Toulouse – Cultural Capital of South-West France

Capital of the French Department of the Haute Garonne and administrative center of the region of the Midi-Pyrenees, Toulouse is one of the largest and most important cities in France. It’s ancient name is Tolosa in the Occitan language.

Toulouse is also known in France as “la ville rose” (the pink town), due to the color of the principal material of construction, pink brick.

Toulouse is situated at 141m above sea level on the banks of the river Garon, with its source in the nearby Pyrenees mountains, which on clear days are easily visible to the south. Its location centrally located in southern France means that Toulouse is subject to both Mediterranean and Oceanic influences, thus it has a temperate climate, mild in autumn and hot and dry in summer.

There are three important winds which blow across the city: firstly there is the west wind, which brings with it a lot of moisture from the Atlantic Ocean. Then there is the wind known as the “Autan” which blows from the south-east. This wind is hot and dry. Finally there is the wind coming from the north, blowing much less frequently, but it is cold and dry. The Autan is often called by the locals “the maddening wind” or “the devil’s wind”, since it affects everything in its path, apparently affecting the normal calmness of the inhabitants, both human and animal, making them much less calm!

However, Toulouse isn’t just a major tourist destination, it’s also a thriving hub of technology, serving any technologically advanced industries including medical, telecoms and aerospace. In fact Toulouse is known internationally as center of the European aerospace industry. But never a city to “let the grass grow under its feet”, Toulouse is always at the forefront of research, and soon plans to become a world center in cancer research, with a major area to be given over to cancer research. Not surprisingly, Toulouse is also a major university town, second only to Paris.

From a historical perspective, Toulouse also possesses several major features, perhaps the oldest being the bridge known as the “Pont-Neuf” (actually “New Bridge” in English), and also of course the renowned Canal du Midi which passes right through the center of the town. Both were constructed during the seventeenth century. Then there is the incredible Capitole edifice, constructed in the eighteenth century. There is also a huge amount of more contemporary history, such as the impressive Aerospatiale works, created in 1927, for which guided tours are available.

Toulouse is also home of the French national center for weather prediction. This meteorological center was set up in Toulouse in 1982 and is now responsible for the prediction of weather patterns for the entire country.

Toulouse and violets – the two words are almost synonymous, since Toulouse is home to the violet, with the little flower and all its sweet and fragrant derivatives being spotted throughout the city, whether in the form of flowers, confectionery or perfume.

Toulouse is also home to a huge quantity of museums and cultural festivals. Indeed Toulouse is known throughout the whole of Europe as a city of many major international festivals. It is thus a major tourist destination. Visitors to the city will find it impossible to avoid coming into contact with major centers such as the Zenith, the Meditheque and the Congress Center. There are also the more recent Museum of Modern Art, known as the Abattoirs (since it was indeed the old city abattoir). Then there is the famous and impressive Cite de l’Espace (Space City). And not to be missed is the incredible Capitole Museum with its impressive Salle des Illustres – a giant room brimming with huge paintings and frescoes.

A particular mention is worth making of the Cite de l’Espace – a huge area just on the periphery of the city which opens up quite literally a whole universe of space, stars and space travel, by means of some creative animations and reconstructions. Take a look inside the Russian space station, Mir, or an Arianne rocket. Then go and view space in the impressive IMAX 3D cinema, not forgetting of course the planetarium, an incredible simulation of the universe.

The “Theatre du Capitole” provides an unforgettable encounter with the “Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse”, which has an international reputation in the domain of classical music, and has become one of the foremost orchestras in the world under the direction of the conductor Michel Plasson. It is now under the artistic direction of Tugan Sokhiev.