Monday, August 17, 2015

My Bologne has a first name:

When I moved to Toulouse in April, 2002, I lived a few hundred yards away from this plaza and for over a year regularly frequented the restaurants and bars nearby.  My best pal Alex's office is just around the corner and the plaza provides a convenient shortcut to the hopping/happening Place St. Pierre.

Which is why it's kind of odd that I must have seen this plaza fewer times than I can count on one hand.

The few times I had been there I must have

dithered about as if in a dream, 
some kind of hapless mote 
floating through on a sunbeam

(from Burning Pizzle by J. Trenchwheat)

because I'd never really quite grokked -- done the spit-take as it were -- the fact that there's an obelisk fountain at the dead center.  And if there's anything I'd grok, it's an obelisk fountain.  This quiet, almost hidden plaza in the midst of one of Toulouse's hubbiest bubs features an obelisk and, as Prof. Freedom Williams once said, "I'd never even gone "hmmm."")

The Place de Bologne is relatively new, so it's jut another indication that the Egyptian Revival is still going strong in Toulouse  (I've written extensively about plethora of contemporary pyramid monuments in the metropolitan area).  Egypt remains a source of inspiration for architects, developers, and builders as it has since the Phoenicians, Hebrews, Greeks, Romans -- times when Egyptian civilization was the antiquity of what we consider our own antiquity.
Place de Bologne as seen from the LoS helicopter
Take a S.I.P.
Imagine how geeked out I got when after seeing the obelisk I took a look at the office doors facing it and saw a triangle logo for home builder (an outfit called S.I.P.)  I have explored the links between Freemasonry, the Egyptian Revival(s), the triangle and/or pyramid logo, and the French real estate and construction industries.  In this case I was doubly geeked:  facing this first S.I.P. was another be-triangled business:  Groupe Osiris (!) is a developer and real estate manager.

Osiris has the cool-for-us title of the "Lord of Silence" -- but he was also known as the "Lord of the Dead" and the "King of the Living".  Interesting -- perhaps the Groupe seeks to evoke the importance of urban planning and lodging as a controlling force in our lives.  Haussmann certainly understood the relationship between urban geography and political liberty when he designed wide boulevards favorable to army forces and cannon at the expense of the narrow streets favorable to building blockades and defending the poor quarters with rusty rifles and kitchen knives.

King of the Living Room
When Toulouse performed the same kind of "remodeling" (at about the same as Haussmann), the city's motivations were probably less strategic than practical in terms of everyday traffic.  In any event, if an urban zone is defined by the constant reconstitution of its component parts (to paraphrase T.A. Wilson), a city is in a constant state of degeneration, regeneration, and transformation.
Osiris worship was in essence a cult of regeneration and rebirth, and a city it essentially an entity which is dying and re-birthing itself at every second of every day.  The city is its own mother, father, and child, a family coiled-up into a convoluted relationship which at its mutating center is a kind of cosmic incest.  (If in fact we can speak of a center at all; perhaps it's less inaccurate to speak of something so folded up in upon itself that it's all periphery.

Given the increasingly restrictive circles in which the elite travel, and -- like boolean ovals -- intersect through various boards, clubs, business groups, Lodges -- tighter and tighter as we head towards the tip of the pyramid -- it's no small wonder these increasingly reduced and therefore intimate business bedfellows move with ease within the nomenclature of this incestuous Egyptian genealogy: Horus, Osiris, Cheops....

One of the many challenges facing urban planners is how to move a city forward without totally destroying its past.  One can't forbid any and all new construction in an historic city or we end up stunting a city's dynamism.  We have a static showpiece where we can't even put in a new skylight because it doesn't mesh with the surrounding 19th century character, for instance.

That said, I'm a firm believer in taking the time and spending whatever is necessary to properly investigate new construction sites and thinking long and hard about what we're destroying.  When in the 19th century the city of Toulouse plowed through the medieval warren of the centre ville to create a logically straight pair of central axes, they did indeed facilitate movement through the center of town; they also forever destroyed  its medieval character.  The neighborhoods around these axes remain today among Toulouse's most beautiful streets.  Imagine what has been lost.

In my own time, during the renovation and construction of the new Palais de Justice, the remains of the palace of the Counts of Toulouse were found; minimal archaeological investigation was carried out and what we might have learned from it has probably been lost forever.
Not so far from there, the destruction of a building attached to the Church of the Dalbade revealed a medieval cemetery underneath.  This was also investigated, but then, poof, a new building appeared and the cemetery was lost forever.

