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Cendrine Marrouat Photography: Toulouse, France (6)

After the final battle of the Napoleonic Wars, during which the British army entered the city, Toulouse did not follow the movement of the first Industrial Revolution. The new technology was only embraced around the mid-19th century.

The advent of railways helped Toulouse progress economically. Unfortunately, its narrow, medieval streets proved an impediment to the development of more shops and factories. Haussmannian street projects (copying the Paris model) alleviated the problem and resulted in the construction of two major avenues -- rue d'Alsace-Lorraine and rue de Metz.

Toulouse had the second largest Manufacture des Tabacs (tobacco factory) in France. Built in 1810, it used hydro-electric power from the Garonne river and employed 2,000 (mainly female) workers.

The 19th century also saw the addition of two bridges: Pont Saint-Michel (1844) and Pont Saint-Pierre (1852). The Théâtre du Capitole, Natural History Museum, and Musée Saint-Raymond also opened -- in 1818, 1865 and 1892 respectively. Finally, Toulouse got its first tramway in 1862.

Population reached 147,617 over two decades later.

During WWI, Georges Latécoère founded the Aeropostale, a pioneering aviation company that specialized in airborne postal services. Destinations included Morocco, Barcelona and South America. It also boasted talented pilots like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

In the 1930s, the company was hit by the financial crisis and integrated with other aviation companies into newly created Air France.

(Today, Toulouse is at the centre of the European space sector. The same goes for the aviation industry. It holds the top spot on the continent and ranks number 2 in the world. The Airbus planes are built there.)

On September 21, 2001, Toulouse's AZF chemical plant exploded, killing 29 people and damaging many buildings, including schools, houses, churches, monuments, and shops. The factory was destroyed, of course, and "replaced" by a crater that was 7 meters deep and 40 meters wide.

I still remember the event vividly. At least two loud bangs were heard (as far as 100 kilometres away). A few seconds later, the earth and buildings shook. Windows exploded everywhere.

Then, everything went "dark" -- people inside the city were cut off from the rest of the world for about 24 hours. Phones did not work and we were told to stay inside. It was a very surreal experience, especially because I had driven by that area the day before at around the same time (10 a.m.). The 9/11 events had also occurred 10 days earlier.

A few years later, a cancer research center was "built on the ashes" of the factory. But people still speculate about what really happened. Some will tell you that it was a terrorist attack. However, the plant, which belonged to the Total group, had a history of being poorly maintained. According to a person who had worked there in the 1970s, the accident was just a matter of time...

In 2014, the French parliament passed a law reducing the number of metropolitan regions from 22 to 13. Toulouse became the capital of Occitanie in 2016.

ToulouseFrancetravelvideoarchitecture