After making sure that our friends Brenda and Aja successfully found their early-morning flight out of Toulouse, we enjoyed a bit of the sunny morning before heading home. It happened to be the first of November, which is the holiday Toussaint. Two fascinating and lovely surprises greeted us.
An immense sleeping minotaur waited for us just outside our hotel on the central square of Toulouse, la Place du Capitole. Even though his eyes were closed, his rib-cage slowly pulsed with his breathing. He looked like some alien-invasion movie CGI come to life.
Some spontaneous internet searching revealed that the minotaur along with a giant mechanical spider were in town for a weekend of theater and festivities. The ambitious people of La Machine created these creatures.
We didn’t stay for the weekend’s performances, but of course YouTube showed us what missed:
The City Hall — or mairie — creates one of the walls of the Place du Capitole. Guillaume Cammas, a Toulouse architect and artist, designed the facade around 1750. While Toulouse’s characteristic brick provides some warmth, the regular classicism is severe. Whenever we are in the Place du Capitole, we pay more attention to the arcades, cafés, restaurants and shops along the other three sides of the square. But today, the main central door was open, and people were casually wandering in. Curious, we followed.
No great surprises at first: just a couple courtyards, and more brick and stone and sculptures.
We noticed a few people disappearing to the left within the stone arch on the far side of the courtyard. Might as well see where they were going. Our first glimpse of what awaited us:
To our good fortune, Toussaint is day for an open-house of the City Hall.
This grand stairway, surrounded by immense lush paintings, is part of the complete reconstruction of the City Hall in the 1880s. The end of the 19th century was a time when the leaders of Toulouse sought to express their political, economic and artistic significance, especially relative to Paris. The art and design of the renovated City Hall expresses themes of this southern part of France. Local painters, sculptors and architects transformed the building.
This is the former wedding hall, with the themes of love and happiness.
This is the Henri-Martin room, named after its painter. He chose to showcase scenes from the countryside on one side of the room, and scenes from city life on the other. Lovely evocation of light and nature.
The Hall des Illustres is the grand finale. Twenty Toulouse painters and sculptors embellished this monumental, long space. Each interpreted some aspect of the themes Glorious episodes in Toulouse life, Toulouse city of the arts and culture, and Defense of the Fatherland.
These are the allegorical figures for the Law, Justice and Truth. Apparently Truth has nothing to hide.
We were struck by the contrasts between sober prim depictions of women, and unabashed voluptuous figures. Imagine visiting City Hall at the beginning of the 20th century, accompanied by such sensual boldness. Who was scandalized; who was liberated; who was repressed; who was exploited; who was turned on?