Toulouse… no “Shrinking Violet”

With its “salmon” colored brick buildings Toulouse is called “La Ville Rose” – “The Pink City”. It is however a purple flower that is Toulouse’s emblem: the violet of Toulouse.
Each year in the month of February the city celebrates this little flower symbol of purity, modesty and faithfulness.
The violet “fashion” was re-introduced in France by Napoleon III (violet was the favorite flower of two French Empresses Josephine, wife of Napoleon I and Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III, and also the symbol of the Bonapartists) and its culture spread in the North outskirts of Toulouse in the middle of the 19th century.
In fact the violet was a treasured flower in Toulouse since the Middle Ages. The “Jeux floraux” society of Toulouse – one of the oldest savant societies in Europe dedicated to the promotion of the Occitan language, and nowadays literature, and established in 1323 – was presenting the winner of the best Occitan poem competition a golden violet (paid for by the Capitouls). The first time the prize was awarded on 3rd of May 1324.
During the second half of the 19th century the violet is the “IT” flower in France and the violet market is held in Toulouse in the Capitol square.
The violet grown in Toulouse was a variation of the simple violet, variation with flowers counting up to 100 petals for each flower.
At the time the violet merchants were negotiating their flowers in Occitan language and the prices were going (in the first decade of the 20th century) from 0.4 Francs to 4 Francs for 240 flowers (1 Franc in 1900 equivalent to 3.5 Euros).
The violet fashion started to fade out in Toulouse after 1950, when the plant itself weakened due to different diseases that were attacking its roots.
In the 1980s the violet of Toulouse is all but extinct, and it will take the joint efforts of Agricultural Chamber of Midi-Pyrenees region and the National Institute of Agricultural Research to bring it back to life.
The first new violet roots – the violet reproduces itself by roots not by seeds – were given to the growers in 1991.
Nowadays the light mauve delicate flower has become again the symbol of Toulouse.
In specialized stores in the city one can find items as varied as soap, chocolate, wine, candies, cakes, jams and of course perfumes all made of violet.
There is even a Brotherhood of the Violet of Toulouse – founded in 1997 – whose goal is the advancement of the violet culture in the region.
For the recipe of “Cristallized Violet Flowers” check out the Gastronomy section of our site: http://southweststory.com/french-south-west-gastronomy

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