Toulouse | History, Geography, & Points of Interest (2024)

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Also known as: Tolosa

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Toulouse, city, capital of Haute-Garonne département, Occitanie région, southern France. It is situated at the junction of the Canal Latéral à la Garonne and the Midi Canal, where the Garonne River curves northwest from the Pyrenean foothills.

Founded in ancient times, it was the stronghold of the Volcae Tectosages and developed as Tolosa during the Roman period. As capital of the Visigoths (419–507 ce) it was taken (508) by Clovis I and included in the Merovingian kingdom. It successfully withstood a siege by Saracens in 721, was chief town of the Carolingian kingdom of Aquitaine, and after 778 became the seat of the feudal countship of Toulouse. Its counts adhered to the Cathari heresy and resisted the anti-heretic crusade in the 13th century. Afterward, many religious houses and the university (1229) were founded. Its Parlement, established in 1420, had jurisdiction over Languedoc until the French Revolution. During the Wars of Religion in the 16th century, the city sided with the Catholic League. Marshal Nicolas-Jean de Dieu Soult unsuccessfully fought the last battle of the Peninsular War against Arthur Wellesley, 1st duke of Wellington, outside the city on April 10, 1814.

The vieux quartier (old city), on the right high bank and surrounded by medieval faubourgs (incorporated suburbs), embraces the business section. On the left low-lying bank is the faubourg of Saint-Cyprien. Toulouse, a bishopric (since the 4th century) and an archbishopric (since 1317), has numerous medieval churches—notably the Gothic cathedral of Saint-Étienne, the Romanesque basilica of Saint-Sernin, and the Gothic Église des Jacobins (mother church of the Dominican order and site of the tomb of St. Thomas Aquinas).

Many Renaissance and 16th–17th-century buildings (built by prosperous woad [pastel] dye merchants) form one of the most splendid series in France and include the hôtels de Bernuy, du Vieux Raisin, d’Espie, and de Pierre. The Hôtel d’Assézat houses the Académie des Jeux Floraux, founded in 1323 to encourage literary talent. The Duc de Montmorency was executed (1632) in the interior courtyard of the Capitole (town hall). The Midi Canal, connecting Toulouse to the Mediterranean, was completed in the 17th century. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996.

Noteworthy art museums are those of Saint-Raymond, des Augustins, and Paul Dupuy. The School of Fine Arts is on an 18th-century riverside embankment and, nearby, the Catholic Institute occupies a 16th-century convent. The city’s architecture was long characterized by rose-red brick. The most run-down portions of the old centre have been demolished and replaced by an ultra-modern commercial centre, which clashes sharply with the older architecture. To make room for the vigorous population growth of the city, a new town, named Mirail (Miracle), was constructed to the southwest of the older neighbourhood of Saint-Cyprien.

Toulouse progressed commercially with the advent of railways in the 19th century. Diversified industrial development (which includes the manufacture of chemicals, aircraft, and machinery) has been augmented by the availability of hydropower from the Pyrenees and natural gas from Lacq. The aerospace industry has seen extraordinary development: research, experiments, training of specialists, and production of vehicles (Caravelle, Concorde, Airbus, and military hardware). Because of its strategic position, with routes converging from north and south, it acts as a trading centre between the Mediterranean and the Aquitaine Basin, whose farm produce it markets. Pop. (1999) 390,350; (2014 est.) 466,297.

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This article was most recently revised and updated by Maren Goldberg.

Toulouse | History, Geography, & Points of Interest (2024)

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