Returning from Carcassonne I decided to spend few hours in Toulouse. It was a great decision as I discovered that Toulouse is a city full of substance, history and good food.
I took the map and drew a quick circle and decided to do a clock-wise tour, that meant that I’d get to see the main highlights of the city on the fast track.
The Convent of the Jacobins – the mother Church of the Dominican Order
A Dominican Monastery located in the heart of the city with eight centuries of history. The name Jacobins is a nickname used for the Dominican order, due to the location of their first church in Paris, on the Street of Saint Jaques.
Built in 1229 an exceptional testimony of the Southern Gothic style (characterized mainly by it’s brick construction). The initial idea was to built a place for preaching, founded by the future Saint Dominic as a response to the growth of Catharism which was considered an heresy thus a threat by the Catholic Church.
The convent played an important role in the creation of the first University in Toulouse. In those days the only people who knew to read and write were the monks, and aristocratic families would send their children to monasteries their to study. Classes were held here and the bell tower was the class bell. Cute, isn’t it?
The inside left me with my jaw on the floor! The immense columns support a grandiose ceiling, transforming the vaulted ceiling into the branches of a tree, a palm tree. It stood so tall and so full of light, reaching 28 meters (92 feet) above the ground.
The light entering the church was astounding. Tall stained glass windows permitting spilled light from every angle.
Heading towards my next stop I enjoyed a stroll by the Garonne river, reaching another interesting point: the 16th century Pont Neuf Bridge. Started in 1542 and finished in 1634 at just over 220 meters in length. I loved how people would have picnics or maybe break from work on the banks of the river.
Then headed to my main destination – the Cathedral of Saint Etienne
Saint Etienne Cathedral is dedicated to Saint Stephen (Etienne), who after being stoned to death became the first Christian martyr. You can see the scene of his death carved on the Baroque altar piece. The Cathedral is a result of the juxtaposition of styles; owing to it’s unique makeup of buildings that had been altered or left unfinished between the 11th and 17th centuries. The oldest section dates back to 1078 when Bishop Isarn erected a Romanesque church of which there are only few remnants, in 1210 it was replaced by the present Isarn’s nave.
The real beauty of this cathedral is its irregularity, the confluence of two unfinished churches; one Romanesque from the early 13th century and the other of a later Gothic influenced design.
On the inside is an impressive series of stained glass windows showing moments of celebration in the Cathedral’s history. In some sections the original works have been replaced owing to the deterioration of the most antique examples as a result of the building’s long strange construction history.
Next I rushed to the most famous site on my a tour, a pilgrim’s stop on the Route of Santiago de Compostela as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Basilica of Saint Sernin.
Considered one of the largest remaining Romanesque buildings in Europe, the Basilica of Saint Sernin is built over the ancient 4th century basilica where the remains of Saint Sernin are interred. Saint Sernin or Saturnin was a martyr and the first bishop of Toulouse in the year 250!!!! Construction on the contemporary basilica began around the year 1080m, continued on until 1300 when the vaults in the nave and the height of the bell tower was increased. Worth mentioning that in the 19th century the famous architect Villoet-le-Duc directed an overall restoration of this gorgeous structure.
Saint Silvius was very kind to take a picture with me. He was the founder of the first basilica in the 4th century, his relics are also inside the basilica.
This was my favorite and what I felt was the most impressive attraction in Toulouse, I would return and definitely would ask for a tour of the Basilica if I ever come back through the city. I strongly recommend looking for guided tours when visiting such historically rich places.
Let’s review, in a few hours visiting Toulouse we managed to see one cathedral, one basilica, one church, and a monastery not to mention a Santiago de Compostela Pelerinage pilgramage stop which is also a UNESCO world heritage site. I’ve managed to learn so much about the French medieval era and of course I’ve got to see living testimonies of the Gothic style, which, in my opinion managed to keep its fame for the beauty and majesty of the style.
Goodbye Toulouse! Until next time!