Marking the Centre of the World: The Occitan Cross and the Zodiac of Toulouse (Part 1)
At the heart of the city of Toulouse, in southern France, is the Capitole, housing the Mairie or city hall, and municipal administration. Its buildings date from 1190AD, whilst the origins of Toulouse itself go back at least another thousand years.
In front of the Capitole is a large public square, the Place du Capitole, which can be considered the cultural, historical and geographical focal point of the city.
In 1997, a sculpture by the artist Raymond Moretti was installed in the centre of the square.
It depicts the Occitan Cross, otherwise known as the Cross of the Languedoc, or Cross of Toulouse, formed by bronze panels inlaid into the pavement.
Moretti was a friend of Jean Cocteau, and collaborated with him on a series of paintings called La Naissance du Verseau, (or the Birth of Aquarius), in the early 1960s.
Aboveis an overhead view of the Place du Capitole in Google Earth, clearly showing the Occitan Cross.
Here is a close-up of the centre:
Occitania is the region in the south and west of Europe in which the Occitan language was historically spoken. It encompasses much of the southern third of France, of which Toulouse is the main city. The Occitan Cross has become the emblem of the region, as shown for example on the flag below. It first appears in the coat of arms of the Counts of Toulouse from the 12th century, but its origins are much older, as we will soon see.
The version of the Occitan Cross created by Moretti included an additional detail to the design as it was usually displayed. He placed the symbols of the 12 signs of the zodiac on the 12 circular discs which adorn the corners of the arms of the cross.
Whilst not normally rendered this way, it was by no means a novel idea however. The connection between the zodiac and the Occitan Cross was entirely in keeping with the lore associated with this very old heraldic emblem, and certainly predated Moretti's installation in 1997.
Here is a photo at ground level during the day, with the front facade of the Capitole building brilliantly lit up in the late afternoon sun. The disc nearest the camera shows the sign of Libra, with Scorpio the next one to the right.
And here is a photo taken at night:
Here are close-ups of the Scorpio and Libra discs:
A French historian of the mid-twentieth century, Roger Camboulives, explored the connection between the Occitan Cross and the zodiac. He traced the origin of the design to the Visigoths, and their migrations from the Balkans, Italy and Spain. He identified the prototype of the Cross in the equal-armed Greek cross as it appears on numerous Visigoth coins dug up from Occitan soil.
These ideas are explored on various online sites on Occitan and Toulouse history. Here is a small sample of quotations to give a flavour:
"On the esplanade of the Place du Capitole, Raymond Moretti, internationally renowned painter, poster designer and sculptor, began, in 1995, the outline of the Croix du Languedoc, in large strips of polished bronze ending in 12 balls like so many of cardinal points and symbolizing the months of the year, the signs of the zodiac and for each sign the hours of the solar day. The artist thus takes up the true origin of the Cross which, according to Roger Camboulives (Société Archéologique du Midi), “is a solar wheel with twelve spokes, each balled at its end by the twelve houses of the zodiac”. (http://gegeloccitan-photo.over-blog.com/article-la-croix-du-languedoc-69102485.htm)
"Roger Camboulives in his work on the origins of the Toulouse cross, explains: 'it seems to materialize the route of the Visigoths, from the shores of the Black Sea to Toulouse via the Balkans, Italy and Spain. There are similar ones in the South of France (Venasque and Forcalquier in Provence), in Spanish Catalonia (cloister of Santa Maria de l'Estany), in Northern Italy (in Pisa (*coat of arms shown below*) and Venice).' "
"These crosses mark the path of ancient civilizations which connect us to the distant Orient where it perhaps came from, expression of a cult from the earliest ages (Cross of Turfan in Eastern Turkestan)”
Coat of arms of Pisa, Italy
"The Visigoths used a dappled Greek Cross. Indeed, it is found on numerous stone steles such as in Toulouse at La Daurade, in Narbonne and Rennes le Château but also on jewelry, belt buckles and Spanish coins."
Visigothic coinage from the reign of Valentinian III (425-455AD)
"The Cross of Languedoc, Toulouse and Provence could therefore have been brought back from the East by the Visigoths who had adopted it when they became Christians and who could have implanted it in Languedoc and transmitted to Provence then to the Counts of Toulouse."
So to summarise: the emblem of Toulouse, the Occitan Cross, is based on an ancient glyph which represents (amongst other things) the zodiac.
The design has its origins in the migration routes of the Visigoths, from the Black Sea and the Balkans, across Europe to southern France and Spain.
It has been inscribed, in modern times, as a work of art, into the pavement at the centre of the square in the heart of the city, with the symbolism of the zodiac explicitly linked to the 12 discs on the Cross.
Moretti's sculpture, commissioned by the city authorities, makes explicit the connection between the landscape of Toulouse and the zodiac.
This raises the natural question: was this based on a known historical tradition?
Was there any discussion before 1997 of a landscape zodiac centred on Toulouse in earlier times?
In Part 2 we will continue to explore this topic.
The Map and the Manuscript: Journeys in the Mysteries of the Two Rennes
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