Nicknamed the “Ville Rose” in France, this charming red-brick City is nestled charmingly along the banks of the River Garonne and has plenty of architectural, cultural and historical gems to discover. The top three museum sites to make a visit to are…
1 – Le Château d’Eau
Has to be my favourite purely because for all the countries I’ve travelled to, and gallery sites that I’ve visited, I’ve never seen a museum building quite like this. It’s a converted water tower make from the red brick synonymous with Toulouse. According to a local, the tower was never sufficiently large to meet the needs of the whole City so it’s never really been utilised for its intended purpose. In 1974 the building was turned into a photography gallery, and its curved surfaces have been graced with images since that point. Today there is a second gallery underneath the body of the bridge which allows for two simultaneous exhibitions to be running.
If you head down the windy spiral staircase to the bowels of the building you’ll be able to see some of the original fittings and fixtures, including the water wheels and piping. The Gallery publishes simple paper exhibition guides in both French and English and the staff seemed very friendly on my visit. What’s more, le Château d’Eau participates in the annual Toulouse Art Festival organised by le Printemps de Septembre, acting as one of the host sites for the touring exhibitions. Small, round and perfectly formed.
2 – Les Abattoirs
Another unusual building which has been reclaimed as a site for culture vultures in the City, this contemporary arts museum was founded on the site of a slaughterhouse (as the name suggests). Parts of the permanent collection were on display across the second floor during my visit, in a slightly haphazard hang which saw the works of Louise Nevelson in a room next to Robert Rauschenberg. These works formed part of the collection of gallerist Daniel Cordier, the singular taste accounting for the high proportion of surrealist and abstract works.
The temporary exhibition programme looked lively and different, not the usual re-hashed fodder which can circulate in some of the drier, more established type of museum. The building itself has also been stunningly and sympathetically altered from its original use, the domed central atrium area is almost Cathedral like. It seems like a good move to have made, from a factory of death to a place of display for modern art.
3 – Musée des Augustins
If you can make it past the trés rude lady on the reception desk you’ll have discovered a hidden gem in the form of this museum. I went on a Saturday afternoon, normally one of the peak times for any cultural institution like this. I was expecting to be tripping over chic parents with stripey-attired children in tow and arty looking cigarette-slim types, but it was largely empty.
The collection itself is a bit-hit-and-miss but features some weird and wonderful things such as gothic epitaphs, wonderfully expressive gargoyles and some accomplished 19th century paintings. My favourite part, I confess, had to be the central courtyard garden, giving a glimpse of what life might have looked like from the viewpoint of one of the 14th century Augustine monks who used to live here. The location, the tranquillity, the sights and scents of the garden were all perfect. Worth a visit if you have a couple of spare hours to fill.