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Region of Midi-Pyrénées Town Information

The Towns of Midi-Pyrénées


The Capital of Midi-Pyrénées - Toulouse

Toulouse is the capital of both the region of Midi-Pyrénées and the département of Haute-Garonne.  It is located some 370 miles south of Paris, on the east bank of the Garonne River, at its juncture with the Canal Latéral à la Garonne and the Canal du Midi.  The 17th century Canal du Midi connects Toulouse to both the Atlantic Ocean and to the Mediterranean Sea.


Toulouse was originally known as the important Gallic city of Tolosa.  In 106 BC, the Tolosa became Roman but maintained its name.  From 419 to 507 AD, the town was the capital of the Visigothic kingdom of Toulouse.  During the 4th century, Toulouse was made a bishopric.  It became an archbishopric in 1317.


In 508, the Merovingian king Clovis took the town.  In 721, the Merovigians successfully beat back the Saracen siege.  Later, the town became part of the Carolingian kingdom of Aquitaine.  In 778, it became the governmental center of the feudal countship of Toulouse.  The counts subscribed to the so-called Cathari heresy and were able to resist the 13th century anti-heretic crusade.


During the 9th century, Toulouse was the center of a powerful country and the focus of the distinctive Languedoc culture.  In 1271, after the crusade against the Albigenses, Toulouse passed to the French crown.  From 1420, and the establishment of the Toulouse Parliament, to the French Revolution, its Parliament had jurisdiction over Languedoc.  In the 16th century, during the Wars of Religion, the city sided with the Catholic League.  On April 10, 1814, outside of Toulouse, the Duke of Wellington crushed the French forces, under Marshal Soult, in the last battle of the Peninsular War.  From 1942 to1944, Toulouse was occupied by the Germans and suffered considerable damage.


During the Middle Ages, Toulouse became Europe’s de facto artistic and literary center. The old city, and its business section, had grown up on the higher right bank of the Garonne River. Outside of the vieux quartier’s fortified walls, ‘faubourg’ [suburbs] extensions to the city developed.  The faubourg of Saint-Cyprien developed on the river’s lower, left bank.  A modern development, containing a new city hall, has been constructed to the southwest of Saint-Cyprien.  The most run-down parts of the vieux quartier have been redeveloped into an ultra-modern commercial center.


Toulouse is a treasure trove of medieval churches:  There is the Gothic cathedral of Saint-Étienne, which was begun in the 12th century, and the Gothic Église des Jacobins [the site of the tomb of the medieval philosopher and theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas].  It is also the Dominican order’s mother church.  The Romanesque basilica of Saint-Sernin, which was begun in the 11th century, is nearby.  The Church of Notre Dame la Blanche was restored in the 16th century.


Toulouse possesses one of the most interesting groupings of 16th and 17th century Renaissance buildings in France.  These include the Hôtel d’Assézat, which houses the Académie des Jeux Floraux, which was founded in 1323 to encourage literary talent. It also contains the Fondation Bemberg which displays a collection of art covering the last five centuries.  Also included, among these Renaissance buildings, are the Hôtels de Bernuy, d’Espie, Felzins, du Vieux Raisin and the Maison de Pierre.  The 18th century Capitole [town hall] is also note worthy.


The University of Toulouse was founded in 1229, and is the second oldest in France.  It was reorganized in 1970.  The Roman Catholic Institute was founded in 1877, and the Polytechnic Institute was founded in 1970.


Toulouse began a commercial expansion with the coming of the railways in the 19th century.  Now, with the availability of natural gas from Lacq and the hydroelectric power from the Pyrénées, its industrial development has been diversified into the manufacture of aircraft, chemicals, clothing, farm implements, leather, shoes, stained glass and machinery.  Its commercial aerospace industry has developed rapidly, over the post-war years, from the early Caravelle jet and the supersonic Concorde, to becoming the center for the Airbus Consortium.     

Because of its strategic geographic position, at the crossroads of converging north-south and east-west routes, the city has become the dominant trading center for the Aquitaine and Mediterranean basins.


Albi is the capital of the Tarn département.  It is situated on the Tarn River, 42 miles northeast of Toulouse, at the edges of the Massif Central and the Garonne Plain.


