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Toulon (Provençal Occitan: Tolon in classical norm or Touloun in Mistralian norm, Italian: Tolone) is a city in southern Francemarker and a large military harbour on the Mediterraneanmarker coast, with a major French naval base. Located in the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azurmarker région, Toulon is the préfecture (capital) of the Varmarker département, in the former province of Provence.

The population of the city (commune) in 2005 was approximately 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.

The military port of 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.



Archeological excavations, such as those at the Cosquer Cavemarker near Marseillemarker,show that the coast of Provence was inhabited since at least the Paleolithic era. Greek colonists came from Asia Minormarker in about the seventh century BC and established trading depots along the coast, including one, called Olbia, at Saint-Pierre de l'Almanarre south of Hyèresmarker, to the east of Toulon. A Celtic (possibly) people, the Ligurians, settled in the area beginning in the fourth century BC.Toulon harbour became a shelter for trading ships, and the name of the town gradually changed from Telo to Tholon, Tolon, and Toulon.

Roman era

Toulon Cathedral (eleventh to eighteenth centuries)
In the second 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.

Arrival of Christianity

Toulon was Christianized in the fifth 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. In 1095 a new cathedral was built in the city by Gilbert, Count of Provence. As barbarians invaded the region and Roman power crumbled, the town was frequently attacked by pirates and the Saracens.

Early Modern era

The Tour Royale (16th century)
The Toulon Opera House (1862)
  • 1486: Provence becomes part of France.
  • 1494: The first military shipyard of Toulon is constructed by Charles VIII of France.
  • 1497: A fleet from Genoamarker blockades Toulon for several months.
  • 1524: The Tour Royale, Toulonmarker 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: Francis I invites the fleet of Ottoman Admiral Barbarossa to Toulon as part of the Franco-Ottoman alliance. The residents are forced to leave, and the Ottoman sailors occupy the town for the winter (see Siege of Nice#The Turks in Toulon).
  • 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 Varmarker.
  • 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 Louvremarker.
  • 1830: A French fleet departs Toulon for the conquest of Algeriamarker.
  • 1862: Toulon Opera opens

Modern history

In 1867, on orders of Napoleon III General François Achille Bazaine arrived in Toulon without an official welcome after abandoning the Mexican military campaign and Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico.

During World War II, after the Allied landings in North Africa (Operation Torchmarker) the German Army occupied southern France (Case Anton), leading to the scuttling of the French Fleet at Toulon (27 November 1942). The city was bombed by the Allies in November of the following year, with much of the port destroyed and five hundred residents killed. Toulon was captured by the Free French Forces of General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny on 28 August 1944.

In 1974 Toulon became again the préfecture, or administrative center, of the Var. Five years later the University of Toulon opened. Toulon is one of four French cities where the extreme-right Front National won the local elections (1995).

Main sights

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 Cathedralmarker 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 Fountains of Old Toulon

File:Toulon Fountains 2.jpg|Fontaine du Dauphin, Place Paul Comte. The fountain, on the wall of the Bishop's residence, appears in the drawings of Toulon made for Louis XIV in 1668.Image:Toulon Place Puget Fountain.jpg|Fontaine des Trois Dauphins, Place Puget (1782)File:Toulon Fountains 1.jpg|Fontaine de l'Intendance, Place Amiral Sénès, (1821)File:Toulon Fountains 4.jpg|the Fontaine-Lavoir de Saint-Vincent, Place Saint-Vincent (1832), replaced the original fountain built in 1615. It had a fountain for drinking water and two basins, for washing clothes, one for washing and one for rinsing.The Old Town of Toulon is known for its fountains, found in many of the small squares, each with a different character. The original system of fountains was built in the late seventeenth century; most were rebuilt in the eighteenth or early nineteenth century, and have recently been restored.

The Upper Town of Baron Haussmann

Place de la liberté.
The upper town, between the Boulevard de Strasbourg and the railroad station, was built in the mid nineteenth century under Louis Napoleon. The project was begun by Baron Haussmann, who was prefect 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 Harbour and Arsenal

View of Toulon, the Arsenal and Mount Faron from the Harbour.

