Toulouse: a modern metropolis in ancient Occitania

           Who would have ever thought that the old royal Toulouse, founded by the Romans almost 2200 years ago, would become an aircraft manufacture center of Occitania with highly technological resource potential and production? EADS, Airbus, Thales, Lacroix, IBM and many other well-known factories have surrounded the city as in a fairy tale.

Langued’oc with a Paris accent

And why fairy tale you may wonder? That’s obvious: Toulouse is a place full of legends, and the one started in 13th century takes the first place to be told. In that time the religious branch of Christianity  – Cathatism –  had become so popular in the Languedoc (the name for The South of France), that the consequences of it, timed in history, brought out the economic development in the region and had threatened the power of the French kingdom  in general, and particularly kept the Pope awake in the night. The crusades that were held against the Cathars in that time ended with a mass murder and the further submission of French crown by Toulouse.

Langued’oc carefully preserves the memory of its long history. The name of the

region comes from the local language – langued’oc, which has a long literary tradition and a lot of language carriers. However, the number of bearers significantly reduces nowadays:  the official French language, which is similar to Spanish Occitan, increasingly displaces it.  In Toulouse subway (modern and fully automated) stations can be heard in both- French and Occitan languages, but still the cases had become more frequent recently when it comes about the announcing of the station in French language.  Citizens of Toulouse are frustrated by the attempts  of Paris people to speak langued’oc.  “When Parisians trying to speak Occitan, it’s terrible!” – says the Professor Armand Lattes, who invited me to Toulouse. Together with M. Lattes we had visited a huge amount of places associated with the second Toulouse legend related to the foundation of the aircraft of France. It’s all about Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

In 1926, before becoming a famous writer, Saint-Exupery had already been an experienced pilot  and got a job in “Latecoer”, which carried courier transportation between Toulouse and Dakar. It was Toulouse where Saint-Exupery wrote his first book, “Pilot”, and where he met Jean and Henri Mermoz (French famous aviators) with Henri Guillaume(a pioneer of French aviation in the Andes, the South Atlantic and the North Atlantic who contributed to the opening up of numerous new routes and is regarded by some as the best pilot of his age). The period, spent in Toulouse, had unchangeably determined the writer’s future.

“Aeropostal” company had been existed for more than 13 years, delivering mail from Toulouse to Casablanca, Dakar and Rio

de Janeiro, carried out not only flies across the Atlantic, the Sahara, the Andes – but also important technical inventions. Timely and properly assessing the prospects of Toulouse aircrafts, the French government of those days has supported them. It is “Aeropostal” company leads a start to the famous “Air France”.In Toulouse you can find the presence of Saint-Exupery everywhere. In King’s Park he comes out of the globe, holding in his hands a tiny prince, near Paul Sabatier’s University campus, and in the apartments of Europe’s largest aircraft company – EADS, which remains Saint-Exupery’s of good old summer days together with H. Mermoz and Henri Guillaume. Inside the Capitol, where City Hall is now located, you can see an interesting temporary exhibition on the history of air Toulouse, including Saint-Exupery.

“It was me who pointed out the last Fermat’s theorem”

…Now life in Toulouse abounds. This is the fourth city in France according to the number of students (over 120 thousand). As the Deputy Mayor Alexandre Marciel proudly says, – “Our manufactures are at the first top-list of Europe’s innovations”. Not surprising: since the combination of high number of universities, laboratories, CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research, an institution that cares about everyone in France concerning the theoretical and practical science) and powerful enterprises together with government, freedom of action and support of local authorities give a powerful impetus to innovation and lead this process to continue.
The city is in a constant change. Streets around the Capitol are loaded with youth. Coffee shops and restaurants are full of distinguished nobility and families with children. Throughout the guide stroll groups of tourists. The city tries to save it’s ancient face.  Local authorities obliged those entrepreneurs who decide to open shops in the historic center – as it was back in the Middle Ages – meaning, the building needs to be similar to those which already stands around.

… And here’s the Bemberg’s Art Foundation, located in the lush hotel Asseza. In 1994, Georges Bemberg, a wealthy collector from Argentina, decided to give a city the richest masterpieces – the collection of paintings, sculptures and works of decorative art. His only condition was that the collection should be exhibited in Aseza hotels, – the Renaissance building from the middle of the 16th   century, which shows his passion and love to the city.

“Here, look, right here I corrected the formula – the Professor points at the ceiling of one of the arcades around the Capitol square. It’s covered all around with modern various mural-scenes from Toulouse. – “This is the last theorem of Fermat, our countryman. The artist made a mistake, and I pointed it out. “Fermat was born at Montauban near the city of Toulouse. I am familiar with his descendants, they are also scholars, so that I can agree upon your visit to Ukraine,” – says the professor cunningly.

“Ukrainian students are the most hard-working!”

