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Toulon (Municipality, Var, France)

Last modified: 2018-06-23 by ivan sache
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Flag of Toulon, two versions - Images by Ivan Sache, 19 April 2010

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Presentation of Toulon

The municipality of Toulon (168,768 inhabitants in 2009, 4,284 ha; municipal website

) is located on the Mediterranean Sea, halfway of Marseilles and Saint-Tropez, on a small coastal stripe limited by the Toulon Harbor and Mt. Faron (584 m asl).

Toulon emerged as a small fishers' port named Telo, a toponym of probable Celtic origin (tol, "lowlands"). The name of the village was latinized to Telo Martius after the Romans had dedicated the place to Mars, the god of war.
Toulon really emerged as a town in 1481 when Provence was incorporated to France; the kings understood the strategical significance of the port and fortified the town. The fortifications started by Louis XII and increased by Francis I did not prevent Charles V to seize Toulon in 1524, however. After failed attempts of conquest by the Saracens, Henry IV completely revamped the defenses of the port, made of a stone wall protected by bastions and curtains, and a basin dedicated to the arsenal was set up in the port.
Louis XIII, advised by Cardinal de Richelieu, made of Toulon the main French port on the Mediterranean Sea. Louis XIV's main minister, Colbert, made of Toulon a military port, the monopoly on trade being granted to the neighbouring port of Marseilles; Louis XIV's main military engineer, Vauban, completely revamped the port and the town, increasing the basins and moving the town walls westwards.
In 1720, the black plague epidemic that had started in Marseilles quickly reached Toulon, killing 15,000 out of its 26,000 inhabitants. This event did not stop the development of the port, which was in the 18th century the first military port in Europe; in 1783, the arsenal employed up to 4,000 workers.
In 1748, the Mediterranean galley fleet was relocated from Marseilles to Toulon; a penal colony was set up, which existed until 1873. Its most famous member, although for only a few months, was Eugéne-François Vidocq (1775-1857), a crook who escaped from the penal colonies of Brest and Toulon and eventually founded the Sûreté Nationale (the state crime-fighting agency). Vidcocq, the hero of several popular books and TV-series, was one of the models of Victor Hugo's Jean Valjean (Les Mis&ecute;rables) and Honoré de Balzac's Vautrin (La Comédie Humaine).

Toulon took the Royalist party during the French Revolution and welcomed the English fleet; reconquered in 1793 after a long siege (7 September - 19 December), during which a young Corsican artillery captain named Napuoleone Buonaparte became a general, the town was renamed Port-La Montagne by the Convention. The English admiral Hood ordered to burn down the French fleet to destroy the arsenal before withdrawing; only 15 vessels could escape the blaze.
In 1798, Bonaparte gathered in Toulon a part of the fleet of his Egyptian expedition. Bonaparte did not forget Toulon during the First Empire, significantly increasing the town and the port, an effort which was not stopped during the Bourbon Restauration.
During the 19th century, the basins of the port of Toulon were even increased, as part of the colonization effort; the inauguration of the Suez Canal in 1869 increased the strategic situation of Toulon. Most French colonial expeditions of the late 19th century started from Toulon, for instance the expeditions to Algiers (1830), Guinea, Italy, Indochina and Mexico. The great explorer Jules Dumont d'Urville (1790-1842) also used Toulon as a home base for his expeditions to Greece (1819, bringing back to France the Venus de Milo), Oceania (1825, finding the remains of La Pérouse's Astrolabe) and Antarctic (1839, discovering and incorporating to France Adélie Land, named for his wife).

Toulon was partially destroyed during the Second World War. In 1942, following the invasion of the Free Zone of France by the Germans, the French Navy scuppered its vessels in the port of Toulon, preventing their incorporation into the German Navy. The town and port were eventually liberated on 22 August 1944, one week after the allies' landing in Provence.
Rebuilt, the port of Toulon is still a main French military port, housing the PREMAR (Préfecture Martime de la Méditerranée) and the CECMED (Commandement de la Zone Maritime Méditerranée). The Navy base of Toulon is the home of the nuclear career Charles de Gaulle and of the fleet of nuclear submarines.

