Toulon (Provençal Occitan: Tolon in classical norm or Touloun in Mistralian norm) is a city in southern France and a large military harbour on the Mediterranean coast, with a major French naval base. Located in the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur région, Toulon is the préfecture (capital) of the Var département, in the former province of Provence.
The population of the city (commune) in 2005 was 167,400 making Toulon the fifteenth largest city in France. The population of the Toulon metropolitan area (aire urbaine in French) in 1999 was 564,823, making Toulon the tenth largest metropolitan area, after Strasbourg,in France.
Toulon is an important centre for naval construction, fishing, wine making, and the manufacture of aeronautical equipment, armaments, maps, paper, tobacco, printing, shoes, and electronic equipment.
Toulon is the major naval center on France's Mediterranean coast, home of the French Navy aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle and her battle group. The French Mediterranean Fleet is based in Toulon.
From prehistoric times to the Roman colony of Telo MartiusArcheological excavations, such as those at the Cosquer Cave near Marseille,show that the coast of Provence was inhabited since at least the paleolithic era. Greek colonists came from Asia Minor in about the 7th century BC and established trading depots along the coast, including one, called Olbia, at Saint-Pierre de l'Almanarre south of Hyeres, to the east of Toulon. A Celtic (possibly) people, the Ligurians, settled in the area beginning in the 4th century BC.
In the 2nd century BC the residents of Massalia (present-day Marseille) called upon the Romans to help them pacify the region. The Romans defeated the Ligurians and began to start their own colonies along the coast. A Roman settlement was founded at the present location of Toulon, with the name Telo Martius - Telo, either for the goddess of springs or from the latin tol, the base of the hill - and Martius, for the god of war. Telo Martius became one of the two principal Roman dye manufacturing centers, producing the purple color used in imperial robes, made from the local sea snail called murex, and from the acorns of the oak trees.
The Rade of Toulon became a shelter for trading ships, and the name of the town gradually changed from Telo to Tholon, Tolon, and Toulon.
Christianity comes to ToulonToulon was Christianized in the 5th century, and the first cathedral built. Honoratus and Gratianus of Toulon (Gratien), according to the Gallia Christiana, were the first bishops of Toulon, but Louis Duchesne gives Augustalis as the first historical bishop. He assisted at councils in 441 and 442 and signed in 449 and 450 the letters addressed to Pope Leo I from the province of Arles. A Saint Cyprian, disciple and biographer of St. Cæsarius of Arles, is also mentioned as a Bishop of Toulon. His episcopate, begun in 524, had not come to an end in 541; he converted to Catholicism two Visigothic chiefs, Mandrier and Flavian, who became anchorites and martyrs on the peninsula of Mandrier.
As barbarians invaded the region and Roman power crumbled, the town was frequently attacked by pirates and the Saracens.
- 1095: New cathedral built by Gilbert, Count of Provence.
- 1486: Provence becomes part of France.
- 1494: The first military shipyard of Toulon is constructed by Charles VIII of France.
- 1497: A fleet from Genoa blockades Toulon for several months.
- 1524: The Tour Royale, Toulon is completed to protect the harbor. In the same year, the new fort is sold by its commander to the attacking Imperial Army of the Connetable de Bourbon, and the city surrenders.
- 1543: Francois I invites the fleet of Ottoman Admiral Barbarossa to Toulon, hoping to ally with them against the Imperial Fleet. The residents are forced to leave, and the Ottoman sailors occupy the town for the winter.
- 1564: Charles IX visits Toulon as part of his royal tour.
- 1660: Under Louis XIV and his Minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert, an expanded arsenal and new fortifications are built by Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban.
- 1707: Toulon successfully resists a siege by the Imperial Army led by the Duke of Savoy and Prince Eugene, during the War of the Spanish Succession.
- 1720: Toulon is ravaged by the black plague, coming from Marseille. Thirteen thousand people, or half the population, die.
