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The centre of Toulouse is at the Place du Capitole. The vast Capitole, Toulouse's city hall, also houses a theatre and opera house. Nearby is the Rue du Taur which leads to both the 11th-century Roman basilica St Sernin, the largest Romanesque church in Europe, with a magnificent bell tower, and Notre-Dame-de-Taur. Taur is the Latin word for bull and Notre Dame de Taur was erected in the spot where martyr Saint Sernin (of the Basilica) was buried after being dragged about Toulouse by one of those brutal beasts.

Les Jacobins is a complex of church, convent and cloister between the river and the Capitole. The imposing brick walls suggest a fortress, but the interior displays the Flamboyant Gothic style, celebrated for palm-tree vaulting. The pedestrian street of Rue St Rome is nearby. Along with the noisier Rue d'Alsace-Lorraine running parallel, these streets have the liveliest shopping.

Entering Toulouse from the south, stop a quarter of the way across the modern Pont St Michel to admire the perspective of old Toulouse. The churches are easily recognisable, and at sunset reflect a deep red or mauve.

The Place Esquiro 1 begins the hushed Vieux Quartier, the medieval core. Nightlife centres about Place du Président Wilson and the Allée Roosevelt that emanates from it. Parisian-style cafés line the pavements while outdoor musicians provide entertainment. A new centre of activity is the Espace d'Art Moderne et Contemporain (open noon-10pm daily; entrance fee), housed in the abbatoirs of the revitalised St Cyprien district. Outside town is the Cité de l'Espace (closed Mon; entrance fee), a magnificent space museum.


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