History and description

A site occupied since prehistoric times, Toulon (Tholus Martius) became a Roman town from the time of its inclusion in the Roman Provence in 120 AD. In the middle Ages, the town had its first fortifications built in the form of a urban wall around the current old town. These first fortifications were reinforced by a tower on the pointe de Pipady controlling the passage towards the roadstead, constructed in 1524. Under the reign of Henri IV and during the troubles of the League, the urban medieval wall was replaced by an urban bastioned wall, including five arrow-headed bastions. The engineer Italian Ercole Negro designed the project in 1589 and directed the construction up to its completion in 1595. This urban wall was extended into the sea by Raymond de Bonnefons in 1605. To do so, a jetty was built and protected by two pincer-shaped wharfs. It was in the same period that Richelieu decided to relocate the galleries arsenal to Toulon, based in Marseille up until 1609. Established to the north-west of the old jetty, the dockyard sought to construct a rope factory, workshops, magazines and holds for naval constructions. The tour de Balanguier, named the Petite tour (Small tower) and one kilometre away from the Grosse tour (Large tower, the other name for the tour Royale), was also constructed under Richelieu in 1633. It was a similar round tower which was fitted out in the same way as that from 1524. Following the replacement of the urban wall, the town expanded in line with an orthogonal layout, which extended the medieval urban fabric.
The urban wall was transformed by Vauban from 1678, to enhance the protection of the port-arsenal. Henceforth, it included six bastions on the landward side and five projections on the side facing the sea. This transformation was motivated by the expansion of the arsenal since 1671, during the War of Holland. Colbert wanted a set-up allowing a fleet of fifty to sixty vessels to moor there if required. In 1679, Vauban summarised the projects of his predecessors (Puget, Arnoul, Gombert and Clerville). He refined this summary in 1681 and 1682. A new jetty was constructed to the west of the old jetty of Louis XIII and Henri IV. All the equipment required for a military port was planned and installed there: rope factories, magazines for rope, forges, workshops for framing, magazines for vessels, etc. This project boosted the expansion of the town towards the west. It was not completed, however, at the time when Vauban died. Apart from the walls, the tour Royale from 1524, which was embellished with two new lateral batteries, had its firepower increased in 1672, and was also modified by Vauban. At this point, he planned to create a semi-circular battery facing the sea and a casemated tunnel at the top. The tour de Balanguier had two batteries built by the same engineer, which Vauban planned to protect with a bastioned front. These three projects remained incomplete. The fort Saint-Louis was constructed in 1697 in front of the rade des Vignettes, not far from Toulon, in order to occupy a bay close to where it was possible to bombard the arsenal from a boat. It was a semi-elliptical battery of artillery, equipped with a tower on two levels including equipment vital for the garrison (residences, powder keg, magazines, etc.). The two expansions of the ramparts planned to enhance the inner constructed area remained incomplete.
Alongside Vauban, other contemporary engineers created fortifications for Toulon and its roadstead. From 1672 to 1685, the engineer Gombert constructed the fort de l’Eguillette on the point of the same name, facing the tour Royale of the 16th century to complete the action. It was a square tower, which was flanked with two batteries of artillery. The tower included two levels and all the equipment required for the garrison. The terrace at the top also included a parapet. The access on the landward side was protected by four firing galleries, arranged on two levels along the rear faces of the batteries. The upper level had an open air design. Intended for eighteen men and eight cannons, the fort de l’Eguillette only benefited from one project involving modifications implemented by Vauban which was not carried out. This aimed to elevate the terrace on the top of the tower to install cannons. Otherwise, the design of this fort inspired him to create batteries and coastal towers of a type that he multiplied in the 1680s and 1690s.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the projects of Vauban were pursued and completed. Some additional lodges were constructed under Louis XV and XVI but it was not until 1760-1780 that new military works were added to improve the defences of the urban wall on the landward side. An entrenched camp and three forts (Lamalgue, Sainte-Catherine and Faron) were constructed to the east of the town, in the plain between the sea and Mont Faron (the hill at an altitude of 584 m and next to Toulon) in order to increase the level of protection of this side. The construction was largely completed in 1789. Only fort Faron remained incomplete, the construction interrupted by the French Revolution. Under the July Monarchy, the arsenal du Mourillon was open and some reviews of works were completed, but the project involving expansion of the arsenal and the urban wall from 1846 was never carried out. It was not until the French Second Empire that Napoleon III decided to go ahead with it from 1852. The former arsenal of Vauban was preserved for repairs but three other arsenals were also created for new constructions: Mourillon, Castigneau and Missiessy. The pools of the port were deepened by dredging from 1853 to 1857. The jetties were heightened in 1859. The arsenal du Mourillon was expanded to allow modern ships to be accommodated and the buildings planned under the July Monarchy could be built. It included fifteen dry docks. The arsenal de Castigneau was constructed from 1852 to 1867 and included three dry docks. Deemed insufficient in 1860, the arsenal de Missiessy was added in 1861. The construction had not been completed when the Franco-Prussian war broke out in 1870. The French Third Republic stopped construction, and what had been already created was deemed sufficient to make Toulon the second French port for construction and armaments. The urban wall was rebuilt and expanded towards the east, from 1852 to 1854. A last fort was constructed on mont Faron after 1870, in order to support the pentagonal fort Faron built in 1764-1789.

Current state

Part of the urban wall has survived to the east, north and west of Toulon. These are fronts including gates: porte de l’Italie, porte de Sainte-Anne and porte de Malbousquet. The four external forts and the entrenched camp also still stand. The three watchtowers of the roadstead are also preserved. In the arsenal, which remains military, part of the rope factory of the French Former Regime was preserved. The same applies to the former asphalt factory and the asphalt magazine, the monumental gate from 1738 and the clock building from 1776. All these monuments are open to visitors. The relief map from 1800 with a scale of 1/600 has survived and is on show at the musée des Plans Reliefs (museum of Relief Maps) in Paris.


43° 7' 20" N, 5° 55' 48" E

urban wall, arsenal, forts, towers then entrenched camp
Jean-Antoine de La Porte, Ercole Negro, Raymond de Bonnefons, Sébastien le Prestre de Vauban, François Gombert
Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur
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  • CROS (B.), « Le patrimoine militaire de la rade de Toulon : histoire, territorialité et gestion patrimoniale » in In Situ, [En Ligne], 16/2011, mis en ligne le 27 juin 2011, consulté le 21 avril 2015. URL :; DOI : 10.4000/insitu.275
  • DE ROUX (A.), Villes neuves, urbanisme classique, Paris, 1997.
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