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The ebullient city of Toulouse is the capital of the Midi-Pyrénées and the fourth-largest city in France. Just 100 km (60 miles) from the border with Spain, Toulouse is in many ways closer in flavor to southern European Spanish than to northern European French. Weathered redbrick buildings line sidewalks, giving the city its nickname, "La Ville Rose" (the Pink City). Downtown, the sidewalks and
restaurants pulse late into the night with tourists, workers, college students, and technicians from the giant Airbus aerospace complex headquartered outside the city.
Despite Toulouse's bustling, high-tech attitude, its well-preserved centre ville—the brick-paved streets between the Garonne River and the Canal du Midi—retains the feel of a small town, where food, Beaujolais nouveau, and the latest rugby victory are the primary concerns. So be prepared to savor the Mediterranean pace, southern friendliness, and youthful spirit of the city. Toulouse was founded in the 4th century BC and quickly became an important part of Roman Gaul. In turn, it was made into a Visigothic and Carolingian capital before becoming a separate county in 843. Ruling from this Pyrénéan hub, the counts of Toulouse held sovereignty over nearly all of the Languedoc and maintained a brilliant court known for its fine troubadours and literature. In the early 13th century, Toulouse was attacked and plundered by troops representing an alliance between the northern French nobility and the papacy, ostensibly to wipe out the Albigensian heresy (Catharism), but more realistically as an expansionist move against the power of Occitania, the French southwest. The counts toppled, but Toulouse experienced a cultural and economic rebirth thanks to the woad (blue dye) trade, and, consequently, wealthy merchants' homes constitute a major portion of Toulouse's architectural heritage.
Toulouse, at the intersection of the Garonne and the Canal du Midi, midway between the Massif Central and the Pyrénées, became an important nexus between Aquitania, Languedoc, and the Roussillon. Today, Toulouse is France's second-largest university town after Paris and the center of France's aerospace industry.
The area between the boulevards and the Garonne forms the historic nucleus of Toulouse. Originally part of Roman Gaul and later the capital...