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The Port that launched Napoleon's career

Toulon, recently voted one of The Guardian's six great European beach towns, is also the biggest naval port in France, with a fascinating nautical heritage.

It is the home port for the French Mediterranean Fleet and the famous aircraft carrier Clemenceau was based here before being decommissioned and was known affectionately as le Clem Toulon was not a major port in Roman times but it was an important centre for producing purple dye made from the conches found here. This became known as imperial purple because it was used to dye the cloaks of the Roman Emperors.

The old port Darse Vielle was constructed in the 16th Century but later the great military engineer was brought in to build the Darse Neuve to the west of the Darse Vielle.

Toulon was to launch the career of Napoleon Bonaparte who was sent here in 1793 following the handing over of the City to an Anglo-Spanish naval force by Royalists. The 'Little Corsican' successfully drove out the foreign force and returned to Paris a hero.

Much of the old town was destroyed during WWII and, while worth seeing, is lined with bleak post-war architecture. More interesting is the neo-classicaland its Fontaine de la Fédération. Also worth visiting is the Musée de la Marine which has a fascinating collection of exhibits relating to Toulon's naval past.

Oh and don't forget the aforementioned great beach just a ferry ride away across the Rade de Toulon at Les Sablettes!

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Département: Var



Text © Paul Shawcross

Images by © Paul Shawcross