Monday, November 5, 2012

Chantiers Navals

Last week, I went to the old shipyards in La Ciotat as part of a tour with Maria, the Spanish assistant. 

The shipyards were once the biggest employer in La Ciotat, mainly producing naval ships, cargo ships, and big oil tankers for the French Navy, but they closed down production in 1988, due to the downsizing of the Navy, and the lower cost of producing ships in the Nord-Pas-Calais region of France, which has been a notable industrial center for hundreds of years. 

Currently, the shipyards are still in business, but privately: a yacht-building company is housed on the property, and, although they employ some Ciotadens, they do not quite have the output the French Navy had in its time. The work is mainly yacht repair, not building new ones, on commission from rich people wintering in St. Tropez or the like. They repair 500 yachts per year, according to the website.

The history of the chantiers navals in La Ciotat begins in 1851, when, shortly before the start of the Seconde Empire, Napoleon III commissioned the construction of steam ships which were destined to sail out of Marseilles as imperial freight ships. This was changed to "national" freight ships once the third republic was instated in 1870.

The area near the shipyards was designated solely for shipyard workers. A mini-town sprang up next to the docks, separated from the rest of La Ciotat. In the 1860s, it was top-of-the-line, very modern and very chic. Today, most of the housing is abandoned, since the shipyard closed its doors, and the town that once was is desolate. There are bits of the "shantytown" that have been incorporated into the rest of the downtown area, mostly housing restaurants and souvenir shops now. Some were demolitioned in 2007 when the yachting company requisitioned the old shipyard, and the only nightclub in La Ciotat (Sur les Quais - On the Docks) is found in the new building.

In 1916, the dock workers unionized, creating the Société provençale de constructions navales, or the Provence Shipworkers' Union, taking part in the global movement of Socialism and the working man's rights. This really helped morale during World War I, when there was a huge rush in business. There was another big uptick in workload again during World War II. The Société was replaced by the Chantiers navals de La Ciotat in 1940, which is what some locals still call it. The name was changed again in 1982, but I don't remeber what they changed it to. 

Now, during the off-season, they give tours of the shipyard to those interested.On our tour, there were a lot of little old ladies who seemed to know more than the tour guide and kept interrupting him every six seconds. Our coordinator, Mme. R, signed us up for the tour, as something to do during the long vacances de Toussaint.  Unfortunately, it rained cats and dogs all morning during the tour, and even though I was wearing a heavy-duty camping rain jacket, I was completely soaked from head to foot--even my hair got wet through the hood! 

As you can see, I got some photos in, but I was terrified I'd break my camera by shorting out the flash or the battery. I did actually do that once with a different camera in Dresden. I took pictures while it was raining and slid the camera into my rain jacket pocket to discover later that it was trashed. NOT FUN! I guess the Le Mistral is to blame? That or plain old autumn weather. At least there is always hot cocoa and pain au chocolat to warm up with at home!

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