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Thanks to the production of and trade in a blue dye to color wool, Toulouse was a very prosperous city in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The dye was extracted from a small plant that was very common around Toulouse. The business was so profitable that the rich inhabitants had money to build beautiful houses with the typical pink bricks. Toulouse is still called 'la ville rose', the pink city.
The city was built on the foundations of a Roman settlement and many of the old streets follow the pattern that the Romans had created. The heart of the city is formed by the Place du Capitole, of which the north side is completely taken up by the neoclassical Capitole with eight pink pillars. You definitely also have to visit the Salle des Illustrés.
Around this majestic square lie the city's luxurious shopping streets. In the square itself, every Wednesday a market is held with local produce, art, handicrafts, clothing and books. Every other week, biological products complement the market. At this Marché Bio you can buy the best truffles, sausages, cheese and many more regional products. Speaking of markets, at the covered market St Cyprien on the left bank of the Garonne River, once a month a special market is held: the Paper and Toy Market. Old toys, antique prints and posters: a collector's paradise. You do need to know a thing or two about the subject, as not all offered goods are authentic.
The octagonal tower of the impressive Basilica of Saint-Sernin shapes the urban landscape from afar. It is Europe's largest Romanesque church. The basilica was built between 1080 and 1120. Originally, the bell tower had three floors, but two floors were added in the fourteenth century. The church is an important pilgrimage place for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. The church's floor plan even formed the basis for the construction of the cathedral in Santiago.
The Cathédrale Saint-Étienne is something completely different. The building looks very strange. This is because the church really consists of two incomplete churches, one in Romanesque style and one in Gothic style. A mishmash, but in a strange way fascinating. On Sundays there is an antiques and flea market in the square in front of the church.
From the Roman times, only the amphitheater has been reasonable well preserved. Nearby the theater there is a museum that exhibits findings from excavations (for example when the subway was constructed in Toulouse).
The city has a large number of museums. The Musée des Augustins is housed in a former Augustinian convent from the fourteenth century. It holds a large collection of paintings and sculptures by for example Monet and Rodin. Special modern art can be found in the former slaughterhouse, which is appropriately called Musée des Abattoirs.
Toulouse is a student city and therefore doesn't lack bars, cafés and restaurants. Nightlife mainly evolves around the river where the music bars, jazz clubs and discotheques are located. Around the Place du Capitole the atmosphere is a lot calmer. There is also a casino.
Toulouse is the center of the European aerospace industry and aircraft manufacturer Airbus also has its plant here. The Cité de l'Espace in East Toulouse is a must for aviation and aerospace enthusiasts. In the IMAX Theater and the Planetarium you feel as if you are in space. There are also replicas of for example the Russian space station MIR and the Ariane 5 space rocket. Especially for young children there are attractions such as the Stellarium, where they can learn about the galaxies in a playful manner. They can also play 'astronaut'!
Boat trips on the Garonne are a popular way to discover not only Toulouse, but also the surrounding countryside. There are also boat trips organized on the Canal du Midi. This canal was built in the nineteenth century and is a fine example of hydraulic engineering. The canal runs for example through staircase locks, over aqueducts and even through a tunnel and is therefore listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Via the Canal du Midi, you can go to Carcassonne, southeast of Toulouse. But you can of course get there faster (and cheaper) in a rental car, via the A61. The thirteenth-century fortress Bastide St Louis is world-famous, but you should also visit the old, medieval city center on the right bank of the Aide River.
It is easy to drive around in Toulouse and there are many parking facilities. In the blue zones you can park for free for a maximum of one hour with a parking disk. On Sundays and public holidays and from 1 through 15 August parking is free in all of Toulouse. There are good parking facilities near for example the Cristal Market (Boulevard de Strasbourg, Boulevard Arcole) and along Avenue Billières and Rue Saint-Michel. In addition, there are dozens of parking garages, like underneath the Place du Capitole.
Toulouse Airport is located eight kilometers northwest of the city. You can easily reach Toulouse Airport from the city center. Take the Allée de Barcelone towards Bordeaux, Aux and Blagnac and take the exit towards Bordeaux (A620-E9). Leave this road at exit 31 towards Blagnac (A621). At exit 2 follow the signs to Aéroport Blagnac.