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Toulouse History

Although the Romans arrived over 2,000 years ago, it was events around the 12th and 13th centuries that both defined and scarred the history of Toulouse.

Back then, France as we know it today didn’t exist, and the area was divided into the north, where people said oui to mean yes, and the south, where people said oc. The southwest became known as ‘Langue d’Oc’ (the language of Oc) and Occitan simultaneously described the people, the language and the culture.

Times were tolerant, until the Pope declared a crusade against the Cathars, a peaceful but non-Christian people living in the area. Langue d’Oc was torn apart, cities were burned, sieges went on for months and the Inquisition set up headquarters in Toulouse. In the end, the Cathar genocide established the might of the Catholic Church and the power of the north. Toulouse became annexed to France.

The intervening centuries included plenty of skirmishes with the English over the nearby wine region of Bordeaux, as well as floods, pestilence and fire. But it wasn’t all bad.

The discovery of woad, the only blue dye available in Europe, revived Toulouse’s fortunes. Violets, too, helped to make the area fashionable. The University of Toulouse, one of the oldest in Europe, flourished, and Toulouse became a pivotal point on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

The 20th century brought along the next big thing to give the city a boost: the aerospace industry. As the central hub of Airbus and the home of Concorde, Toulouse is flying right into the future, despite the frequent reminders about its past.

Almost every building in the centre has a story that can be traced back through time. Look out for the Occitan cross in the centre of Place du Capitole and the Occitan language on the street signs, just beneath the French.

Did you know?
• It is often referred to as the Pink City due to the rose-colored bricks used in the construction of most of the city's buildings.
• Many of the city's buildings and monuments are named to recall the martyrdom of a saint who died after being tied to the tail of a bull.
• Airbus has sold more than 15,000 aircraft and almost 9,000 jets since it was established in Toulouse.

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Featured Hotels


Hôtel des Arts

Not to be confused with the substantially more upmarket Hôtel des Beaux Arts, this one may not have the glitz and glamour but it still has a great location. Just off Place St Georges, one of the most romantic parts of Toulouse, it's also within walking distance of the river.

Hôtel des Beaux Arts

For a room with an unforgettable view of Toulouse's Pont Neuf illuminated at night, try the Hôtel des Beaux Arts. The building itself has an 18th-century façade and a busy yet brilliant brasserie downstairs. Rooms somehow combine modern animal print cushions with a romantic charm from days gone by.

Le Grand Balcon Hôtel

There's a sense of fun in this 1930s hotel just off Place du Capitole. Fittingly, for a city associated with aerospace, the elegant rooms have a playful aviation theme to its stylish décor. They've even named a suite after one of its best-known guests: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, aviator and Little Prince author.

Hôtel de Brienne

Just a few minutes' walk from the tree-lined Canal de Brienne, this smart design hotel manages to mix sleek contemporary décor with a cosy ambience. The funky restaurant and bar lead on to an attractive garden terrace, and there's plenty of intriguing modern art dotted about the common areas.

Hôtel Héliot

Decorated in a style that perhaps your grandmother would choose, Hôtel Héliot is cosy and comfortable. It's close to the main train station and the Jean Jaurès metro, and even though it's not on the doorstep of Place du Capitole, it's perfectly straightforward to walk there from here.

Hôtel Royal Wilson

Clean and simple, Hôtel Royal Wilson is within walking distance of Toulouse's city centre. With wrought-iron balconies, a Moroccan-style interior courtyard and a whitewashed interior, the décor might come as a pleasant surprise given the price tag. There's also a private garage and a secure lockup for bicycles.