- 1790: After the French Revolution, Toulon becomes the administrative center of the département of the Var.
- 1793: The town is handed to the British fleet by its Royalist inhabitants. At the siege of Toulon, The British are expelled by a French force whose artillery is led by a young captain, Napoleon Bonaparte. In reprisal, the town loses its status as department capital and is renamed Port-la-Montagne.
- 1803-1805: The British fleet of Admiral Horatio Nelson blockades Toulon.
- 1820: The statue Venus de Milo, is discovered at Milo and seen by a French naval officer, Emile Voutier, who admires it, persuades the French Ambassador to Turkey to buy it, and brings it Toulon on his ship, the Estafette. It is then taken to the Louvre.
- 1830: A French fleet departs Toulon for the conquest of Algeria.
- 1862: Toulon Opera opens
- November 27, 1942: After the Allied landings in North Africa (Operation Torch) the German Army occupied southern France (Case Anton), leading to the scuttling of the French Fleet at Toulon.
- November 24, 1943: A heavy Allied bombing destroys much of the port and kills five hundred residents.
- August 28, 1944 Toulon is liberated by the Free French Forces of General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny.
- 1974: Toulon becomes again the préfecture, or admistrative center, of the Var.
- 1979: The University of Toulon opens.
- 1995: Toulon is one of four French cities where the extreme-right Front National wins the local elections.
- 2001: The former mayor of Pignans, Hubert Falco, wins the elections over National Front Mayor Jean-Marie Le Chevalier.
The Old Town
The old town of Toulon, the historic center located between the port, the Boulevard de Strasbourg and the cours Lafayette, is a pedestrian area with narrow streets, small squares and many fountains. Toulon Cathedral is located here. The area is also home of the celebrated Provencal market which takes place every morning on the Cours Lafayette, which features local products. The old town had decayed in the 1980s and 1990s, but recently many of the fountains and squares have been restored, and many new shops have opened.
The Upper Town of Baron Haussmann
The upper town, between the Boulevard de Strabourg and the railroad station, was built in the mid 19th century under Louis Napoleon. The project was begun by Baron Haussmann, who was prefet of the Var in 1849. Improvements to the neighborhood included the Toulon Opera, the place de la Liberté, the Grand Hôtel, the Gardens of Alexander I, the Chalucet Hospital, the palais de Justice, the train station, and the building now occupied by Galeries Lafayette, among others. Haussmann went on to use the same style on a much grander scale in the rebuilding of central Paris.
The Rade and the Arsenal of ToulonThe word rade comes from the old english term 'Road,' "a protected place near shore, not so enclosed as a harbor, where ships can ride at anchor." . The Rade of Toulon is one of the best natural anchorages on the Mediterranean, and the largest rade in Europe. It is protected from the sea by the peninsula of Giens and the peninsula of Saint-Mandrier-sur-Mer,and has been used as a military harbor since the 15th century. The Rade shelters the port of Saint-Mandrier-sur-Mer, the port of La Seyne-sur-Mer, as well as the arsenal, or military port of Toulon, and the commercial port.
A naval arsenal and shipyard was built in 1599, and small sheltered harbor, the Veille Darse, was built in 1604-1610 to protect ships from the wind and sea. The shipyard was greatly enlarged by Cardinal Richelieu, who wished to make France into a Mediterranean naval power. In 1680, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the Minister of the Navy and Controller of Finance of King Louis XIV, began building a much larger port, called the Darse Vauban or the Darse Neuve, and shipyard, designed by his commissioner of fortifications,Vauban.
In 1697, Vauban built the impressive corderie, a building designed to make ropes. The corderie, still standing, is 20 meters wide and 320 meters long, built so that ropes could be stretched the entire length of the building as they were twisted together. Power for the ropemaking was provided by convicts from the adjoining prison, who walked in an enormous treadmill. A triumphal gate (now the Museum of the Navy) was added to the Arsenal in 1738.
