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Monumental and charming: the Place du Capitole is the vibrant heart of Toulouse. Things are always lively on the square – from market day stalls and rugby match celebrations to groups of partying students and newly wedded couples stepping out of city hall – this is the perfect place to people watch.
The buildings that surround the Place du Capitole illustrate why Toulouse is nicknamed ‘la ville rose’ (the pink city). Constructed with red bricks, the buildings bask in a beautiful red glow at sunrise. The east side of the square is dominated by the impressive city hall, known as ‘The Capitol’. 3 flags fly on the building’s façade: the European, the French and the Occitan flag, a tribute to the original culture and languages (‘Langue d’Oc’) of the region. On the square itself lies a gold-coloured Occitan cross that sparkles in the evening street lights.
Several sections of a medieval gate were found during the construction of an underground parking garage below the Place du Capitole a few years ago. This didn’t come as a huge surprise however as Toulouse has been governed from this central location since the 12th century. The façade of today’s city hall dates back to 1750 and has an impressive neo-classic style. Red bricks are interspersed with ornamental details in white limestone and pillars of pink marble. Behind the 120-metre-long façade lie various rooms from different periods. These are open to visitors: tour the beautiful courtyard, elegant stairwell and various reception halls with ceiling paintings, murals and gilded woodwork. The same building also houses the concert hall for the city opera and symphony orchestra. In the back of the building we find the oldest structure of the Capitol: the 16th-century donjon. This tower used to house the city records, but today it accommodates the Office du Tourisme, the city’s tourist information office.
In front of the Capitol are numerous pleasant patios. Tucked away under the brick arcades, the restaurants offer great views of the comings and goings on the square. The oldest address is Le Bibent, a typical French brasserie from 1882 with a luxurious interior. Some nice shopping streets can be found around the Place du Capitole, such as the Rue d’Alsace-Lorraine and Rue Saint-Rome – both are lined with lovely boutiques. The famous French department store Galeries Lafayette also has a location near the square.
With more than 100,000 students, Toulouse is the 3rd largest university town in France and they are certainly hard to miss. Several university faculties are located close to the Place du Capitole. To visit one of the spots where students love to hang out, walk via Rue Lafayette to Place du Président Thomas Wilson. This green square (with a fountain and carousel in the middle) is surrounded by cafés, restaurants and movie theatres – a beloved haunt of young Toulousains.