The Place de Bologne is another such place, which "represents in an edifying manner the problems posed by a certain kind of urbanism" (here).  Some of the buildings were renovated for use in the current plaza, but some very old buildings, in one of the oldest parts of Toulouse, were simply destroyed.  If we were dealing with some run-of-the-mill urban building, we could shrug it off as acceptable change.  "Urban Renewal" has been used to put lipstick on the pig of various corrupt and disruptive schemes dreamed up by developers eager to squeeze every last coin from every last square foot, but if we look past the abuse of this doctrine, we'll find it's a necessary and even positive part of urban evolution.  Without renewal, there is no urban stasis, only decay.

But the ruins here were in fact the last vestiges of the palace of the Visigoth kings of Toulouse, before various depredations obliged them to remove to Toledo (Spain, not Klinger's hometown).

This is an important and relatively under-known period of the city's history:  the Dark Ages, the transition from Antiquity to the Middle Ages -- the Visigoths being one of the tribes who brought that about -- in the epicenter of Gallo-Roman France.  The Visigoths had sacked Delphi and Rome and legend has it that they made off with the spoils of Solomon's Temple.  They built the first Church of the Daurade in an octagonal, Byzantine style, so-named for its golden mosaics.  Their kingdom extended from Andalusia to the Loire and Toulouse was their capital; Place de Bologne was the epicenter.

The worst part is what they destroyed it all for; the architecture is unremarkable and the entrances to the plaza are gated, giving the impression of a private rather than a public space.  Indeed, all the buildings on the plaza are a tightly controlled development, not really an organic residential zone but operated by one of the powerful developers which have had so much power in determining the ever fluid urban and suburban landscapes of French cities and villages

As one site puts it "the result of these errors makes this place close, cold, without life.  With a century of history destroyed beneath our feet."  Interesting now that I think of it.  Another one of these "dead zones" is Compans Caffarrelli, which, incidentally, is another big plaza surrounded by high-rises, a public space privatized, basically, but with a cold and inert feeling despite the fact that several hundred people probably live there.

One must also consider the chilling effect of all this not only on street life, but free speech.  Consider this anecdote from a few years ago:

Taking pictures of this pyramid and architecture, Daurade was approached by a squat little security guard, a little nervous and scowling, who informed him that taking pictures is forbidden. So there you have it. On the city streets one is free to photograph what one wants. But as all this public space is enclosed and privatized, public inquiry and expression are somewhat less free. In fact, taking a photo is forbidden. Whatever the reason for this, security probably, it still doesn’t eclipse the fact that in this new world order everything will be for sale, and those with money to buy are welcome. As long as the money keeps flowing in the right direction: up towards the pinnacle.
The fountain isn't remarkable:  an obelisk in an octagonal basin, accessed by three steps which form the octagonal base.  The plaza itself is paved in the same form.  I suppose one could read something into the three steps in terms of Freemasonry, but that may be pushing it!  It occurs to me that this is the second thing in this post described as octagonal; it's possible the form of the plaza is a reference to the original Church of the Daurade which sat in roughly the equivalent position at the other end of the Quai Lucien Lombard.

I've already mentioned in a few posts how the Count of Montalambert called Toulouse the "home of vandalism".  Part that vandalism isn't just the destruction of history, but replacing what has been destroyed by shite architecture.  Toulouse has recently been obliging people on the outskirts to sell their homes so they can be razed and big dumpy apartment blocks put in their place.  The whole quasi-rural character of vast tracts close to the dead center of Toulouse have been sucked into a cold and sterile, inorganic mess of character-less, undifferentiated buildings.

So, I was attracted by the Egyptian obelisk and, sniffing around for anything vaguely Masonic, came across the two developers using triangles -- a subject to which I've already dedicated both a post and a Picasa album -- one of these developers specifically evokes Osiris.  A curious choice, given the theme of death and rebirth.  They certainly killed something off here -- a piece of history which could furnish much-needed detail about the Visigoth period of Toulouse -- but whether something worthwhile has been born from this remains to be seen.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for taking the time to comment!

Need to add an image? Use this code: [ximg]IMAGE-URL-HERE[x/img]. You will need to remove the the boldface x's from the code to make it work.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.