The Arsenal port was enlarged still further in the 19th century and the 20th century. It was badly damaged by Allied bombing in World War II, but since has been reconstructed and modernized. It has eleven drydocks for ship repair, the two largest of which are 422 meters by 40 meters. The Arsenal is still the principle military port of France, the home port of the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle (R91), attack submarines, and the other ships of the French Mediterranean fleet.
The Arsenal is not open to the public, but the Naval Museum at its entrance has a remarkable collection of enormous ship models from the 18th century, used to train the heir to to throne in seamanship , as well as other naval memorabilia. The building of the Corderie can be seen beside the road nearby. Boat tours depart regularly from the waterfront, and allow visitors to have a good look at ships of the French fleet.
Le MourillonBeginning in 1678, Vauban constructed an elaborate system of fortifications around Toulon. Some parts, such as the section that once ran along the present-day Boulevard de Strasbourg, were removed in the mid-nineteenth century, so the city could be enlarged, but other parts remain. One part that can be visited is the Port d'Italie, one of the old city gates. Napoleon Bonaparte departed on his triumphant Italian campaign from this gate in 1796.
ClimateToulon has a Mediterranean climate, characterized by abundant and strong sunshine, dry summers, and rain which is rare but sometimes torrential; and by hot summers and mild winters. Because of its proximity to the sea, the temperature is relatively moderate.
The average temperature in January, the coldest month, is 9.3 degrees C., the warmest of any other city in metropolitan France. In January the maximum average temperature is 12.7 degrees C. and the average minimum temperature is 5.8 degrees C.
The average temperature in July, the warmest month, is 23.9 degrees C., with an average maximum of 29.1 degrees C. and an average minimal temperature of 18.8 degrees C.
Toulon is the city with the most sunshine annually in France; an average of 2899 hours per year.
Average rainfall is 665 millimeters per year. The dryest month is July with 6.6 mm., and the wettest is October, with 93.9 mm. It rains less than 60 days per year (an average of 59.7 days) and the amount of precipitation is very unequal in the different seasons. In February, the month with the most rain, it rains 7.1 days, but with only 88.3 millimeters of rain, while in October there are 5.9 days of rain. July, with 1.3 days of rain, is usually the dryest month, but the dryest month can fall anywhere between May and September. Autumn is characterized by torrential but brief rains; the winter by more precipitation spread out over loner periods.
Because of the proximity to the sea, freezing temperatures are rare; an average of 2.9 days a year, and lasting frosts (when the maximum temperature remains less or equal to zero) are nonexistent. Snow is also very rare (barely 1.5 days per year on average) and it is even more rare for the the snow to last during the day (0.3 days a year on average).
One distinctive feature of the Toulon climate is the wind, with 115 days a year of strong winds; usually either the cold and dry Mistral or the Tramontane from the north, the wet Marin; or the Sirocco sometimes bearing reddish sand from Africa; or the wet and stormy Levant from the east. (See Winds of Provence.) The windiest month is January, with an average of 12.5 days of strong winds. The least windy month is September, with 7 days of strong winds. In winter, the Mistral can make the air feel extremely cold, even though the temperature is mild.
The climate is dry and the humidity in Toulon is usually low. The average humidity is 56 percent, with little variation throughout the year; the driest months are July and August with 50 percent, and the most humid months are November and December with 60 percent.
Source: Wikipedia article in French
Toulon has a number of museums.
The Museum of the French Navy (Musée national de la marine) is located on Place Monsenergue, next on the west side of the old port, a short distance from the Hotel de Ville. The Museum was founded in 1814, during the reign of the Emperor Napoleon. It is located today behind what was formerly the monumental gate to the Arsenal of Toulon, built in 1738. The building of the museum, along with the clock tower next to it, is one of the few buildings of the port and arsenal which survived Allied bombardments during World War II. It contains displays tracing the history of Toulon as a port of the French Navy. Highlights include large eighteenth century ship models used to teach seamanship, models of the aircraft carrier Charles DeGaulle.
