix and Co-Princes of Andorra, now a museum.

Carcassonne (distance: 94 kilometres); its Medieval walls, restored in the 19th century, attract many visitors.

...

How to get there: Continental Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle ), where car rental is available. (Paris-Toulouse: distance: 677 kilometres). The French railroad company SNCF maintains services from Paris to Toulouse. There are also domestic air services between Paris and Toulouse-Blagnac airport (Aéroport de Toulouse - Blagnac ) where car rental is also available. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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