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Castres
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In spite of its industrial activities, CASTRES, 40km south of Albi, has kept a lot of its charm, in the streets on the right bank of the Agout and, in particular, the riverside quarter where the old tanners' and weavers' houses overhang the water. The centre is a bustling, businesslike sort of place, with a big morning market on Saturdays on place Jean-Jaurès. By the rather unremarkable old cathedral, the former bishop's palace holds the Hôtel de Ville and Castres' Musée Goya (July & Aug daily 9am–noon & 2–6pm; Sept–June closed Mon; €3), which is home to the biggest collection of Spanish paintings in France outside the Louvre. Goya is represented by some lighter political paintings and a large collection of engravings, and there are also works by other famous Iberian artists, like Murillo and Velázquez.

Castres' other specialist museum is the Musée Jean-Jaurès (same hours as the Musée Goya; €1.50), dedicated to its famous native son. It's located in place Pélisson, and getting to it takes you through the streets of the old town, past the splendid seventeenth-century Hôtel Nayrac, on rue Frédéric-Thomas. The museum was opened in 1988 by President Mitterrand – appropriately enough, because Mitterrand's Socialist Party is the direct descendant of Jaurès' SFIO, founded in 1905, which split at the Congress of tours in 1920, when the "Bolshevik" element left to form the French Communist Party. The museum, though slightly hagiographic as you might expect, nonetheless pays well-deserved tribute to one of France's boldest and best political writers, thinkers and activists of modern times. Jaurès supported Dreyfus, founded the newspaper L'Humanité, campaigned against the death penalty and colonialism, and was murdered for his courageous pacifist stance at the outbreak of World War I – oddly enough by a man called Villain. There could be no better epitaph than his own last article in L'Humanité, in which he wrote: "The most important thing is that we should continue to act and to keep our minds perpetually fresh and alive … That is the real safeguard, the guarantee of our future."


Pages in section ‘Castres’: Practicalities, Le Sidobre.

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