Since living in France, visiting museums and monuments has become a frequent pastime. I’m not sure if it’s becuase appreciating history and the arts is a large part of French culture, or simply because there are more museums here than in the places I’ve lived in the USA. Perhaps it’s a mix of both! One of the best times to visit museums in France is during the European Heritage Days, or the journées du patrimoine. This annual event usually happens on a weekend in September in France, but is also celebrated throughout Europe. During these two special days, many museums offer free entry, and places that are typically closed to the public, open their doors. In some cities, there are even performances and art installations.
This year, I spent the heritage weekend Toulouse, one of my favorite places in Southwestern France. Having only taken day trips there in the past, I was excited to discover more about the brick-colored city. My boyfriend had picked up a brochure for the event from the tourist office before I came to visit, so we could have a better idea of what there was to see. It can be overwhelming during the journées du patrimoine becuase there is so much going on, so it can be helpful to plan out what you want to visit in advance.
We made our way through les Abattoirs, an former 19th century slaughterhouse turned into a park and art museum in the Saint-Cyprien neighborhood. As we were walking through the park, we decided to skip the museum and head straight to the Hôpital de la Grave, which we were more interested in seeing.
The first record of the hospital dates back to 1197, but it is still in use today, so we were only able to visit the outside and courtyard. After reading the informational panels set up outside, we learned that the hospital was used many times throughout the Middle Ages to quarantine and care for those affected by the Bubonic plague. It was an ideal location for isolating those with la peste because it was on the left bank of the Garonne, and separated from the main parts of the city. The exhibit also mentioned that the hospital’s dome, a symbol of the city, also represented Toulouse’s future.
After crossing the Pont Saint-Pierre, we stopped at our next destination: the Espace EDF Bazacle, a hydroelectric plant and museum. Before the plant was created in the 19th century, there used to be floating and riverside mills. The museum is free to the public, not just on heritage days, and showcases exhibits about the local environment and hydroelectric power. There was also an exhibit that featured political cartoons related to climate change.
Next, we stumbled upon a pole vaulting competition in the place du Capitole. The sport is impressive already, but we were amazed that the athletes were able to compete in the rain! They didn’t always make it, but the crowd went wild when they did.
After watching a the competition for a few minutes we headed inside the famous Capitole or Hôtel de Ville, Toulouse’s city hall. There weren’t a ton of informational panels about the history of the building inside, but I did learn that the building was first purchased by the city’s councillors in 1190 and was used for assembly. Throughout the centuries, more construction was added and its more recent façade was built in the 19th century. Currently, there is some renovation being done, so the façade isn’t fully visible from the main square.
There was also some in formation about an artist, Paul Gervais, who painted some of the interior. I thought the style of painting seemed familiar, and it turns out he painted some artwork for the Hôtel Palms in Perpignan, the city where I used to live! I was absolutely enamored by the salle des Illustres and the salle Gervais because of the early 20th century paintings, marble, and gilded ceilings. It reminded me a little bit of the Opéra Garnier in Paris, another one of my favorite French buildings.
My favorite part of the day was strolling along the Canal de Brienne, and admiring the illuminations. Along the canal , there were also a few performances including an interpretive dance at the old Manufacture des Tabacs. The young dancers performed a number that evoked the process of farming of tobacco. There wasn’t any information shared during the performance, but it made me wonder about the history of tobacco in France and its cultivation in the colonial French Antilles by enslaved people.
There were also a few musical performances by the canal including a jazz guitar duo inside an old building related to the locks, that is being transformed into a new performance space. The other performance was an orchestra on a barge that traveled through the canal. I haven’t been to a concert in a couple of years, so it was wonderful to listen to live music. The lights and performances were a perfect ending for fun-filled day of discovery.
We chose not to visit the any exhibits on Sunday, and instead opted for a leisurely bike ride along the river and the Canal latéral à la Garonne since it wasn’t raining like the day before. Even though Toulouse is a big city in France, it feels very green because of the river, canals, and plane trees.
If you’d like to see some of the performances and exhibits mentioned in this blog post, check out my vlog:
Have you ever experienced the European Heritage Days in France or in another country? Maybe next year I’ll check out what Paris has to offer!
À la prochaine,