When you’re in Toulouse, one unmissable visit is the Halle de la Machine. It is the home to several mysterious characters brought to life daily on the Giants Runway. You might encounter the fierce Minotaur or the enormous Spider, for example. However, the collection of street theatre machines, designed and made by François Delarozière and La Machine Compagnie, loves to travel the globe.
Street art experience
The fun starts when you enter into the Halle de la Machine. Completely in keeping with the Halle’s style, you can pick the way the curtain lifts, mechanically driven, of course. It was immediately clear that this is no ordinary museum but more like a street art experience that honours stagecraft. My family and I happened to visit the Halle de la Machine when the mythic horse-dragon Long Ma was there. Therefore, the two gigantic spiders stayed inside the hall where we could admire them from up close. Although they didn’t move their eight legs nor roll their eyes or stretch up to their full span of 20 meters, we felt tiny nonetheless.
Piste des Géants
La Machine Compagnie, led by François Delarozière, finds its origins in Nantes, where the workshop is, and the constructions are made. From 1999 and onwards, they have created fascinating machine-driven theatre objects, mostly made of wood and steel. And in 2018, the Halle de la Machine in Toulouse opened its doors to the spacious 5,000 m2 hall. It is located along the former airmail runway of Toulouse airport, now called the ‘Piste des Géants’ (Giants Runway). Every day, the ‘Véritable Machinistes’ (real machinists) bring many machines to life thanks to ingenious technical feats. As soon as we entered the hall, we heard some noise. Curious as my family and I are, we were drawn to a mechanical orchestra conducted by some enthusiastic musicians and actors. You can also visit a fairlytale-like roundabout, the Manège Carré Sénart, or have a mechanical lunch at the Déjeuner des Petites Mécaniques.
Suddenly, there was some movement outside, and the doors opened to let the magnificent Long Ma enter. Smoke came out of his nostrils while he raised a roar and rolled his eyes. This mystical dragon-horse was created in 2014 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Franco-Chinese diplomatic relations. Long Ma Fing Shen, as his full name is, meaning ‘spirit of the dragon-horse’, is part of a famous Chinese legend. With his horse body and dragon head, he walks and gallops and can even lie down. The construction weighs no less than 45 tons of wood and steel and covers a height of 12 meters and a width of 5 meters! We were lucky to see it, as Long Ma was only in Toulouse for a short period.
The best part was yet to come, as I booked us tickets for a ride on the Minotaur’s back. When we climbed the stairs to hop on board, we all went a little quiet, as we were so impressed. The Minotaurs’ 14 meters of length towered above us while he blinked his eyes and moved his ears. His muscled chest went up and down, including the sound of breathing. Because of these detailed moves and subtle sounds, it made the experience very realistic. After a walk on the Giants’ Runway, including a close encounter with a roaring Long Ma, we returned safely to the ground again. It was the perfect immersion into this wondrous world of mechanics, where every machine has its own identity and tells its story.