Frescoes, fountains and street art
In every era throughout history, artists have left their mark in our towns, enriching our daily lives with their artworks…
In Tarbes, we have an original trail for you, with 9 steps that will guide you on an exploration of the frescoes, trompe-l’œil and the town’s iconic fountains, either alone or as a family!
Departure from the Tourist Office (self-guided tour)
Duration 1.5 hours
Why not do the trail on a Tuesday!
The Musée Massey and Maison Foch are closed
The two fountains can be found on either side of Cours Reffye. They are bronze structures fixed onto grey marble from the Pyrenees.
They were built in memory of one of the town’s most important people: Auguste Verchère de Reffye. He was an officer under Napoleon III, and it is thanks to him that Tarbes flourished and became a part of the industrial era thanks to the creation of the Arsenal (today an area that has been transformed into a leisure district).
One of the fountains portrays a bust of Reffye, as a soldier, the other depicts a mascaron, which is a mythological creature spitting water into a pool made with pebbles. This whole area was redeveloped in 2004, and it can be said that the two fountains now represent the history of the area and the former presence of water here (former Ayguerote canal, when canals once flowed through Tarbes).
A huge waterfall adorns the front wall of one of the buildings here. It was created by graffiti artist Snake, who is a local of Tarbes and has been decorating the town for a few years now with his artworks!
Place de Verdun
La Grande Fontaine (The Great Fountain)
Cross through a wall with moving water without getting your feet wet!
This futuristic artwork was created in 1991 and creates the impression of being both wet and dry at the same time, therefore adding an original touch to the urban landscape, and somewhere to cool off in the summer. It is a dome of water, measuring 13 metres in diametre, with 55 powerful water jets that form a decorative wall. The challenge is to go through the wall of water through three doors crossing the entire dome and at a height of over 5 metres, without getting wet at all! It should be noted that the artist behind this fountain is internationally renowned in designing and building fountains.
Artist: Max Lorca
Fontaine des Droits de l’Enfant (Fountain of Children’s Rights)
This is a fun and interactive fountain. The whole family will enjoy rising to the challenge of setting the water in motion!
The sculpture was built in 1993, and is made up of a half-moon shape and a water jet that is lit up in the evenings. Standing in the pool is a 1-metre-high granite base with a pink and grey marbled granite sphere on top, measuring 1 metre in diameter and weighing 1,500 kg, which can be set in movement using a pressurised water cushion.
You would find it hard to believe the simple trick behind getting the sphere to turn on itself above 1 cm of water, which is why this monument remains so mysterious! Come and try it yourself!
Hôtel Foch Fresco
Keep your eyes peeled for the beautiful ‘trompe l’œil’ on the east side of the square. It is a beautiful addition to the Hôtel Foch building. You might be lucky enough to be staying in a room with a balcony overlooking the Pyrenees!
Artist: Max Lorca
The Fountain at the Place Saint-Jean
A commemorative fountain with a certain mystical appearance at the oldest town square of Tarbes.
Place Saint-Jean was where the market was held in the Middle Ages, and close to the church you’ll be drawn to a surprising fountain. It was created by Jacques Comas, a sculpture teacher from Tarbes, using Payolle marble. The top section of the artwork portrays the angel of Saint-Jean. This angel is looking down upon monsters holding the Book of Revelations. A huge human hand symbolises the involvement of man in these disasters.
This fountain reminds us that we are mortal beings and that we are responsible for our actions. There is often a religious message portrayed in fountains.
Artists: Jean Réale and Joël Soulier
This ‘trompe l’œil’ at the end of the Rue Brauhauban (on the Town Hall side) is a real masterpiece from artists Jean Réale and Joël Soulier. From the right angle, it’s not easy to distinguish what is real from the imaginary. The artists have invented their own street called the Rue de la Gaieté (Joyfulness Road) (we can see the signpost for this street in the centre of the artwork). The fresco portrays a violinist, two women on a balcony, a horse (symbol of the town), a young dancer and the two artists are depicted at the top of the artwork, painting. The artists chose to represent the architecture of Tarbes, to make their work as realistic as possible.