Being a Head of the for a long time National School of Chemistry and French Chemical Society,  Armand Lattes – a famous scientist, Professor of Pharmacology and Knight of the Legion of Honor is now the Honorary Doctor of the Paul Sabatier’s University and an Honorary Doctor of the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv.

Actually, I met Professor Lattes in Kyiv. He came here because of the invitation he got from the Center for scientific and university cooperation of the French Embassy and the Minor Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.

During the Festival of Science, in late May, Armand Lattes lectured upon the life and career of Marie Curie. This year Europe celebrates the anniversary of the second Nobel Prize in the life of Mary Sklodovska – in Chemistry – for the discovery of polonium and radium. It should be noted that when 24-year-old Sklodovska came to Paris, she had a Russian passport in her hands – at that time, as well as the Ukrainians, Polish were the lieges of the Russian Empire. Consequently and proudly, the anniversary of Marie Curie may be applicable to Ukraine. The Department of Chemistry (in National Taras Shevchenko’s University), has a long and a closer cooperation with the Professor’s laboratory in P. Sabatier’s University. This is conducted by the fact that Kyiv and Toulouse are Twin-cities in some way. Nowadays, the Laboratory of Armand Lattes provides an open dialog and cooperation with many Ukrainian students, which further opened the possibility of internship, e.g. Alexander Savsunenko from Donetsk and Vyacheslav Zhonnyk from Lugantsk to be interns.

Vyacheslav had been staying in Toulouse for a long time. He is a Head the Ukrainian association of hydrogen energy. “We are investigating the possibility of extraction the hydrogen sulfide in the Black Sea since Soviet times, – he says. Russia made it clear that hydrogen sulfide in Black Sea is unnecessary for her. So why would it not be used by Ukraine?”. Vyacheslav has a strong interest in coal also (underground coal gasification mostly). “It is known that Ukraine is rich in coal. But sometimes it is insufficient as a productive method. Why don’t we not drill a borehole and not burn it down in the soil? – offers young scholar. – It’s cheaper. «Where can this idea be used, may you answer? In the production of electricity, heat, methanol, liquid hydrocarbons.  Vyacheslav is convinced that “this would give jobs where the mines are closed”.

Ukrainian chemists are highly demanded in Europe. This co-operation lasts for over 10 years. “When it turned out – remembers Professor Lat – that our research in organic chemistry have much in common, the decision to work together came into our minds.

Toulouse P. Sabatier’s University accepts graduate students from Ukraine, and recently two young scientists had joined it.  I think today in the laboratories of Toulouse has gathered about eight Ukrainians, making French scientist found of Ukrainian students: “They are the most hard-working! Let me not be too prejudiced to the French students, but, honestly, Ukrainians work really hard”. In his point of view, the young Ukrainian scientists have got brilliant level. “They are very motivated, – adds the Professor. – I used to work with Chinese students but now I do not dare to give them a job offers. That happened because of the last student, who got back to his country with a bag packet with documentation, and I rather doubt that a case like this one could ever happened with Ukrainian student”.

“Is it simplicity what makes it ingenious?”

In Toulouse, science is not only produced, but also promoted. An interactive science museum which has become very popular in Europe, form the dissemination of knowledge about the achievements of scientists. Large cities have several such museums. In Toulouse there are two of them –  Cité de l’Espace and Muséum de l’Histoire Naturelle – the second largest building after the Museum of Natural History  has one of the greatest  collections in Paris (over2.5million pieces of 3 thousand square meters of exhibition area).

It is situated in an ancient monastery, which was converted half century ago into museum. A few years later it was completely upgraded into the institution, so now ultramodern museum stands out in France, offering an interesting, lively thorough excurses in various scientific topics. Modern architecture combines the old monastery building with a glass structure, reminding a giant corridor. According to the building and management of the museum, it must symbolize the combination of old and new.

Children would enjoy spending time there. Evolution, paleontology, ethnography, geology – each of the departments is based on games and interactive exhibition. Videos that give detailed information on exhibits can be found everywhere. And, of course, a sort of open-air museum – a   huge botanical garden deserves attention. Greenhouses with exotic plants from all over the world find their place here also, and the garden, which makes it possible to trace the history of the domestication of many plants and flora in its natural state. Scientific Museum – something that has not been opened yet in Ukraine. Sorry to hear that, especially because there are huge things Ukraine is to show the world.

In addition, except the mathematicians and chemists, Ukraine has prominent designers and companies that we are proud of. Dozens examples of space technology are collected Toulouse Space Town, including an accurate model of the Soviet station “Mir” and a real space ship “Soyuz”.  The city government invested over 20 million Euros in the project, and so all the major enterprises of the city joined the project.

That was an amazing story how the old building that was prepared to take down, was found on the wasteland , turned into one of Europe’s largest museum complex.  So simple.

All is great that is simple, as it is said.

by Ivan Riabtchiy


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