The artificial waterway, built in record time in the 17th century, connects the Atlantic with the Mediterranean. It is around 240 km long and leads from the Garonne near Toulouse through Carcassonne and Béziers to Agde and ends at the Étang de Thau. The channel is a technical masterpiece of absolutism. The world heritage also includes 328 buildings such as bridges, locks, tunnels and aqueducts.
Canal du Midi: facts
|Official title:||Canal du Midi|
|Cultural monument:||a 240 km long, 2.25 to 2.50 m deep waterway as a “bridge link” between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic with 328 structures such as bridges – such as the canal bridge over the orb locks – such as the 7 lock cascades of Fonserrannes – and tunnels, Aqueducts; 49 canal tours over streams and rivers|
|Location:||from Port de L’Embouchure (Toulouse) to Port des Onglous (Etang de Thau)|
|Meaning:||a mercantilist artery on the way to the industrial revolution|
Canal du Midi: history
|1609-80||Pierre-Paul Riquet, general contractor for the construction of the Canal du Midi|
|1663 and 1664||Proposals for the construction of the Canal du Midi to the King’s Advisory Committee|
|November 1664||Preparatory work for the canal construction with route measurement for drainage canals on the flanks of the Montagne Noire|
|1667||Start of construction on the Canal du Midi|
|1676, 1679 and 1682||Regulations on compulsory clamping services for car owners in Languedoc|
|1686||Commissioned by the fortress builder Louis XIV, Sébastien le Prestre de Vauban (1633-1707), for drafts of 49 overpasses of the canal over rivers and streams|
|1687||Drainage of the sewer|
|1688/89||Ordinances on the placement of sewer workers from the neighboring communities|
|1694||Completion of the structures planned by Vauban|
|1858||Construction of the Orb flyover|
Sinfully expensive investment not far from the “Mountain of the Blessed”
The world could end at the Négra lock. The “Autoroute des deux mers” is noisy only a kilometer away, but tranquil country life nestles here between forest and meadows, and the buildings of the tiny hamlet are reflected on the Canal du Midi.
This canal runs through the Mulde of Toulouse, known from ancient times as the “Lauragais”, “Land of Laurel”, which lies between the French massif Central and the Pyrenees. Not far from the highest point in this region, also known as the “land between the two seas”, is the fortress village of Montferrand. Its city gate and massive defensive walls rise on relics of the ancient street station “Elusiodunum”, “Mountain of the Blessed”, located on an ancient trade route. Because of the high road tariffs, the place was considered a sinfully expensive pavement; For example, wine merchants had to pay a fee of six dinars for each amphora. No wonder that the Romans had already examined the possibilities of building a shipping canal from the Mediterranean to the Bay of Biscay.
In the district of Montferrand, the Canal du Midi crosses the 194 meter high watershed between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. Streams from the nearby “Black Mountains” – Montagne Noire – feed a ring-shaped reservoir on this “Threshold of Naurouze”, which towards both seas – from the apex of the canal – ensures that it is permanently replenished. This Naurouze reservoir with its historic pumping stations at the tributaries and drainage ditches is still a functional technical area monument above the “ocean lock” near Montferrand. A memorial commemorates the brilliant Pierre-Paul Riquet, the “spiritual father” of the canal. He had noticed that the Montagne Noire ran approximately half east to the Mediterranean Sea and half west to the Atlantic Ocean. Since he could calculate the possibility of a permanent water supply, he made a draft for the canal construction, through which he could win the Bishop of Toulouse for his project. He obtained the building permit from the French Minister for Economic Affairs and Finance, Jean-Baptiste Colbert. For his part, King Louis XIV supported the builder Riquet by paying him the taxes on his fiefdoms, through which the canal would flow, as well as the salt tax in the same areas.
According to homosociety, thousands of workers toiled for decades until the gigantic project was completed. After the mountain cuts and the excavation for the canal bed followed the construction of those 64 oval locks and almost a hundred bridges, all of which have remained practically unchanged in use to this day. Riquet, who had invested and used up all his fortune, did not see the inauguration of the canal. But his work prospered excellently, because the inland waterway shortened and cheaper the shipping traffic from coast to coast that had previously been routed around the Iberian Peninsula. Riquet’s heirs earned huge sums of money from shipping tariffs on the Canal du Midi, and it was not until 1792 that the revolutionary regime stripped them of their inheritance rights.
A few years later, Napoleon founded the “Compagnie du Midi” and declared the canal a state property, so that the immense income could be donated directly to the republic. In 1856, at the height of a temporary economic boom, nearly 100,000 passengers and 110 million tons of cargo were carried across the canal. Today recreational boaters move from one lock to the next. The tourism industry has discovered the area and also advertises with beautiful bike tours along the canal.
The canal realized by the “southern French Moses” was still considered the world’s greatest “technological miracle” until the middle of the 19th century, connecting the Mediterranean with the Atlantic via the Garonne. After that, it was too shallow for the larger ships, and rail transport was cheaper.