The Museum of Old Toulon and its Region (Musée du vieux Toulon et de sa région). The Museum was founded in 1912, and contains a collection of maps, paintings, drawings, models and other artifacts showing the history of the city.
The Museum of Asian Arts (Musée des arts asiatiques), in Mourillon. Located in a house with garden which once belonged to the son and later the grandson of author Jules Verne, the museum contains a small but interesting collection of art objects, many donated by naval officers from the time of the French colonization of Southeast Asia. It includes objects and paintings from India, China, Southeast Asia, Tibet and Japan.
The Museum of Art (Musée d'art) was created in 1888, the museum contains collections of modern and contemporary art, as well as paintings of provence from the 17th century to the beginning of the 20th century. It owns works by landscape artists of Provence from the late 19th century (Guigou, Aiguier, Courdouan, Ziem), and the Fauves of Provence (Camoin, Chabaud, Verdilhan). The contemporary collections contain works from 1960 to today representing the New Realism Movement (Arman, César, Christo, Klein, Raysse); Minimalist Art (Sol Lewitt, Donald Judd); Support Surface (Cane, Viallat côtoient Arnal, Buren, Chacallis) and an important collection of photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dieuzaide, Edouard Boubat, Willy Ronis and André Kertesz).
The Memorial Museum to the Landings in Provence (Mémorial du débarquement de Provence) is located on the summit of Mount Faron, this small museum, opened in 1964 by President Charles DeGaulle, commemorates the Allied landing in Provence in August 1944 with photos, weapons and models.
The Museum of Natural History of Toulon and the Var (Musée d'histoire naturelle de Toulon et du Var) was founded in 1888, has a large collection of displays about dinosaurs, birds, mammals, and minerals, mostly from the region.
The Hôtel des arts was opened in 1998, presents five exhibits a year of works by well-known contemporary artists. Featured artists have included Sean Scully, Jannis Kounellis, Claude Viallat, Per Kirkeby, and Vik Muniz.
LiteraryToulon figures prominently in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. It is the location of the infamous prison, the bagne of Toulon, in which the protagonist Jean Valjean spends 19 years in hard labour. Toulon is also the birthplace of the novel's antagonist, Javert, and the place where Valjean and Javert first meet.
One portion of the wall of the old bagne, or prison, where Jean Valjean was supposedly held still stands to the right of the entrance of the Old Harbor.
GastronomyLocal food highlights include:
- cuisine from the Mediterranean and from Provence
- the cade toulonnaise, a speciality composed of chickpea flour
- the Chichi Frégi, a type of donut from Provence.
The region is famous for being the host of the finals of the annual Toulon Tournament - a football tournament of under 20 national players from around the whole world. The city's top football club is Sporting Toulon Var, currently playing in the third level of French Football (Championnat National). Famous players such as David Ginola, Delio Onis, Jean Tigana, Christian Dalger or more recently Sebastien Squillacci formerly played for Sporting.
The region is home to rugby union club RC Toulon, currently playing in Rugby Pro D2 at the Stade Mayol and Hyères-Toulon Var Basket, playing at the top of the Pro A.
- National Football French Championship
- Basketball French Championship Pro A
- Women Handball French Championship
- Hockey French Championship
- Rugby French Championship Pro D2
- Toulon Tournament in football
Famous peopleToulon was the birthplace of:
References and Notes
- Michel Vergé-Franceschi, Toulon - Port Royal (1481-1789). Tallandier: Paris, 2002.
- Aldo Bastié, Histoire de la Provence, Editions Ouest-France, 2001.
- Cyrille Roumagnac, L'Arsenal de Toulon et la Royale, Editions Alan Sutton, 2001
- Maurice Arreckx, Vivre sa ville, Paris, La Table ronde, 1982 ; Toulon, ma passion, 1985
- Jean-Pierre Thiollet, Le Chevallier à découvert, Paris, Laurens, 1998
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