My second guided walking tour was called “Grand Monuments of Toulouse” and was again organized by the city tourist office.
I was pleased to find that we again had the same guide, Sarah, only this time she had a microphone and a small loudspeaker. This made no difference to me, since I found her easy to understand with or without a microphone, but I suppose the microphone made it easier for her.
Again the tour was in French, and again we started from the city tourist office in the donjon behind the Capitole. We were supposed visit the city hall, in the south half of Le Capitole, but we couldn’t go in because so many couples were getting married on that day.
One of the first stops on our guided walking tour “Grand Monuments of Toulouse” was the Basilica of St. Sernin, which I had already seen from the outside while riding around on the VélÔToulouse bicycles.
It turns out that Saint Sernin was another name for Saint Saturnin. Under whichever name, he was the first bishop of Toulouse. He was martyred in the year 250 AD during an uprising of the local pagan population. Pagan priests supposedly tied his feet to a bull, which dragged him around until he was dead.
The current basilica was built between 1060 and 1118. It is considered a typical example of Romanesque architecture and is also known as a pilgrimage church because it is on the Via Tolosana, which is the pilgrimage route from Arles to Santiago de Compostela.
Even the pillars are made of local bricks, as is typical of Toulouse.
Location, aerial view and photos of the Basilica of St. Sernin on monumentum.fr.
At first glance, this building in the Old Town of Toulouse might seem to be made of stone blocks just like a typical 19th century building in Paris. But in fact it is made mostly of local bricks that were painted to look like stone blocks (except for the balconies).
Our guide explained that there are no stone quarries in or near Toulouse, so building a house entirely out of stone would have been prohibitively expensive.
Later I noticed this building near my hotel on Rue Bayard. If you just look at the front façade, and don’t get up too close to it, it really does look like a Parisian stone building from the 19th century.
The rather ordinary-looking plant that Sarah is showing us here is the pastel plant or Isatis tinctoria, which was a source of great wealth in Toulouse and vicinity in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Apparently the soil around Toulouse is ideally suited for the growing of pastel plants. The plants themselves are of little value, but through a long and complicated manufacturing process they can be turned into an indelible blue dye which was exported to England and Flanders, where it was sold for high prices to cloth manufacturers.
Around 1560 the pastel trade started to decline. There were several reasons for this, including mismanagement, bad weather and the wars of religion, but the main reason was the introduction of indigo dye from South America, since indigo was also a blue dye but was cheaper and easier to use than pastel.
One of those who became very wealthy through the pastel trade was a Spanish merchant named Jean de Bernuy, who settled in Toulouse and had this elaborate Renaissance house built to show off his wealth and status.
The ornamentation on this vaulted ceiling reminds people of artichokes.
The tower of the Hôtel de Bernuy was one of the tallest in Toulouse at the time it was built, in the sixteenth century. (The word Hôtel is used here in its old sense, meaning a private mansion.)
The Hôtel de Bernuy now belongs to a school, the Collège Pierre de Fermat.
Location, aerial view and photos of the Hôtel de Bernuy on monumentum.fr.
The Jacobean Church was begun in the 13th century by the Dominican Order of Preachers, which was founded in 1215 by Saint Dominique for the purpose of combating heresy.
In France the Dominicans are also known as the Jacobins, after their cloister of Saint-Jacques (Saint Jacobus in Latin) in Paris. But during the French Revolution there was also an important faction called the Jacobins, so for us foreigners it can all get a bit confusing.
Outside the Jacobean Church, Sarah explained why the brick churches of Toulouse look so different from the Gothic churches of northern France — the main reason being that Toulouse does not have any stone quarries, but ample supplies of clay for brick making.
The pillars in the church are made of stone, brought in at great expense from distant quarries, but the walls are made mainly of local bricks.
An unusual feature of this church is a large pillar in the middle, around which there is now a set of mirrors. This gives the illusion of looking into a deep hole, whereas what you are really looking at is the reflection of the pillar and the ceiling.
The last stop on our guided walking tour “Grand Monuments of Toulouse” was the Dominican/Jacobean convent, adjacent to the Jacobean Church.
This convent suffered serious damage during the French Revolution. It was saved from destruction in the 19th century and was fully restored in the 1950s.
One of the chapels in the Jacobean Convent is the Saint-Antonin Chapel, which is covered with restored 14th century frescos.
Location, aerial view and photos of the Jacobean Convent on monumentum.fr.
My photos in this post are from 2014. I revised the text in 2019.