So for the past week, I have traveling around the Haut Garonne. Based in the city of Toulouse, this has been a long awaited and deserved vacation. Unfortunately, as with every trip, it is ending far too soon. After seven days, I can certainly say that I have seen a lot and look forward to coming back to see many of the other things that I had to skip because of time constraints.
Those who know me know my love for all things Paris. I have spent most of my European travels there. This year, I decided that it was time to see something different and it became apparent that Toulouse fit the bill. I have always wanted to visit here anyway and now seemed like a good time. Toulouse has exceeded my expectations. Apart from the fabulous climate – high 20s and low 30s and full sunshine for the end of May, of course being this close to the Mediterranean what else would you expect – the city is stunningly beautiful. The Haussmannization of Paris is also evident here with some streets being almost indistinguishable from the capital is to be expected, but architecturally Toulouse stands apart. The city scape is dominated by the red brick that is this region’s trademark. Not just its homes, but also its monumental structures, in particular the Basilica of St. Sernin.
The Basilica dominates the old city. Dedicated to Bishop Saturanlia who was martyred in the 3rd century, the current building stands where the early medieval church stood. St. Sernin is a marvel of the Romanesque style. When talking about Romanesque in France it is almost always the Basilica at Vezely that takes pride of place. And while I agree that this is deserved, after seeing St Sernin, it is obvious that this is another jewel in the Romanesque heritage. Built in red brick, the basilica lacks the exterior ornamentation of the late Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals of the north of France giving the building an austere character. This is a building that imposes itself. There are no flying buttresses to be found. Whereas the Gothic cathedrals achieved the illusion of being lighter than they were through the use of light and architectural features, St Sernin is a solid presence that is not going anywhere. It is a bull of a building.
Although the exterior may lack the elaborateness of its northern cousins, the interior is full of incredible sights. For all its bulky appearance, the interior is a stunning example of the use of space. With a single longitudinal nave and a truncated lateral nave, the rounded arches do much of the work of creating a sense of openness. As with most ancient buildings, the basilica was heavily damaged in the Revolution as well as during the Napoleonic period. But a number of original elements survived, including some capitols, the murals, reliquaries of the Apostles, which are the pride of the basilica, and some sarcophagi from the Merovingian era.
No trip to France is complete without a statement on the gastronomy here. Well, the fact that I had one of the best lunches in a long time tells me that the gastronomy is still as healthy as anything.
There is much more to write, but those will be for very near future blog posts.
-May 28, 2017. From a park bench at Capitole.