The Toulouse Road
The history, legends, development and infrastructure of the stations along the French Toulouse Road or Via Tolosana through Arles, Saint Gilles-du-Gard,Toulouse and Oloron-Sainte-Marie to the shrine of Saint James at Compostela
The Road of Toulouse or Via Tolosana was the most southerly French route, leading from Provence to the Pyrenean pass of the Somport.
The Alyscans is the Provencal name for the Elysean Fields. This was the name given to the ancient burial ground on the edge of the city of Arles, which became the starting point of the Toulouse Road to Santiago de Compostela.
The History of Charlemagne and Roland tells us that the Alyscans necropolis at Arles was the burial site for ten thousand Frankish warriors killed at Roncevaux.
The saintly relics of Arles were numerous and celebrated. The Provençal city is generally considered the first substantial station on the Toulouse Road and tradition has it that pilgrims congregated beyond its city walls at the ancient necropolis of the Alyscans.
The River Rhône was an artery of the ancient world connecting the Mediterranean with the North. Where trade went, myths and religious traditions followed.
From the summit of the Alpilles hills of Provence, one can survey the broad delta of the Rhone river extending below. Just as one reaches level ground, one finds the chapel of Saint Gabriel de Tarascon,
Les Saintes Maries de la Mer is situated amid the sandy plain of the Camargue region of the Rhône delta. It was here that Mary Magdalene came ashore
The abbey of Saint-Pons was a hugely influential and powerful monastic centre heading its own federation of dependent monasteries, many of them beyond the Pyrenees in Spain.
Emerging from the lagoons of the Camargue and facing the broad expanse of the open sea stands the tall imposing edifice of the fortified cathedral of Saint-Pierre de Maguelone.
In the middle ages, Montpellier was celebrated for a cult centered on a miraculous Black Madonna at the church known as Notre-Dame-des-Tables.
In the mountainous region of the Languedoc, the road to Compostela passed through the intersection of two ancient Celtic routes at Saint-Pierre de Rhèdes.
After Saint Thibéry, pilgrims to Compostela travelling along the old Domitian highway reached the Roman bridge across the Orb river where the city of Béziers on the Toulouse Road was perched on the heights above.
The great abbey of Saint-Gilles-du-Gard was located at the frontier between Provence and Languedoc, close by the old Roman road known as the Via Domitia. It was a major station on the road to Compostela and also, itself a pilgrimage destination of the highest order
Saint Guilhem le Désert, orginally known as the abbey of Gellone was an important stop for pilgrims to Compostela traveling the Via Tolosana even though it required them abandoning the most direct way and instead heading up into the rugged hill region of the Languedoc.
Situated on the French side of the Pyrenees, Oloron-Sainte-Marie, a cathedral town since the sixth century was a major pilgrimage station on the way to Compostela because of its strategic position at the bottom of the Aspe river valley which led up to to the 1,600 metre high Somport Pass.
The ascent to the Somport Pass was a forbidding prospect. The Pyrenees represented a symbolic barrier to twelfth century pilgrims, as well as a physical one. To cross the mountains was to enter Spanish territory, the land of Holy War.