Toulon is the biggest naval base in the Mediterranean, and the main port for the French Navy. A true ‘town within a town’, this naval base and its dockyard cover 268 hectares, with 10km of quays, 30km of road and around 30 buildings for the Naval Action Force. Almost 12,000 people work here!
The military role of Toulon was affirmed in 1481, when Provence was annexed to France. The Royal Tower was built in 1514, and Henry IV dug the first inner harbour, today called the ‘Darse Vieille’, and built a dockyard. At Vauban’s request, a second inner harbour (the ‘Darse Neuve’) was added between 1679-1685, and a rope factory was completed in 1697. However, construction for the first dry-dock would not begin until 1774. In the middle of the 19th century, the dockyard underwent extensive expansion works, during the height of the steam boat era and the large colonial expeditions during the Second Empire. The inner harbours of Castigneau (1852) and Missiessy (1862) tripled the surface of the naval base. Toulon became the biggest naval base in the Empire, in the same way that Marseilles was the biggest port for colonial trade.
Today, more than 500 years after its creation, the Toulon naval base is still the biggest in France. It contains the majority of the Naval Action Force, 60% of the national naval tonnage and is the base for the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, the Mistral and Tonnerre deployment and command buildings, nuclear attack submarines, missiles and the Aviso frigate.
The naval base is not open to the public. The only way to see it is through guided tours offered throughout the year by Toulonnaise boatmen from the pleasure boating ports, and the visits offered during the summer (when the ‘Vigipirate’ national security plan allows!) on the Toulon tourist trains.