The Capitole de Toulouse is the result of more than eight centuries of history. The purchase of the first building by the councillors of the city of Toulouse in 1190 marked the birth of the “Common House”, the forerunner of today’s Capitol. The name Capitol derives from the word “chapter”, the place where the assembly was held.
| Political power and culture
The building gradually took shape over the centuries, combining new constructions erected according to need (arsenal, prisons, great consistory, archival tower, etc.) to form a disparate whole.
In the 18th century, the monumental facade was designed by the architect Guillaume Cammas, and in the 19th century, the current building was completed. This stately building has the peculiarity of combining political power and culture under one roof with the theatre.
The Capitol, with its rectangular floor plan, is located between the square and the garden. The main facade is more than 120 m long and is marked by the characteristic bicolour of brick and stone. Eight columns of pink marble symbolise the eight ‘Capitouls’ or municipal magistrates on the central forecourt.
The officials were originally known as consuls but were christened ‘Capitouls’ in 1295 as part of an effort to connect Toulouse with the greatness of such cities as Rome, Constantinople, and Jerusalem.
The seat of municipal power since the 12th century, this neoclassical masterpiece unfolds its majestic façade on the imposing Place du Capitole.
| Inner courtyard and state rooms
In the inner courtyard, known as the Cour Henri IV, is one of the few statues of the king made during his lifetime, as well as a plaque commemorating the place where the 4th Duke of Montmorency was executed for treason in 1632.
The Capitol houses some famous state rooms. The monumental staircase and the Salle des Illustres, a large gallery is pierced by columns and large openings. The decorations on the walls, which have been enlarged, rearranged and embellished at every turn, recount the great moments in Toulouse’s history: from the Cathar episode to the founding of the Floral Games, from the Counts of Toulouse to the siege of the city.
The Henri Martin Room, the City Council Room and the Paul Gervais Room also house remarkable paintings from the 19th and early 20th centuries, reflecting various painterly trends. The south wing of the building houses the Théâtre du Capitole, which is used for opera and ballet performances.
In 1463, the city was ravaged by a gigantic fire fanned by the wind. Much of the commercial centre (whose houses were mostly built of wood) went up in flames and the Capitole was badly damaged. However, it was rebuilt, this time of brick, and the city slowly moved to this new, safer material. King Louis XI came to see the damage and exempted the inhabitants of Toulouse from taxes for 100 years!
| On the Place du Capitole
The Place du Capitole is an important meeting place for Toulousians and is rich in symbols.
One of the most emblematic: the Occitan cross, also known as the Cross of Languedoc was introduced during the reign of Raymond VI in 1211, in imitation of the arms of Toulouse. It is a Greek cross with four branches ending in three spheres, for a total of 12 spheres.
As this cross is a symbol of Christianity, the 12 spheres traditionally refer to the 12 apostles. The 12 signs of the zodiac, the 12 months of the year and the 12 hours of the day are represented on the square.
However, the cross that lines the centre of the main square is quite new. It was created in 1995 by the French painter and sculptor Raymond Moretti. In fact, two different lines can be distinguished. The more grainy one is the artist’s line, while the smooth and shiny one is that of the finished work. The Occitan cross is made of bronze and reflects the sunlight on the square. The next time you walk across this cross, imagine you are stepping on 20 tonnes of bronze.
Opposite the Capitol is an arcaded gallery built between 1851 and 1854, whose coffered ceilings were frescoed by Raymond Moretti in 1997. These frescoes depict important moments and people in the history of Toulouse.
The Capitole has its own keep… and this one dates from the 16th century. In 1525, after 60 years of work on the ruins of the great Capitole fire, the Capitouls decided to build this keep, also called the Consistory Tower. The aim was to protect the archives and gunpowder to prevent an invasion of Languedoc by the Spanish during the war between Francis I and Charles V.
The tower, known as the Donjon, today houses the Tourist Office. From there, visitors can easily reach most of the important sites in the old town, its museums, historic churches, old streets, canal and river banks.