Three Nights in Toulouse

Posted on July 10, 2008 by Holly Hayes
Part of: The Great European Road Trip

Tonight is the last of three nights we've spent in Toulouse, one of the largest cities in France and capital of Europe's aerospace industry. It's actually pretty nice for a big city and we've enjoyed our stay here. It's been consistently sunny and in the upper 80s; a little hot but not nearly as bad as the South was.

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Yesterday I had a busy day of photography work here in Toulouse, with David joining me later in the evening. I visited the fantastic Basilica of St. Sernin in both the morning and evening (for light in both directions) and two excellent museums in between. Happily, all three sights allowed unrestricted photography.

The Basilica of St. Sernin was built 1080-1120 to better accommodate all the pilgrims stopping by on their way to Santiago. It is huge, with two side aisle on each side, a tall central tower, and a roomy ambulatory with chapels around the east end. And it has lots of great details to discover, like medieval murals in the north transept, reliquaries in the crypt, and many Romanesque sculptures on the outside.

Chevet from Southeast (c.1080-96)

Lovely east end in the morning

View from Northwest

North side

West Facade (c.1118)

West end in the evening. It looks a little weird because they ran out of money for stone halfway up, and never finished the towers.

Nave Looking East (c.1100-18)

Elevation of the Nave (c.1100-18)


Romanesque Capital (c.1080-1100): Christ and Apostles

Capital with St. Peter and his oversized key

Fresco (c.1180): The Empty Tomb

Mural of two women at the empty tomb of Jesus on Easter morning

North Ambulatory (c.1080-96)

Ambulatory around the choir (upper level) and crypt (lower level)


Crypt with shrines

The Musee des Augustins, housed in a former monastery, has a huge collection of Romanesque and Gothic art salvaged from churches in Toulouse, some of which were destroyed in the Revolution.


Some of my favorite things in the Musee des Augustins:

xti_1729 xti_1724xti_1932xti_1720 Gothic gargoyles set up in the cloister. They were originally placed vertically, since they double as water spouts, but set upright they look like they are singing!

xti_1839 xti_1806xti_1846xti_1863 Romanesque sculptures. The small ones from left to right are: Christ's "harrowing of hell"; King David; and the wise virgins from the parable of the wise and foolish virgins.

xti_1960 Touching scenes of Christ's burial, from a Gothic altarpiece.

xti_1937 Notre Dame de Grasse, a beautiful Gothic statue of the Virgin Mary.

The Musee St. Raymond is right next to the main basilica and specializes in antiquities, with an especially big collection of Roman statues and Early Christian tombs. Lucky for me, they were also having a temporary exhibition of very interesting Roman altars from the local Midi-Pyrenees region.

xti_1666xti_2322xti_2237 Left to right: museum entrance; Roman altar with swastika, back when it was a good symbol (it still is in East Asia); a Roman altar to sex! (OK, not really, it's dedicated to the sex arborbus or "six trees" of a sacred grove).

xti_2262 Double-headed Roman god used for public worship. They are Bacchus and Silenus, I think.

xti_2286 Small altars and offerings, in "snow". One thing I liked about the temporary exhibition was the nature background they gave to most of the altars, giving a sense of where these shrines would have been originally located.

xti_2217 Busts of Roman emperors from the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. A drawing class was using them as inspiration; I peeked at some sketches and all were very good.

xti_2175 Early Christian (4th or 5th century) sarcophagus with Chi-Rho symbol

xti_2183 Adam and Eve on another sarcophagus

This morning we visited another church in Toulouse and checked out the riverfront. The church (the Eglise des Jacobins) made my list for its Gothic vaulting that looks like palm trees and the tomb of medieval theologian St. Thomas Aquinas.

Palmier des Jacobins

Mirror Image

Shrine of St. Thomas Aquinas

And this afternoon we drove 45 minutes up the freeway to visit the church in Moissac, which is famed for its Romanesque sculpture. The overall experience of church and town didn't come close to Conques, but the sculpture and cloisters definitely lived up to expectations. Photos of these sights will have to wait for the next post.

In other news, did you know that Angelina Jolie moved into a hospital room in Nice, just three days after we left? Humph! The hospital is right on the boardwalk and we walked by it many times, but sadly we narrowly missed the chance to join the paparazzi outside waiting for Brad to visit.

Tomorrow we'll make a lot of progress north, driving 3.5 hours to the town of Saintes. Just one night there for a quick look and rest, then on to Poitiers, where we will stay in a castle!