Postcard from Toulouse, France: Centuries of alterations craft a catawampus cathedral

Cathedrale Saint Etienne de Toulouse

The approach makes it obvious. The Cathedral dedicated to Saint Stephen (5-33 A.D.) in Toulouse is the product of numerous architects over numerous centuries. And the interior is equally as cobbled together, held together by a column so inartistically enormous in circumference that I neglected to take its picture. But those incongruities make it all the more interesting to explore.

The first church buried underneath all of this brick dated from the 3rd century and was later topped by a Romanesque cathedral. At the beginning of the 13th century, an expanded French Gothic nave was completed in the regional “flavor” known as Raymondine, for Raymond VI, the Count of Toulouse. Raymond VI (1152-1222) was a key player in the constant tug of war, actually wars, waged for control between the King of France and King Henry II of England and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine. And also the Holy Roman Emperor and Alfonso II of Aragon. Alliances were complicated and always shifting.

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Postcard from Toulouse, France: A basilica with great bones

Above: Reliquary in the Basilica of Saint Sernin

Most people reading this headline would assume I’m talking about religious architecture, but those definitely are not the only bones on my mind. This does not mean that the architecture of the Basilica of Saint Sernin is not amazing; it is. So, we’ll just get those bones out of the way first.

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Postcard from Toulouse, France: Brick and timber swaybacks still standing

After the aristocratic, monochromatic ashlar (of large cut-stone masonry) buildings lining the streets of Bordeaux, walking the streets of Toulouse is like a double jolt of espresso. Yes, there are a multitude of stone-faced structures of the same period of affluence as those in Bordeaux, but there is also brick, tons of it. Often brick is laid in striking patterns contrasting the red with stone.

But, for now, I’ve isolated a few of what certainly appear amongst the oldest group of structures in the historic center of Toulouse. Without turning to experts to verify in each of these cases, these half-timbered houses with brick infill probably date to the 16th century. Several are constructed of Roman brick, shorter in height and wider than more “contemporary” brick.

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