Tag Archives: Roman Empire

A brief History of Toulouse

Toulouse sits in the region of France now known as the Midi-Pyrenees, halfway between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. It is an ancient city with a long and proud history.

France, Toulouse, TravelstripeBridge over the Garonne, Toulouse

The first Toulouse was established at a ford on the banks of the River Garonne long before Roman conquest. At the time of the Roman Empire it was the third largest city and the intellectual centre of Gaul.

After the fall of Rome and after the rise of Charlemagne, as the County of Languedoc, the region enjoyed a long period of peace, prosperity and independence from the rest of France. Toulouse retained its reputation as a centre of culture and learning from the 5th to the 13th centuries and its courts, which were considered the most civilised in Europe, gave rise to the literary and musical traditions of Languedoc and the Troubadors.

In 1229, threatened by the Toulousain Cathar heresy, which they believed was a result of too much freedom of thought and independence, France invaded and brought the region under its heel. With the Treaty of Paris in 1229, it became a French Territory. In 1271, to quell further heretical tendencies and to promote orthodox religious philosophy, the French Inquisition established Toulouse University, which is now one of the oldest in Europe.

Toulouse and its surrounds were largely untouched by the upheaval of the industrial revolution and it remained, until the 20th century, a somewhat isolated, tranquil centre of agriculture and culture. It was not until after Clemont Adler made the world’s first aeroplane 20 kilometres from Toulouse, that the region made its first venture into industry. It established an aircraft factory. France’s first flight was made from Toulouse by team of fliers including native Toulousain Antoine de St Exupery, who also continued the region’s literary tradition with his famous works Vol de Nuit and Le Petit Prince.

Today, Toulouse has a population of 117,000. It is the 5th largest city in France and the largest in the Midi-Pyrenees region. It has grown out from that ford on the Garonne and spread along, away and out from the river on all sides. The aerospace industry is thriving. Toulouse is now a major centre for the European aerospace development and is the headquarters of the Airbus and of the Galileo positioning system. With the aerospace boom has come enormous growth. Between 1960 and 2000, the population doubled and the city developed into an impressive modern metropolis.

Still, the Garonne still flows quietly under old arched bridges of pink stone. Fish jump in the bright green water and on the flat grassy banks patient fisherman watch for a twitch on their lines. Boats full of tourists and commuters chug slowly along the river and the canals which cut across and through the city.



When the Romans took possession of Arles in 123 BC, they surrounded it with walls and developed it into a major city with all the trappings of civilisation, including an amphitheatre, a triumphal arch, a circus, and a theatre. As it was close to the sea at that time, it was also an important port.

The Roman arena at Arles
The Roman arena at Arles

Arles reached its peak in the 4th and 5th century when it served as the Roman Emperor’s military campaign headquarters. Renowned as a cultural and religious centre, in the last days of the Empire, it was Constantine’s favourite city.

Between the 5th and the 11th century Arles saw a period of turmoil and decline. However, it rose again to economic and political prominence in the 12th century and in 1178 the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa was crowned there. It became a free city at the same time and remained so until the French Revolution in 1789.

Café de Nuit in Arles
Café de Nuit in Arles

Arles is also famous for its connection to the painter Vincent Van Gogh who arrived in the town on February 21, 1888. Over 300 works document the time he spent here, including many of his most famous, like Café de Nuit, The Yellow Room, Starry Night over the Rhone and L’Arlesienne. During this period, Van Gogh’s mental health deteriorated and his behaviour became more and more eccentric until finally, after he severed his ear, he was committed to the Old Hospital of Arles.

As Arles is on the route of the famous Jacques de Compostelle, pilgrims have been visiting the city since the 15th century.

Ancient Rome, Van Gogh’s world, 21st century France – it’s all there to be explored in Arles.


Founded in 35 BC as a Roman colony, the city of Arausio, or Orange as it is now known, was named after the local Celtic water god.

The Roman Theatre at Orange
The Roman Theatre at Orange

Ancient Orange was Rome in miniature, with a similar layout and the same public buildings, including a theatre, a temple complex an arch and a forum.

In the 4th century, Orange became a Bishopric, ruled by a Catholic Bishop and a small university was established here. In the 12th century the town was ruled by the Counts of Baux, then in 14th by  the Counts of Chalon.

When William the Silent, Count of Nassau, with estates in the Netherlands, inherited the title Prince of Orange in 1544, the Principality was incorporated into the House of Orange-Nassau. Under William Orange found itself embroiled in both the Wars of Religion and the Eighty Years War. William was assassinated in Delft in 1584 and in 1618, his son Maurice became Prince of Orange. Under Maurice the independent Dutch Republic, which later became the Netherlands, was born. It is still ruled by the House of Orange-Nassau, it still holds the princely title of Orange and of course, its national colour is orange.

The last great son of the Principality of Orange in France was the famous William III, who invaded England in 1688 to depose James II  and become King of England, Scotland and Ireland. He ruled jointly with his wife Mary until 1694 and is best known as William of Orange.

Orange remained part of scattered Nassau holdings until it was captured by the forces of Louis XIV in 1672 during the Franco-Dutch War and was finally ceded to France in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht.

Following the French Revolution of 1789, Orange was absorbed into the French département of Drôme, then Bouches du Rhône, then finally Vaucluse.