In Toulouse I went on two guided walking tours on two consecutive days. Both were organized by the city tourist office. The normal cost was listed as € 9.50 per tour, but I only paid € 7.50 because of my advanced age. (Nice that they have senior discounts.) Each tour lasted about two hours.
Both these tours were in French, but they also offer tours in Spanish and English on Saturday afternoons during the summer months. Our guide, Sarah, was well prepared and spoke very clearly, so even poor foreigners like me had no trouble understanding her.
The first tour was called Atmosphères toulousaines (Toulousian atmospheres) and included some of the picturesque streets and houses in the Old Town of Toulouse.
You’ll never guess what the lady in this sculpture is supposed to represent.
Joan of Arc? No, she’s not Joan of Arc, though the shaft she is holding in her right hand does look somewhat like a huge sword.
Could she be Marianne, the national symbol of Liberty and the French Republic? Wrong again, though the face does look somewhat similar to the portrait of Marianne on the old twenty-centime coins, before the introduction of the Euro.
Our guide explained that the barefoot lady in the long skirt sitting on the rock in this sculpture is an allegory which represents the Garonne River providing the city of Toulouse with — electricity.
Yes, electricity. I told you you’d never guess.
The sculpture was completed in the year 1907. By this time Toulouse was already well supplied with electricity from the Bazacle hydro-electric power station on the Garonne River, which had been in operation since 1889 on the site of the former Bazacle Mill. The sculptor was Jules Jacques Labatut (1851-1935).
The brick wall behind the sculpture is not part of a church, but simply a decorative wall that was added in the late 20th century as a backdrop for the sculpture.
Somehow I neglected to ask about the second person in the sculpture, the man or women who is crawling out from under the rock and seems to have been looking up the skirt of La Garonne.
The Hôtel d’Ulmo is a private mansion that was built from 1526 to 1536 for Jean or Jehan de Ulmo, a magistrate who for a short time was the président à mortier or principal magistrate of the parlement, the highest court in Toulouse.
He can’t have lived in the house for very long, because in 1536 he was accused of corruption, tried, convicted, put in a cart and driven to the Place Saint-Georges where he was pilloried and branded on the forehead with a hot branding iron. He was then sentenced to life imprisonment in the castle of Saint-Malo in Brittany.
Ulmo must have been the ultimate con-man. Despite the brand on his forehead he was able to win the confidence of the prison governor, who even put him in charge of the prison’s finances. In this capacity he embezzled large sums of money. When he was caught he was sentenced to death by hanging, and the sentence was carried out in 1549.
The last stop on our guided walking tour Atmosphères toulousaines was the St. Etienne Cathedral — St. Etienne being the French name for St. Stephen, the first martyr in Christian history.
This cathedral is described in its own website as a “curious church” and a “church of bricks and stones.” The same website says: “St Stephen in Toulouse is a puzzling cathedral because it is the result of a juxtaposition of buildings that have been either amputated or left unfinished, between the 11th and the 17th century, and even in the 20th century with the North portal.”
Before we went in, Sarah gave us a summary of the cathedral’s haphazard development over the centuries.
Location, aerial view and photo of St. Etienne Cathedral on monumentum.fr.
My photos in this post are from 2014. I revised the text in 2019.