The Toulon harbour is one of the best natural anchorages on the Mediterranean, and one of the largests harbours in Europe. 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. Further additions were made by Jean-Baptiste Colbert and Vauban.

Le Mourillon

Le Mourillon is a small seaside neighborhood to the east of Toulon, near the entrance of the harbour. It was once a fishing village, and then became the home of many of the officers of the French fleet. Mourillon has a small fishing port, next to a sixteenth-century fort, Fort Saint Louis, which was reconstructed by Vauban. In the 1970s the city of Toulon built a series of sheltered sandy beaches in Mourillon, which today are very popular with the Toulonais and with naval families. The Museum of Asian Art is located in a house on the waterfront near Fort St. Louis.

Mount Faron

Mount Faron (584 meters) dominates the city of Toulon. The top can be reached either by a cable car from Toulon, or by a narrow and terrifying road which ascends from the west side and descends on the east side. The road is one of the most challenging stages of the annual Paris-Nice and Tour Méditerranéen bicycle races.

At the top of Mount Faron is a memorial dedicated to the 1944 Allied landings in Provence (Operation Dragoon) , and to the liberation of Toulon.

Vauban's fortifications

The porte d'Italie, built by Vauban.
Napoleon departed from this gate in 1796 on his Italian campaign.
Beginning 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.


The Harbour at Sunset
Toulon 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 2,899 hours per year.

Average rainfall is 665 millimetres per year. The driest 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 millimetres of rain, while in October there are 5.9 days of rain. July, with 1.3 days of rain, is usually the driest month, but the driest 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 non-existent. Snow is also very rare (barely 1.5 days per year on average) and it is even more rare for 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 De Gaulle.

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 seventeenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century. It owns works by landscape artists of Provence from the late nineteenth 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 Kertész).

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 De Gaulle, 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.


Toulon 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 nineteen years in hard labour. Toulon is also the birthplace of the novel's antagonist, Javert.

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.

In Anthony Powell's novel What's Become of Waring the central characters spend a long summer holiday in Toulon's old town. Powell himself stayed at the Hotel du Port et des Negociants on two occasions in the early 1930s and writes in the second volume of his memoirs The naval port, with its small inner harbour, row of cafes along the rade, was quite separate from the business quarter of the town. A paddle steamer plied several times a day between this roadstead and the agreeably unsophisticated plage of Les Sablettes.

Joseph Conrad's last novel, The Rover, is also set around Toulon.

Points of interest


Local 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 best of the city's clubs are the rugby union team RC Toulon (gained promotion to the Top 14 in 2008), the basketball team Hyères-Toulon Var Basket and the women's handball team :fr:Toulon St-Cyr Var Handball, all playing in the top division of their respective sports.

The city hosts the final four of the annual Toulon Tournament - an international under 21 football tournament.

The top football club is the Sporting Toulon Var, currently playing at the fourth level of French Football (Championnat de France Amateurs). Famous players such as Delio Onnis, Jean Tigana, Christian Dalger David Ginola or Sébastien Squillaci have played for Sporting.

Club Sport League Stadium
RC Toulon Rugby union Top 14 Stade Mayolmarker
:fr:Toulon St-Cyr Var Handball Handball :fr:Championnat de France de handball féminin Gymnase Vert Coteau
Hyères-Toulon Var Basket Basketball Pro A Palais des Sportsmarker and Espace 3000
Sporting Toulon Var Football Championnat de France Amateurs :fr:Stade de Bon Rencontre


Cultural events

Famous people

Toulon was the birthplace of:

Twin cities

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
  • Jean-Pierre Thiollet, Le Chevallier à découvert, Paris, Laurens, 1998
  • Maurice Arreckx, Vivre sa ville, Paris, La Table ronde, 1982 ; Toulon, ma passion, 1985

External links

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