History of Toulouse and its monuments

Visitors can explore countless sites and monuments thanks to the city’s rich historic past.

Sites and monuments

Over its two thousand years, Toulouse has been invaded, besieged, ravaged by fire, occupied, liberated… By turns the seat of the Kingdom of the Visigoths, a Cathar town, the epicentre of the pastel trade, the birthplace of the Aéropostale Company, the capital of aeronautics…so many major events that have forged its streets, its monuments and the identity of its people. Let’s step back in time together to examine some of these defining moments.

The forefathers of Toulouse in the 3rd Century B.C

Ever since the 3rd Century B.C, the tribes of the Volques Tectosages inhabited the fertile lands alongside the River Garonne. In 106 B.C, Tolosa became a prosperous Roman colony thanks to the trade in goods from Spain and the Mediterranean. This fascinating era of Antiquity is showcased at the Musée Saint-Raymond.

In today’s Ville Rose, Rue Saint-Rome and Rue des Filatiers still follow the route of the Cardo Maximus that split the city from north to south, whilst the Purpan quarter still displays evidence of an amphitheatre and baths that demonstrate how brick was were already used for construction at that time.

250 A.D and the origins of an immense basilica

Saturnin, the first Christian Bishop of Toulouse, refused to take part in a pagan ritual. He was seized and tied to a bull that dragged him through the city. In the V Century a basilica was built where the martyr had been buried, which had become a place of worship. In the XI Century construction of the current Basilica of Saint-Sernin began, a masterpiece of Romanesque art and today one of the largest preserved churches of its kind in Europe.

The basilica still houses the relics of Saint Saturnin and is a staging post for pilgrims on the Way of St James.

1189 sees the Capitouls seize power

In the XI and XII centuries the all-powerful Catholic Church dominated the city alongside the Counts of Toulouse who, down in the South, were far removed and little affected by royal influence. From 1156, however, wealthy officials known as the Capitouls banded together in order to represent the interests of their city. Their municipal authority was recognised in 1189 by Raymond V, Count of Toulouse, allowing them to administer the city up until the French Revolution.

In 1190 the Capitouls decided to build a town hall whose architecture and layout would evolve over the centuries. This would become the emblematic town hall we nowadays call Le Capitole.

1209 and the crusade against the Cathars

In 1208, Pope Innocent III mounted a crusade to defeat the Cathar religion that had taken root in the Languedoc and was considered heretical by the Catholic Church. The Pope also dispatched Dominique de Guzmán to Toulouse. In 1215 he established a religious community known as the Dominican Order. Under his leadership the Dominicans took vows of poverty and preached Catholicism to the local population.

They took up residence in the city, most notably at the home of Pierre Seilhan, and the order thrived: in 1229 they decided to build the Jacobins Convent. This building was extended on a number of occasions before it was completed in 1341.

The great fire of 1463

A boulangerie caught fire on Rue Maletache in the very heart of the city and its trading quarter. The fire spread very quickly due to the Autan wind and raged for twelve days, ravaging thousands of wood-panelled houses. The city gradually rose again from the ashes and, to prevent more fires, bricks were predominantly used in its reconstruction. In 1672, the Saint-Michel quarter also caught fire.

The Black Virgin, the city’s protector, was taken from the Church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Daurade and led in procession through the streets to quell the flames.

A prosperous city in the XVI Century

During the Renaissance, Toulouse grew wealthy thanks to the trade in pastel, a plant whose crushed leaves produce a blue pigment used for dyeing textiles. Rich merchants and the Capitouls built mansion houses as symbols of their success: the Hôtel de Boysson-Cheverry (Ostal d’Occitania), Hôtel d’Assézat, Hôtel Dahus…

The Capitouls also wanted to preserve the municipal archives and in the XVI Century commissioned the construction of a tower connected to the Capitole. The Donjon du Capitole is nowadays home to the tourist office. Finally, 1544 saw the beginning of works to construct the Pont Neuf, although locals would have to wait until it was completed in1632 to cross this bridge.

1667: the Canal du Midi, a genius idea

The Canal du Midi is a waterway that has linked Toulouse to the Mediterranean Sea for more than 300 years. Pierre-Paul Riquet was its designer. In the XVII Century he managed to convince Louis XIV to carve out a canal in southern France to facilitate the movement of goods. His idea was to capture the water that flowed off the Black Mountain in a reservoir before emptying it into the canal. It was a titanic project: Pierre-Paul Riquet employed tens of thousands of workers. In 1681the canal was inaugurated without its brilliant inventor, who had passed away the previous year. His remains lie at rest in Saint-Etienne’s Cathedral, while boats continue to sail along his canal.

The 1920’s and the Aéropostale Company

At the end of World War One, Latécoère took up home in Montaudran establishing an air transport company. By 1927 this had become the Compagnie Générale Aéropostale and had started hiring pilots who pushed the limits of aviation: in 1927, Mermoz and his co-pilot Négrin took off from Toulouse and reached Senegal without stopping; in 1928, Mermoz carried out an overnight flight to Buenos Aires; in 1930, he reached Santiago in Chile accompanied by Dabry and Gimié.

In 1933, Aéropostale merged with a number of other airlines to create Air France. On the now legendary Piste des géants (Runway of Giants), the adventures of these pioneers of aviation is retold thanks to a museum that is entirely devoted to their endeavours.

1900 and 2000; the scientific adventure continues

Toulouse continued to expand its industrial and aeronautical prowess: in 1955, the Caravelle, the world’s first jet airliner, took its maiden flight from Toulouse. Concorde took off from here in 1969. In 1970, Airbus set up its production line in Blagnac and manufactured its first aircraft, the A300. In 2005 it was the turn of the A380 to take to the skies above Toulouse. In 1968, the CNES, French National Space Centre, set up home in Toulouse and turned the Ville Rose into the hub of Space exploration missions.

With its innovative identity, Toulouse welcomes visitors, who can awaken their scientific curiosity at a range of tourist sites.

Audio tour in English

Welcome to Toulouse

Discover Toulouse’s must-see sights and enjoy magnificent panoramic views from the banks of the Garonne. Your guide? Rewind, the audio tour app.

The guide’s voice accompanies you on your hour-long tour, and the stories are automatically triggered as you go along, according to your geographical position. Start your tour when you like, stop it and start again when you like!