Albi was once the Gallo-Roman town of Albiga, the capital of the Albigenses.  Following the Roman period, the area became the viscounty of Albigeois under the counts of Toulouse. 


From 1208 to 1229, Albi was the focus of the Albigensian Crusade, a conflict between the Catholic Church and the Albigenses heresy.  The Crusade was the precursor to the Inquisition.  The city was captured, in 1215, by French-Catholic forces and the Albigenses lost their estates to the French crown.


The town’s architectural delight is the Gothic Cathedral of Sainte-Cécile.  It was constructed, over the period 1277 to 1512, without the use of flying buttresses.  It is considered to be one of southern France’s finest cathedrals.  A 13th century red brick archbishop’s palace, called the Berbie Palace, is located between the cathedral and the river.  Today, it is a museum housing the creations of the Albi native, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.  The 9th century ‘Old Bridge’ crosses the river from the medieval town center below the palace.  The Church of Saint-Salvi, which was constructed from the 11th to the 15th century, has a magnificent cloister.


Albi’s tourist industry centers about the exploration of the Tarn River gorges.  Cement, dyes, flour, glass and synthetic textiles are manufactured there.


Auch is the capital of the département of Gers, and is located on the west bank of the Gers River, west of Toulouse.


The town was originally established on the east bank of the river by the Celtiberian tribe of Ausci.  During the Roman Gaul era, it was named Elimberris and with the coming of Christianity it was renamed Novempopulani.  In 732, the town was moved across the river to its present site to better protect the inhabitants from Muslim raiders.


In the Middle Ages it became the governmental center for the dukes of Armagnac.  The 18th century saw it as the capital of Gascony.


The old town consists of a network of narrow streets, called pousteries, which entwine about the Place Salinis, the center of town.  Between the Place Salinis and the river is a flight of stairs called the Escalier Monumental [Monumental Steps].


The Cathedral of Sainte-Marie was built during the period 1489 to 1662.  It is acclaimed as one of southern France’s finest Gothic structures.  Its classical façade dates from the 16th century and features Renaissance stained-glass windows.  The Cathedral contains 113 carved oak Renaissance choir stalls and a wonderful 17th century organ.


The prefecture, which adjoins the Cathedral, was once the archbishop’s palace.  It features a 14th century tower.  Nearby, is a museum that houses the département’s historical archives and a library containing a collection of old manuscripts.


The town is best known for its Armagnac brandy, foie gras, poultry and wine.  It has tile and tobacco manufacturing and a small printing industry.


Cahors was the capital of the historical province of Quercy.  Today, it is the capital of the département of Lot.  The town is located below Mont Saint-Cyr, on a rocky peninsula surrounded by the Lot River, northeast of Agen.


Prior to the arrival of the Romans, the town was the capital of the Cadurci.  Under the Romans, it was first known as Divona, but in the 3rd century the name was changed to Cadurcum.  Subsequently, Cahors was ruled by the Visigoths and then by the Muslim invaders.


The boulevard Gambetta divides the town into the ‘new city’ and the ‘old city’.  The Cathedral of Saint Étienne, located in the old town, is remarkable for its cupolas. Its construction began in the 12th century; it was the first church in France with Cupolas. Other points of interest are the town’s Roman and medieval ruins and the old Pont Valentré that spans the Lot River.  The bridge has three machicolated towers.  It is considered to be France’s finest fortified bridge.


During the 13th century, Cahors was known as an important financial center.  Over the period from 1316 to 1789, the bishops of Cahors administered the region together with royal officers.  In the 14th century, Pope John XXII founded the University of Cahors.  Pope John had been born in Cahors.  The university was subsequently merged into the University of Toulouse.


Cahors is a farm-trading center.  It also produces automobile accessories, leather, liquor, processed foods. Nuts, fruits and truffles come from the nearby area.


The town of Foix is the capital of the Ariège département.  It is located at the fork of the Arget and Ariège rivers, 1250 feet above sea level in the foothills of the Pyrénées Mountains.  The town long controlled the Ariège gateway into the mountains and the Col de Puymorens, an importantant mountain pass into Spain.  The ruins of the medieval ducal castle, which had been constructed during the 12th and 14th centuries, dominates the town.


