13 Toulon

 November 29th

Above:  We’re getting accustomed to taking day trips down to the coast.  Today, a  little to the west, visiting the ancient port city of Toulon.  A little further west is Marseilles,  just off this map to the left. The Marseilles/Toulon axis forms one of the planet’s most storied shipping lanes, dating back to antiquity and continuing to this day…

Above:  There are two geographical keys to the success and popularity of Toulon:  One is the ridge of mountains to the north that you can see beyond the streets in this picture; they protect the city from the mean-spirited, soul-dampening Mistral winds.  The second is a naturally-formed, three-sided, capacious harbor, re-inforced and fortressed over the centuries by a concantenation of warrior architects, the most notable being Vauban, Napoleon’s vaunted engineer, whose hand guided the protection of countless cities across Europe, including Luxembourg…

Above:  During the early stages of WWII, after the Nazi’s had occupied northern France, the French navy fled to Toulon.  There was some question as to whether the French Navy would fight with the Nazis, but, as time ran out, they decided to scuttle the ships rather than let them fall into the hands of the Germans.  They hoped to sink the ships systematically and carefully, in a controlled way so that they could later be salvaged and put back into service.  The sinking part worked pretty well; the resurrection part less well.  This is an aerial photo taken by the Americans in 1942 showing the scuttling of the French navy in Toulon harbor, by the French, just ahead of the Nazis who were closing  in…

Above:  It’s a working harbor, Toulon, and has been for centuries.  Yes, there are the usual yachts and pleasure craft, but also muscle-bound fishing boats and, out of sight, an active French naval base.

Above:  Unlike many other French harbors, the buildings here in Toulon facing the waterfront are new, dating no further back than WWII.  Toulon was heavily bombed by the Americans and British in preparation for the second major invasion– the one two months after Normandy that landed in this area and swept north and west from here.   In a few days I’ll visit the American cemetery in Draguinan where 800 of the Americans who landed– many of them paratroopers dropped behind the lines the night before, similar to the approach in Normandy– are buried.

Above: The statue of the Génie de la Navigation (“The Genius of Navigation”) completed by sculpture Louis Joseph Daumas in 1843.  This guy Daumas got around:  He lived to be 86 and, among other things, crafted the sculpture of Général José de San Martín (he’s the guy who is credited, along with Simon Bolivar, with liberating the southern part of South America from Spain) which stands in Central Park, NYC, at the 59th Street and 6th Avenue entrance, known as the “Artist’s Gate“.  Locally, this statue in Toulon’s commercial harbor is known as “cul vers ville” (roughly translated:  “Ass to the City”) because it’s rear-end faces the town… During WWII the statue was removed to protect it from Nazi revenge or allied bombing and eventually lost track of.  Eventually it was found by chance in a local carpenter’s shop and returned to its prominent place in the harbor.  As these things go, it’s remarkably commanding, and does lend the harbor a special kind of grace.

Above:  Chilly in mid-winter, the streets are still pretty, made a little brighter by some Christmas flower arrangment…

Above:  The Maritime Museum is well done and interesting, with instructional scale models depicting early boat building techniques as well as artifacts from over the centuries.  Of particular interest, I thought, was the model of the “rope factory”, over 400 hundred yards long so that a full sheet could be manufactured straight on, with no bending during the process.  Indeed, the building still exists, steps from the museum, and…

Above:  … the Rope Factory still exists, streching off in a straight line, almost as far as the eye can see…

Above:  Remember “The French Connection”?  The heroin traffic from the Middle East, through Corsica, on to Marseilles and Toulon and then to New York City was the subject of the famous film.

Above:  Toulon has a Middle Eastern feel and a strong Muslim presence, which you can feel and which becomes more apparent in certain neighborhoods.

Above:  On the way back to Callas late in the afternoon, another stop at yet another famous winery.

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N E X T :  Callas; Our Daily Routine

 

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