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Things to See in the Languedoc:   The Canal du Midi or Canal des Deux Mers
( The Name in Occitan. Clich here to find out more about occitan.   Canal del Miègjorn / Canal de las Doas Mars )

The Canal du Midi is the oldest working canal in the world, a magnificent feat of seventeenth century engineering once used for commerce, now for leisure. You can travel along the 240 km of its length by barge, or walking or cycling along side it (and eating and drinking at various spots along it).  

In the Languedoc-Roussillon, it passes through the Aude département and the Hérault département. The Canal is a beautiful and tranquil waterway, connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, much admired by everyone who sees it. Those who know its history find it even more impressive.

Today, it is one of several World Heritage sites in the Languedoc. It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985, qualifying under four seperate crieria including the first, the category "... a masterpiece of human creative genius"

The Roman emperors Nero and Augustus had both thought about such a canal. So did Charlemagne, and the kings François I, Charles IX and Henri IV. The advantages of avoiding the sea voyage around Spain were considerable: a tenth of the distance, no storms, and no piracy.

 

Some French Canal Terminology

Ecluse - a lock

Rigole - a feeder channel that supplements the canal with water from a river or reservoir

Epanchoir - a spillway, usually controlled by sluices, that allows excess water in the canal to be run off.

Each ruler in turn commissioned a study, and some even started work, but none came anywhere near succeeding. Apart from anything else the canal would have to rise to almost 200 metres above sea level.

In the seventeenth century an exceptional man came up with another plan. He was Pierre-Paul Riquet, Baron de Bonrepos, a Royal Judge with the right to collect taxes in the Languedoc (outsourcing is not a new idea). Already almost 60 years old, Riquet persuaded King Louis XVI in 1663 that a canal to join the Atlantic to the Mediterranean Sea was technically feasible, using water feeds (rigoles) from the Montagne Noire. Work began in 1666 (the year of the Great Fire of London)

 
Canal du Midi, Herault, Languedoc, France
Canal du Midi, Herault, Languedoc, France Photographic Print
Wheeler, Nik
24 in. x 18 in.

 

Riquet's plan was to join the River Garonne to the Mediterranean. Since the Garonne flowed into the Atlantic, this meant that the ocean would be connected to the sea. The difficult part was the Languedoc, where countless obstacles stood in its path, calling for imaginative hydraulic solutions. The main part of the work was Toulouse to the Mediterranean coast. Work began on the Saint Férreol reservoir, the largest artificial reservoir in the world, near to where Pierre-Paul Riquet lived. Royal funds were slow to materialise, so Riquet himself financed this work and the first section (Toulouse-Trèbes),. The second (Trèbes to the Etang de Thau) was started in in June 1668. The third from the Etang de Thau to the Mediterranean included the building of the port of Sète, then a small fishing village called Cette).  

The whole project took 14 years. Pierre-Paul Riquet was a model employer, taking care of the health and well being of his 12,000 or so workers. The responsibility put a great strain on his health, and he died a few months before the canal was completed. He had used his own fortune, and dedicated his life to it. It was officially opened in 1681. The canal is 240 km long, 10 metres wide and two metres deep, displacing some 7 million cubic meters of earth and rock. It is a magnificent feat of engineering, with 328 locks, dams and other engineering marvels, still fed by a complicated system of feeder canals and reservoirs. The locks at Fonseranes are the most remarkable work of the whole canal: a succession of 7 locks allowing a descent of 21 metres. A little further along there is a bridge which allows the canal to flow over a river.

 
Drawing of the Lock at Negra on the Canal Du Midi
Drawing of the Lock at Negra on the
Canal Du Midi

Places on the Canal worth visiting include Fonseranes, Naurouze, Carcassonne, Homps, the Oppidum de Enserune, Ventenac en Minervois, Béziers and Sète. You can tack trips along it in boats and barges, or cycle along the towpath.

Originally the canal was called the Royal Canal in Languedoc, but that of course changed in 1789. The canal was extended in the nineteenth century to the River Rhône, which was connected to the Garonne by the Canal latéral à la Garonne. It is now possible to travel by canal between the Atlantic and Mediterranean just as Riquet planned.

Since the waterway consisted of two parts (the Canal du Midi and the Canal lateral to the Garonne) it was sometimes referred to in the plural as the Canaux du Midi. Later it was called the Canal d'Entre Deux Mers, and in recent times the Canal des Deux Mers.

The canal is the oldest functioning in Europe In December 1996, the canal was added to UNESCO's list of World Cultural Heritage Sites.

Pierre-Paul Riquet, Baron de Bonrepos, died before his dream was realised. There was just one mile to go. He is still remembered in the Languedoc with pride and affection.

