If you visit the parliament building of Toulouse – Le Capitole – you can enjoy many fine and extremely large paintings in the public rooms on the first floor. But on your way up the main staircase, take a moment to admire the painting in front of you. It depicts the first edition of the Floral Games, held in 1324.
A year before that, seven troubadour-citizens of Toulouse founded what is today the oldest literary institution in the western world. Called the Acadèmia dels Jòcs Florals, or the Academy of the Floral Games, its prime purpose was to organise an annual competition to celebrate Occitan poetry.
Poetry in the orchard of Les Augustins
In its early days, the Floral Games were held in the orchard of the Augustinian convent which now houses the Musée des Augustins on the Rue de Metz.
The painting in Le Capitole depicts the scene in the orchard in 1324 when the proud winner of the inaugural gilded violet was Arnaud Vidal de Castelnaudary. The Floral Games has continued every year to this day, barring a few short interruptions for wars and political upheavals.
Another winner was Pèire Goudouli, or Pierre Godolin. He won a prize in 1609, and his marble statue rises above a pretty fountain in the Place Wilson.
In 1937, a poetess called Louisa Paulin won two prizes. My street is named after her, and she briefly lived in my village and taught at our school.
Today, the Academy of the Floral Games is housed in the magnificent Renaissance palace called the Hôtel d’Assézat, built by a rich pastel merchant in the 1550s.
A more detailed exploration of the Occitan language, past and present, can be found in my book Lauragais.