Hôtel de Ville (town hall)
The ‘trompe l’oeil’ in the entrance hall
This hall has been turned into a panoramic scene of the Pyrenees, with classic inspiration transposed onto the painted pillars. To really appreciate the full effect of this artwork, you need to stand at the centre. Even the ceiling has been decoration in three-dimensional designs. This is another impressive creation from this talented artist looking to create artworks that are as realistic as possible.
Artist: Jean Réale
5 Rue Clémenceau
Artists: Snake, with a group of artists
East of the town hall, this fresco portrays the key themes of the town: presence of the horse, snow-capped mountains, industry, and fountains. To the right of the scene is a piece of paper flying away, bearing the words “art is a gateway between living beings and the outside world”.
The lion heads spurt out jets of water near the historic location of the Counts of Bigorre mill… The fountain is made from Lourdes stone. Today, it can be seen at the former Place des Balais (named as such because brushes – balais in French – were sold here on market days), but originally, it was intended for the nearby Place Marcadieu.
It is a vast cylindrical pool measuring 8.40 metres in diameter. Around the edges there are six fountains supplying drinking water.
It should be noted that the engineer from back then never managed to get this fountain working, and so it was moved to a secondary location. It’s a shame because it’s a beautiful monument and brings a certain prestige to this small town square.
Artist: Henri Nelli
Artists: Desca, Escoula, Mathet
Fontaîne des 4 Vallées (Fountain of the 4 Valleys)
This treasure of local heritage stands proudly over the market stalls and vast crowds on market days (Thursdays). It is a monumental masterpiece, 14 metres high, dating from 1897. It was originally placed in the centre of the square, before being moved to its current location. Local artists have created an allegory here: a beautiful representation of a town and its natural environment. We can see some of the iconic features of the region: a beautiful local woman surrounded by mountain streams, the local horse of Tarbes with its foal, vine leaves to represent local wines, a cannon and cartridge to portray the arms of the town and the historic role of the garrisons and Arsenal of Tarbes. Not-to-mention the izard, bear, eagle and wolf, the traditional and legendary animals of the Pyrenees. This monument symbolises the Pyrenean valleys.
Source d’amour (Source of love)
An ode to love: fertility and grace are portrayed in this artwork. This monument was created at the end of the 19th century and is called ‘Source de l’Amour’. It is made from cut stone from Arudy (a village in Bearn) and portrays a superb scene in cast iron depicting a nymph of the sources holding a jug. The winged cupid at the woman’s feet is trying to seduce her, guiding her with her own desires. It represents a declaration of love from Tarbes to its source of life.
8 Rue Maréchal Foch
Artist: Alain Laborde-Laborde with the Tangueando association
This artwork is a 31-m-long wall painting, covering more than half of this small pedestrian street. It was created in 2011, upon the initiative of the Town Hall, the Tangueando association and a restaurant owner from this small street. The drawing is by Alain Laborde-Laborde, who also painted the wall, along with the members of the Tangueando association. The fresco portrays the La Boca district, in Buenos Aires, which is decorated in bright colours. The artist depicts celebrities: Anibal Troilo (Argentinian tango conductor), El Indio and his tango partner, Eva Peron (political figure in Argentina), Antonio Segui (Argentinian painter), Carlos Gardel (composer and singer behind the tango). Tarbes en Tango is an international festival that is held in Tarbes every year in August and attracts over 25,000 visitors.
9 Square Gabriel Sempe
La Géante fresco
The huge fresco by Bruno Schmeltz presents La Géante (with a part of the poem by Baudelaire, bearing the same name).
Artist: Bruno Schmeltz, who was also behind the altarpiece at the church of Saint Jean