The medieval fortified town of Lourdes is located on both sides of the Gave de Pau River, at the approaches of the Pyrénées Mountains.  It is situated southwest of Toulouse, in the département of Hautes-Pyrénées.


During the Hundred Years' War, in 1406, the French captured the town from the English following an 18 month siege.  The castle, which is located on the right bank of the Gave de Pau, had been a state prison from the time of Louis XIV to the first part of the 19th century.


Today, Lourdes is a major religious shrine and pilgrimage center.  It was here, in 1858, that a 14-year-old girl, named Bernadette, is said to have had a number of visions of the Virgin Mary.  The visions took place at an underground grotto on the left bank of the Gave de Pau.  Bernadette’s visions were authenticated by Pope Pius IX in 1862.  He subsequently authorized the veneration of Our Lady of Lourdes.  Bernadette was beatified in 1925 and was canonized on Dec. 8, 1933.


It is said that more than 5 million pilgrims currently visit the basilica each year.  The basilica, which was built in 1876 atop the grotto, quickly became overcrowded.  In 1958 a prestressed concrete underground church was built to hold 20 thousand pilgrims.


The town of Montauban is located about 30 miles north of Toulouse at the confluence of the Tarn and the Tescou rivers.  It is the capital of the Tarn-et-Garonne département.  The town was founded in the 12th century by the counts of Toulouse.  Its name was derived from the Latin ‘Mons Albanus’.  During the 16th and 17th centuries the town was a center of Protestantism in southwestern France.


The fortified church of Saint-Jacques, which was built over the 14th and 15th centuries, dominates the town.  The Tarn is still bridged by the town’s early 14th century Pont-Vieux.  The 17th century Episcopal palace stands next to the bridge.  In the mid-19th century it became the Musée Ingres.  Today, it houses several paintings and some 4000 drawings by the 18th and 19th century French painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.  Ingres’ ‘The Vow of Louis XIII” is found in the cathedral.


Montauban is the principal agricultural market for the area.  There is food processing, and the manufacturing of aeronautical, furniture and lighting equipment.


Rodez, until 1789, was the capital of the historic district of Rouergue; it is now the capital of the département of Aveyron.  It is located at the confluence of the Aveyron and Auterne rivers on the Plateau de Segala.


Ruthena, the original name for Rodez, was colonized by the Romans.  Following the fall of Rome, the town was divided into two camps: that of the bishops of Rodez, which was known as the Episcopal Cité, and that of the counts of Rouergue, which was known as the Bourg.  As a consequence of the hostility between the two camps, a double wall was built between them, with each camp having its own town center.  The 16th century Gothic cathedral of Notre-Dame stands in the Place de la Cité.  Its belfry reaches 285 feet high.  In the Place du Bourg is the Romanesque church of Saint-Amans.  Its exterior is 18th century and its restored nave originated in the 12th century.


Tourism is a growing industry in Rodez.  Some light manufacturing of gloves, plastic products and woolen items is also done there.


The capital of the département of Hautes-Pyrénées is Tarbes.  It is situated in a hilly region, 75 miles southwest of Toulouse, on the Adour River where it descends into a fertile plain below the Pyrénées.


Tarbes was considered an important city during the Roman period.  Following the Roman collapse, the town fell into the possession of the Arabs.  Subsequently, in the 10th century it was the capital of the countship of Bigorre.  The French lost the town to the English, from 1360 to 1406, during the Hundred Years' War


During the late 16th century, Tarbes was ravaged by the Wars of Religion between the Roman Catholics and the Huguenots.  Count Gabriel de Montgomery attacked the town in 1569 when Queen Jeanne d’Albret of Navarre established Protestantism there.  The town was overrun, in 1592, by forces of the Catholic League.  In 1814, English forces, under the Duke of Wellington, defeated the French near the town.


The town’s 12th century La Sède Cathedral was constructed, in a mixed style that included a Gothic cupola and Romanesque apse, from rolled pebbles, brick and stone.  A ruined, 14th century Gothic cloister, from the nearby town of Saint-Sever-de-Rustan, has been rebuilt in the town’s Jardin Massey Park.  The structure now houses a museum of painting, sculpture and antiquities.

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