"… la chose enivrante: la liberté ! la liberté !" Top 5 Page for this destination Toulon by Nemorino

Toulon Travel Guide: 83 reviews and 334 photos

Whatever else you may have heard about Toulon, you should be aware that it has a gorgeous nineteenth century opera house – one of the largest opera houses in France outside of Paris.

The Toulon Opera aka Théâtre Municipal was inaugurated in 1862. Not long ago it was beautifully renovated, just in time for its 150th anniversary in 2012.

The opera I saw there in October 2012 was Carmen by Georges Bizet, with its rousing chorus in praise of “that intoxicating thing: Liberty ! Liberty !” – the same opera I had seen just two days before in a different production in the nearby city of Marseille.

Toulon’s newest theater, the Théâtre Liberté, was opened in 2011. The play I saw there was about a Jewish family uprooted by the War of Algeria. It was called Dis-leur que la vérité est belle, which means Tell them that the Truth is beautiful.

The harbor of Toulon is “the most beautiful and the most excellent of the Mediterranean Sea”, according to Vauban in 1679. “It is the principal port of the kingdom and the place where the king ordinarily keeps the largest part of his naval forces.”

Navies, in those days, needed huge numbers of strong men to row the galleys and later to do all sorts of hard physical labor. Toulon was notorious in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as the site of the bagne, a brutal prison colony where over four thousand inmates, called bagnards or forçats, were kept chained together for many years of hard work.

In October 1839 the French author Victor Hugo visited Toulon to observe the bagne, because he wanted to describe it in a novel he was planning to write. The novel was Les Misérables, which grew to be eighteen hundred pages long and was an immediate popular success when it was finally published twenty-three years later.

The protagonist, Jean Valjean, spent a total of nineteen years at hard labor in the bagne of Toulon as a forçat, and for the rest of his life was in danger of being recaptured and sent back to the prison.

In the late twentieth century Toulon was notorious for other reasons. Much of the city had to be re-built after the destruction of the Second World War, but the rebuilding effort was hampered by corruption and incompetence. It was an open secret that public building projects in Toulon cost 20 % more than in other parts of France, due in part to the bribes that had to be paid.

Because of widespread dissatisfaction with the city government, Toulon was one of four French cities where the extreme right-wing Front National won the local elections in 1995. But the right-wingers turned out to be at least as corrupt and incompetent as their predecessors, so they were voted out of office in the next city election in 2001.

And now? Is Toulon getting itself turned around?

First review: The opera house

  • Last visit to Toulon: Oct 2012
  • Intro Updated Apr 3, 2013
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Reviews (42)

Comments (14)

  • King_Golo's Profile Photo
    Sep 28, 2014 at 11:13 AM

    Having been to Toulon on a school exchange 20 years ago, I now only remember the harbour - which I really found beautiful! Vauban seems to have been right about that... Thanks for your tips, highly informative as usual.

  • breughel's Profile Photo
    Jan 21, 2014 at 4:53 AM

    I continue with your Toulon pages. An important harbor for the French maritime history.

    • Nemorino's Profile Photo
      Jan 21, 2014 at 2:58 PM

      Eddy, thanks for your visits to my Toulon and Lille pages.

  • Trekki's Profile Photo
    Nov 28, 2013 at 2:00 AM

    Thank you dear Don for an enjoyable morning read :-)) I learned a lot! This is indeed a beautiful town with hidden gems and a splendid harbour :-)

  • Kuznetsov_Sergey's Profile Photo
    Jun 15, 2013 at 8:10 AM

    Great page about Toulon, Don. I would also visit the Naval Museum.
    As far as you showed us the Atlantes by Pierre Puget are located at the Quai Stalingrad. We have a discussion nowadays in our country about the name of the city (now it has the name of Volgograd). Some people want to return its old name. As a compromise they suggest to return the name during some state holidays, such as the Day of Victory. They told us that the name of Stalingrad is even the name of one of the boulevards in Paris. I was there and know about it. Now I know that there is the Quai Stalingrad in Toulon.
    But the most of people are afraid of the name of Stalin.

    • Nemorino's Profile Photo
      Jun 15, 2013 at 8:16 AM

      Sergey, thanks for your many ratings and nice comments. Since in France places are often named after battles (like Austerlitz), they have named some places after the battle of Stalingrad because it was a turning point of the Second World War. But I have never seen any street in France named Waterloo.

  • HORSCHECK's Profile Photo
    May 15, 2013 at 10:41 AM

    Fabulous and comprehensive page about Toulon here. I never really had an idea of this city, but I am impressed to read that the inhabitants seem to paint their own bicyle lanes at night. - I never really understood why it is so diffcult to find a single room in France, but it is indeed like that.- Languagewise I have now learned the difference between counter-clockwise and anti-clockwise. - Oh, and congratulation on your new WiFi device. *winkygrin*

    • Nemorino's Profile Photo
      May 16, 2013 at 2:50 PM

      Holger, thanks for your ratings and nice comment on my Toulon page. I had a good time in Toulon, although it is a city with lots of problems. But the opera and the theater were both really good, and the people were very friendly.

  • balhannah's Profile Photo
    May 3, 2013 at 9:49 AM

    Sounds like you enjoyed your time here. I thought there were similarities with Marseille. The bike ride sounded a nice one to do, and I really would enjoy the harbour cruise and seeing all the modern war ships.

  • breughel's Profile Photo
    Apr 18, 2013 at 10:15 AM

    In the maritime museum of the Trocadero-Paris I have seen several paintings and maps from the Toulon harbor and the famous "arsenaux" but have never been there so that I read with much interest your description of the present naval and better musical Toulon.

    • Nemorino's Profile Photo
      Apr 18, 2013 at 2:40 PM

      Yes, I think Vauban was right when he said that the harbor of Toulon is “the most beautiful and the most excellent of the Mediterranean Sea”. Thanks for your visit to my Toulon page.

  • Regina1965's Profile Photo
    Apr 13, 2013 at 9:41 AM

    A very informative page - I love the opera ceiling, so beautiful - and the guided tours.

  • toonsarah's Profile Photo
    Apr 13, 2013 at 8:49 AM

    I've enjoyed meandering around Toulon with you :-) I like the old fort and the ship sculpture - oh, and the fountain with trees growing out of it!

  • german_eagle's Profile Photo
    Apr 12, 2013 at 1:02 AM

    Another fabulous page of yours. The traffic/transportation in Toulon seems to be a nightmare - stuck in the 1960s. Too bad all the explanations are in French only. Love the views from the Coastline Bicycle Trail. For some reasons the city won't make it high up on my list of places to visit, though :-)

    • Nemorino's Profile Photo
      Apr 12, 2013 at 1:14 AM

      Thanks, Ingo. I went to Toulon mainly because of the Victor Hugo connection – and because I happened to be in Marseille. Also I liked the opera house and, surprisingly, the tour of the military harbor. But I’m sure there are more attractive places to visit on the Côte d’Azur.


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