Thursday, April 30, 2015

Toulouse, France: A Lifesize Time Capsule -- Part 1

Bon jour! We arrived safely in France yesterday with no problems or delays in our flights. We explored a little bit of the city last night and this morning and have already enjoyed some delicious French food-- lamb, bisquettes, croissants, esspressos, duck fat, and wine. I'm going to talk a little about the history of Toulouse in this posting, and later I'll talk about what we have seen so far and my impressions of the city in part 2. I hope you enjoy the history of this beautiful bustling city. I know we are!

Like a historical sequence of the latest iphone models, mobs have fought over, stuffed in their back pockets, and thrown their babies aside for this town, just to be able to post a #oohlalalookiewhatigot tweet. On the east side of the Pyreness Mountains, Toulouse is perfectly situated between the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea to be a trading machine — a combination of Costco, Bloomingdales, and the Chicago Mercantile.

First Century BC Romans stole the town from the Celts, who established the town three centuries prior, and named it Tolosa. The Romans turned Tolosa into a badass powerhouse, one of the most important badass powerhouses in the whole freaking Roman Empire! That is, until the Roman Empire fell, and the Visigoths took command in 413 AD. In fact, the Romans handed half of France and most of Spain to them and Toulouse was their capital. Like a four year old with a pet goldfish, the prize was relatively short lived, when King Clovis of the Franks insisted (with swords, crossbows, and trained dragons) that Toulouse be a part of his kingdom.

Now it gets complicated. Ya got your Charlemagne and yer religious politics, Moors and Catholics, crusades and the plague. Basically all the stuff you probably remember from your high school European history class all rolled up into one town. If you happen to have misplaced your class notes, I would suggest the websites I provided at the end of this posting.

Okay, lots of great history, but Toulouse is really known for its homegrown indigo dye. During the 1500’s it became rich enough to start dealing indigo all over Europe, but by the end of the 1600’s, the Indian cartel took over the trade. Oddly, all the red brick construction, dating back to Roman times, gave Toulouse the nickname the “pink city” (talk about a gender identity crisis). In keeping up the spirit of international trade,Toulouse became an airline industry hub after the First World War. Aeropostale (not the teenage clothing store) built planes that trafficked mail and passengers all over the world, which was pretty sweet until World War Two had to happen. It was forced to merge with other small plane companies to create “Air France” which produces the Airbus. To keep this a happy story, please do not Wikipedia “Airbus disasters on December 28, 2014.”

As for the pilgrimage to Santiago (the whole reason we are here), Toulouse is on one of the many routes to Compostela — the Way of Arles. Pilgrims have been drawn to Toulouse to visit the Basilica of St. Sernin, a giant 900 year old Romanesque structure. It housed the first bishop in Toulouse around 250 AD, St. Sernin. Travellers on their way to Compostela would surely stop at this roadside attraction to visit the Saint’s grave, various relics, and get some rest for the long journey ahead.

Julia Evans

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