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Toulouse, The Pink City and its many exciting colors

Jeffrey Cabuay, France

People call it the Pink City or “La Ville Rose” in French. It is the only place in France given such a very “colorful” title. You might ask the question if it’s really pink? Not really... but it does produce pinkish hues when the sunlight shines on houses and monuments mostly made of red-pink clay bricks typical of the place. Some describe the combination of the bricks and the architectural features change with the sunlight: pink in the morning, crimson in midday, and purple when the sun slumbers behind the landscape. These clays were introduced in the 1st century when the city was a Roman colony. Toulouse was called Tolosa during Roman times. Among the more famous brick-made monuments is the Basilica of St. Sernin, one of the largest remaining Romanesque building in Europe. It is counted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Another monument is the Capitole, commissioned by the Capitouls, which has always been the seat of power and administration of the city since the 12th century.

Pastel Blue was the color that made Toulouse one of the richest and most powerful places in France because it became the center of the Pastel trade. Pastel was made from a plant called Woad cultivated in southwest France. This is a dye mostly used in textiles and was exported to different countries. Merchants became very wealthy trading blue gold and as a consequence were able to exhibit their affluence through the construction of splendid mansions. A lot of these mansions are existing today and Toulouse retains some of the finest private mansions in Europe. One example of this mansion is the Hotel D’Assezat, which is a Renaissance masterpiece. In modern times, Pastel is also being used to produce beauty and health products.

Michel Sarran, a 2-starred Michelin chef, who has a restaurant in Toulouse that bears his name, describes the place, “It’s a city of people. It’s uncomplicated. It’s unpretentious. For me, it sums up rurality, in all its beauty and authenticity. Toulouse is a countrified city.” He further adds that as a restauranteur he doesn’t need to go far to find his ingredients. Truffles, foie gras, and suckling lamb can all be found in the area.

For the gourmets, some of the specialties of Toulouse are the Cassoulet, a slow-cooked casserole containing one or more different types of meat like sausage, duck, goose, pork combined with white beans; the Confit de Canard or Duck confit, a once common food now being used in high-end restaurants; and the Toulouse sausage whose recipe remains unchanged since the 18th century.

The Toulouse Violet flower is also one of the symbols of the Pink City. It is said that Violets arrived in Toulouse because one of Napoleon III’s army officers brought home the flower to his fiancée from his travels in Italy. “In the language of flowers, violets symbolize decency and modesty. Offering someone a bouquet of these flowers means: « I secretly love you ».” The heart-shaped flowers have 300 species and are in the Conservatoire National de la Violette in Toulouse. They are cultivated to produce delicacies, decorations, fragrances, textiles, cosmetics, and even liquor.

The passion for rugby wears the colors red and black on the Toulouse rugby team called Stade Toulousain, which is one of the most successful rugby teams in Europe. The group has won more than 21 French Cup victories and 5 European Championships.

Toulouse is the 4th largest city in France after Paris, Marseille, and Lyon. It is the aeronautics and aerospace capital of Europe and is home to the aeronautics company, Airbus. The University of Toulouse is one of the oldest universities in Europe, founded in 1229 and the city is the 4th largest university campus in France.

The City of Toulouse is often overlooked by tourists, but it is one of France’s most historic and fascinating cities with a 2000-year old history. The climate has mild winters and warm highs of about 30 degrees Celsius. It is also the home of hundreds of Filipinos who add color to its already colorful culture.

References: Toulouse a tout websites. Toulouse Midi-Pyrénées 2011 book, editions tme, Chef Michel Sarran’s video of Toulouse.

Photo credits:, Hotel Le Prado, Graine de Pastel, Toulouse Tourisme, Cuisine AZ, Carrement Belle, La Depeche, Airbus


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