Toulouse (Tolosa in Occitan) is a city in southwest France on the banks of the Garonne River, half-way between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. With a population of 1.05 million inhabitants in 2004, the Toulouse metropolitan area is the second largest in southern France and one of the fastest growing in Europe. It is the home base of the European aerospace industry and hosts the headquarters of Airbus S.A.S..

Toulouse is the former capital of the province of Languedoc (provinces were abolished during the French Revolution). It is the capital of the Midi-Pyrénées région, the largest région in France although it encompasses only half of the former Languedoc province. It is also the préfecture (capital) of the Haute-Garonne département. It is the seat of the Académie des Jeux Floraux, the equivalent of the French Academy for the Occitan-speaking regions of southern France, making Toulouse the unofficial capital of Occitan culture. The traditional Occitan cross was adopted as the symbol of both the City of Toulouse and the newly-founded Midi-Pyrénées region.

Population
The population of the city proper (French: commune) was 390,350 (as of the 1999 census), with 964,797 inhabitants in the metropolitan area (French: aire urbaine) (as of 1999 census). As of February 2004 estimates, the population of the city proper reached 426,700 inhabitants, which means a record 1.8% population growth per year between 1999 and 2004 for the city proper.

Toulouse is the fourth largest city in France, after Paris, Marseilles and Lyon. In 1999 Toulouse was the fifth largest metropolitan area in France, after Paris, Lyon, Marseilles and Lille.

Fueled by booming aerospace and high-tech industries, record population growth of 1.5% a year in the metropolitan area (compared with a sluggish 0.37% for France as a whole) means Toulouse metropolitan area hit the 1,000,000 inhabitants mark in 2002 or 2003. Boasting the highest population growth of any European city of that size, Toulouse is well on its way to overtake Lille as the fourth largest metropolitan area of France.

Government and politics

City of Toulouse
The new mayor of Toulouse since May 6, 2004 is Jean-Luc Moudenc (center-right, member of the UMP party), who succeeded Philippe Douste-Blazy, appointed minister of Health in the French government on March 31, 2004. Philippe Douste-Blazy remains president of the Greater Toulouse Council.

The Greater Toulouse Council (Communauté d'agglomération du Grand Toulouse) was created in 2001 to better coordinate transport, infrastructure and economic policies between the city of Toulouse and its immediate independent suburbs. It succeeds a previous district which had been created in 1992 with less powers than the current council. It combines the city of Toulouse and 24 independent communes, covering an area of 380 km² (147 sq. miles), totaling a population of 583,229 inhabitants (as of 1999 census), 67% of whom live in the city of Toulouse proper. As of February 2004 estimate, the total population of the Greater Toulouse Council was 651,209 inhabitants, 65.5% of whom live in the city of Toulouse. Due to local political feuds, the Greater Toulouse Council only hosts 61% of the population of the metropolitan area, the other independent suburbs having refused to join in.

Local politics
The major political figure in Toulouse is Dominique Baudis, the charismatic mayor of Toulouse between 1983 and 2001, member of center-right UDF. First known as a journalist famous for his coverage of the war in Lebanon, 36 year-old Dominique Baudis succeeded his father Pierre Baudis in 1983 as mayor of Toulouse. (Pierre Baudis was mayor from 1971 to 1983.) The Baudis dynasty succeeded in turning Toulouse into a center-right stronghold, whereas historically the city was leaning to the left since the 19th century. Dominique Baudis is also known as a writer who wrote historical novels about the ancient counts of Toulouse, their crusade in the Middle East, and the Albigensian Crusade.

Mayor Dominique Baudis was able to announce, in 1999, that the city had finished repaying its debt, making it the only large city in France ever to achieve solvency. In Europe, typical per capita city debt for a city the size of Toulouse is around 1,200 euros (US $1,550). Achieving solvency was a long-standing goal for Baudis, who had said that he would extinguish city debt before leaving office. Local opposition, however, has criticized this achievement, saying that the task of governments is not to run zero-deficit, but to ensure the well-being of citizens, through social benefits, housing programs for poor people, etc. Despite the controversy, what remains certain is that the city has decreased local taxes in the recent years, due to the end of the burden of the debt, and Toulouse has one of the lowest level of taxation in Europe.

History

Once a major metropolis of western Europe, Toulouse sank into a sleepy regional-level status in the 18th and 19th centuries, completely missing the Industrial Revolution. In the 20th century, relocation of key military and aerospace industries in Toulouse by the French central government have awakened the city again. In an ironic twist of history, what was once a big liability for Toulouse has now become its best asset: no Industrial Revolution meant a falling economic status for the city, but it has spared Toulouse the environmental damages and painful socio-economic restructuring that are plaguing so many northern European industrial cities.

Benefiting from its status as Europe's capital of aerospace industry, as well as from the flow of population from the industrial belt to the sunbelt of Europe, Toulouse metropolitan area doubled its population between 1960 and 2000 (in the meantime the population of France increased only by 30%). With good prospects for aerospace and biotech industries, growth is likely to continue in the near future. Toulouse is thus recovering step by step its former rank as a major European metropolis, but it faces increasing challenges: how to accommodate such a rapid growth, how to upgrade transport and develop housing and infrastructures, in short how to reinvent the city in the 21st century.

Economy
The main industries are aeronautics, space, electronics, information technology and biotechnology. Toulouse hosts one of the two main factories of Airbus, the other one being in Hamburg, Germany.

Colleges and universities
The University of Toulouse (Université de Toulouse), established in 1230, is located here. It is today one of the largest university cities in France (second after Paris) with more than 110,000 students attending its 3 polytechnics and universities (Université Paul Sabatier, Université Toulouse Le Mirail, Arsenal), and engineering schools (INSA Toulouse, SUPAERO, ENSICA, ENAC, ENSEEIHT, INPT, …)

Transportation

In addition t
o an extensive bus system, Toulouse has a modern metro system. The VAL (Véhicule Automatique Léger) metro system is made up of driverless (automatic) rubber-tired trams. The existing line A runs for 12.5km. It was recently extended and now runs from Balma-Gramont to Basso Cambo. The new line B is planned to open in 2006 will add 20 stations and will intersect line A at Jean Jaurès.

Hotels in Toulouse:

Recommended hotels

Culture

Toulouse, known as the Ville Rose ("Pink City") for its distinctive brick architecture, is host to a rich and diverse culture. It has a thriving scene of unusually beautiful graffiti, with the painter Miss Van at its forefront. In sports, it boasts a respected rugby team, Stade Toulousain, which has been a three-time finalist and two-time winner in Europe's top club competition in the sport, the Heineken Cup. Toulouse was the home of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944), most famous for his book Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince). There is a permanent gallery with numerous photos, and some of his works, located in the Hotel du Grand Balcon–just off the Place du Capitole–where he stayed. (The bohemian painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, lived in Paris and shared only his name with Toulouse).

The city's gastronomic specialties include saucisses de Toulouse, a type of sausage; and cassoulet, a bean and pork stew.

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