Toulon is the birth town of the novelist Jean Aicard (1848-1921), once famous for his picaresque novel Maurin des Maures (1908), describing the life of a local bandit; of the critic and writer Ferdinand Brunetière (1849-1906), who criticized Flaubert, Zola and Baudelaire; of the café-concert singer Félix Mayol (1872-1941), famous for the hit Viens Poupoule (1902); of the actor Raimu (1883-1946), one of Marcel Pagnol's prefered actors; of the Communist journalist and politician Gabriel Péri (1902-1941), shot by the Germans in the Mont-Valérien fort; of the historian of the Middle Ages Jacques Le Goff (1924-2014); and of the singer Gilbert Bécaud (1927-2001), nicknamed Monsieur 100,000 volts.

Ivan Sache, 19 April 2010

Flag of Toulon

The flag of Toulon is blue with a yellow cross, that is a banner of the municipal arms, "Azure a cross or".
A variant of the flag is white with the greater municipal arms and the writing "Ville de Toulon" in black letters below the shield.

Sauveur Simon's accounting book (Municipal Archives CC106), dated 1406, shows white shields with a black cross placed below each paragraph; the shields were seemingly used as a signature by the accounters. The oldest known representation of the municipal arms in colour is shown on the cover of Jean Mottet's accounting book (Municipal Archives CC135), dated 1494; quite sketchy, the shield is orange with a blue cross that does not reach the edges of the shield. The proceedings of the Municipal Council dated 1477 (Municipal Archives BB43) were decorated in 1553 by a crucifix flanked dexter by the arms of the King of France ("Azure three fleurs-de-lis or") and sinister by the arms of Toulon as we know them today ("Azure a cross or"). Jean Gueyroard's accounting book (Municipal Archives CC181), dated 1563, is decorated with a shield with reversed colours, that is "Or a cross azure". The colour arrangement seems to have been definitively fixed in 1584, as it appears on the cover of Marin Gavot's account book (Municipal Archives CC200). In 1609, the shield shown on the cover of Jean Desorel's accounting book (Municipal Archives CC226) is surrounded by a branch of olive and a palm.

The arms "Azure a cross or" were registered in 1697 with the Armorial General by the Consuls of Toulon. In 1772, the shield was added the Latin motto "Concordia parva crescunt" written in letters or on a scroll azure. The motto, meaning "Small things increase via concord", appears on the charter granted on 29 May 1437 to the town by Count of Provence René of Anjou, who himself borrowed it from the Roman historian Sallust (Concordia resparvae crescunt, The Jugurthine War).
Suppressed during the Revolution, the arms of Toulon were reestablished in 1811 by the Seal Council; the canton of the shield was charged with a letter "N" (for Napoléon) surmounted by a star, all or. After the fall of the Empire, Louis XVIII reinstated the arms used in the Ancient Regime; the arms of Toulon were surmounted by a five- tower mural crown argent. In 1852, the Second Empire re-established the arms designed under the First Empire, which were used until 1871.

The blue shield with the yellow cross has been used since then, with variations in the supporters. The today's version of the arms of Toulon is surmounted by a five-towered mural crown or and flanked dexter by a branch of oak and sinister by a branch of laurel, the branches being tied by saltire below the shield and holding a scroll azure charged with the motto "Concordia parvae crescunt". The War Cross 1939-1945, with palm, is appended to the arms.

The exact meaning of the arms of Toulon is unknown. They might recall that Toulon was once a port of call for the Crusaders, or might simply having been designed on the model of the crossed arms of the neighboring towns of Marseilles, Fréjus and Antibes.
[Municipal website]

Dominique Cureau & Ivan Sache, 19 April 2010

Sports flags

Les Plaisanciers Toulonnais


Burgee of SPT - Image by Ivan Sache, 27 April 2018

Société sportive de solidarité nautique Les Plaisanciers Toulonnais (SPT) was established on 22 April 1907. Its burgee (photo) is red with a white star and a white bend at hoist.

Ivan Sache, 27 April 2018

Société Nautique de Toulon


Burgee of SNT - Image by Ivan Sache, 23 May 2006

The burgee of SNT (website) is red with two white triangles placed along the hoist, a white star in the centre, and the black letters "S", "N" and "T", placed in the upper white triangle, red field, and lower white triangle, respectively.

Ivan Sache, 27 February 2012

Yacht Club de Toulon


Burgee of YCT - Image by Ivan Sache, 1 May 2010

Yacht Club de Toulon (YCT; website) was created on 14 May 1981 by Robert Millacampa, as the merger of three local yacht clubs. Based at the Mourillon Beach, the YCT is involved in yachting and canoeing.
The burgee of YCT is yellow with a blue cross, that is the counter-colored municipal arms of Toulon.

Ivan Sache, 1 May 2010