Tonneins

With nearly 10,000 inhabitants, the town of Tonneins stretches along the Garonne River, covering the right bank for more than two kilometres. While Tonneins has benefited from its proximity to the river, its reputation has developed on the basis of its industries, which until recently revolved mainly around the production of hemp and tobacco.

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Tonneins - Quais de la Garonne

Due to its prized location between the river and the hills, the site of Tonneins has been occupied since ancient times. Two early medieval villages that were very close to each other are the origin today’s town. Lower Tonneins was built on a rocky elevation along the Garonne while Upper Tonneins developed a little later, further upstream. They belonged to two different parishes and baronies, the church of Tonneins-Dessous (the lower one) was dedicated to Notre-Dame of Mercadieu, while that of Tonneins-Dessus was dedicated to Saint Peter.
The two towns suffered during the Hundred Years War and even more greatly during the religious wars. A refuge for the Protestants in the sixteenth century, they rapidly became an important centre and received Jeanne d’Albret and Henri de Navarre, the future Henri IV.

During the rebellions in the early seventeenth century, the rebellious character of the two Tonneins meant that they were razed by the royal armies in 1622. The only residence that was spared was the imposing ferryman’s house, that is still visible today from the banks of the Garonne. The two towns were gradually rebuilt by the inhabitants.

Toward the end of the seventeenth century a tax on coats of arms was created in order to finance work on Versailles Palace. Not having a coat of arms, the inhabitants of the two Tonneins were surprised to find themselves automatically allocated one. Disappointed with the arms that had been imposed on them, the Consuls of Lower Tonneins eventually opted for a lily leaf above two towers on an azure background, while Upper Tonneins chose three stars above a moon on a green background. The two coats of arms have since been combined into a single one.

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Tonneins - Manufacture royale à tabac

the start of the eighteenth century, the growing of hemp enabled numerous rope-making factories to become established, but it was the production of tobacco, that was widespread in the region from the end of the sixteenth century, which really flourished with the creation in 1721 of a royal factory. Built next to the river, it employed 1200 people and specialised in the production of snuff and chewing tobacco. The body of the main building still stands on the banks of the Garonne. The experienced workers, the quality of the soil in the alluvial plain and the advantage of a port on the Garonne, combined to make Tonneins famous for its production and it became known as the “tobacco town”.

Shortly after the revolution, the end of the Fermes Générales tax system resulted in the creation of five private factories. It was during this period that the two Tonneins became united in one commune which, under the Convention, took the name of Tonneins-la-Montagne for a while, before becoming simply “Tonneins” after 1795.

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Culture du tabac

In 1875, the reputation of Tonneins’ tobacco was such that the government of the time created an impressive factory with a production building that was 350 m long and 150m wide, and a separate wing for the management in a vast park.

But competition from light tobacco and the end of the monopoly on the manufacture of cigarettes in 1976 resulted in a slow decline of the production of the factory in Tonneins which finally closed in 2000. Today the substantial site is still waiting for a new purpose.

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Tonneins - Marché de l’été

There has recently been something of a rebirth in the production of tobacco and hemp, which is gradually developing. A dynamic, lively town, Tonneins hosts numerous activities throughout the year that include festivals and sports events.
The quays rise up twenty metres above the Garonne and stretch along the river for a considerable distance. Lined by former royal factory and the old wash house, they provide a pleasant walk that can be continued on the other bank by taking the bridge that was built at the beginning of the twentieth century.

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Tonneins - Les roches du Reculay

little cemetery of Saint Germain is located on this left bank, further upstream. The old gravestones recall the existence of the ancient Parish of Saint Germain de Rivière, created in the fifth century, whose church has unfortunately disappeared.
Further on, a beautiful picnic area provides an opportunity to explore the spectacular rocks of Reculay whose dark shape forms a barrier on the river bed. In the nineteenth century, a channel was dug in the left bank for a distance of 800 meters to enable transport boats to circumvent this insurmountable obstacle, which today provides a thrilling challenge for kayak enthusiasts

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Tonneins - Canoë sur la Garonne