A statue of him stands in Béziers where he was born, probably on the 29th of June 1604.  Another can be found in Toulouse where he died on the 1st October 1680.

 
Jean Baptiste Colbert Presents the Map of the Canal Du Languedoc to Louis XIV
Jean Baptiste Colbert Presents the Map of the Canal Du Languedoc to Louis XIV Giclee Print
Sergent-marceau,...

Canal du Midi as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Extracts from http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/770
Date of Inscription: 1996
N43 36 41 E1 24 59
Core zone: 1172 Ha, Buffer zone: 2014 Ha

Brief Description
This 360-km network of navigable waterways linking the Mediterranean and the Atlantic through 328 structures (locks, aqueducts, bridges, tunnels, etc.) is one of the most remarkable feats of civil engineering in modern times. Built between 1667 and 1694, it paved the way for the Industrial Revolution. The care that its creator, Pierre-Paul Riquet, took in the design and the way it blends with its surroundings turned a technical achievement into a work of art.

   

Justification for Inscription
The Committee decided to inscribe the nominated property on the basis of cultural criteria (i), (ii), (iv) and (vi) considering that the site is of outstanding universal value being one of the greatest engineering achievements of the Modern Age, providing the model for the flowering of technology that led directly to the Industrial Revolution and the modern technological age. Additionally, it combines with its technological innovation a concern for high aesthetic architectural and landscape design that has few parallels. The Committee endorsed the inscription of this property as the Canal du Midi clearly is an exceptional example of a designed landscape

 

Name of Lock /
Nom de l'écluse

stages / biefs
Average Altitude above sea level
Distance to next lock
Canal latéral de la Garonne
-
132 m 1.044 m
Béarnais
1
135 m 951 m
Minimes
1
139 m 1.260 m
Bayard
1
145 m 12.177 m
Castanet
1
148 m 1.705 m
Vic
1
151 m 7.495 m
Montgiscard
1
159 m 3.195 m
Ayguesvives
2
159 m 1.502 m
Sanglier
2
163 m 3.703 m
Négra
1
166 m 4.210 m
Laval
2
170 m 1.428 m
Gardouch
1
173 m 4.097 m
Renneville
1
176 m 2.843 m
Encassan
2
185 m 1.560 m
Emborrel
1
189 m 4.157 m
Océan
1
193 m 5.190 m
Méditerranée
1
193 m 789 m
Roc
2
189 m 1.271 m
Laurens
3
180 m 1.138 m
Domergue
1
175 m 1.233 m
La Planque
1
173 m 4.678 m
Saint-Roch
4
170 m 1.533 m
Gay
2
159 m 1.653 m
Vivier
3
154 m 418 m
Guillermin
1
147 m 583 m
Saint-Sernin
1
145 m 937 m
Guerre
1
141 m 1.094 m
Peyruque
1
139 m 498 m
La Criminelle
1
137 m 1.388 m
Tréboul
1
134 m 3.800 m
Villepinte
1
130 m 1.685 m
Sauzens
1
127 m 1.219 m
Bram
1
126 m 5.592 m
Béteille
1
123 m 7.471 m
Villesèquelande
1
122 m 4.740 m
Lalande
2
116 m 270 m
Herminis
1
114 m 1.376 m
La Douce
1
109 m 5.122 m
Carcassonne
1
106 m 2.874 m
Saint-Jean
1
102 m 763 m
Fresquel Double
2
97 m 105 m
Fresquel Simple
1
92 m 3.763 m
Évêque
1
91 m 750 m
Villedubert
1
86 m 4.641 m
Trèbes
3
84 m 9.210 m
Marseillette
1
79 m 3.308 m
Fonfile ou Rachin
3
76 m 1.242 m
Saint-Martin
2
67 m 1.763 m
L'Aiguille
2
59 m 3.039 m
Puichéric
2
57 m 6.313 m
Jouarres
1
49 m 3.688 m
Homps
1
46 m 688 m
Ognon
2
41 m 2.726 m
Pechlaurier
2
38 m 2.485 m
Argens
1
32 m 53.869 m
Fonserannes
6
32 m 1.500 m
River Orb
1
18 m 200 m
Béziers
1
12 m 4.100 m
Ariége
1
9 m 1.344 m
Villeneuve
1
6 m 4.466 m
Portiragnes
1
5 m 13.158 m
Agde
1
4 m 4.447 m
Bagnas
1
2 m 5.282 m
Débouché dans l'étang de Thau
-
0 m -

 

 

Canal du Midi Trivia

Thomas Jefferson visited France in 1789 to study the Canal du Midi, planning a similar canal linking the Potomac river with Lake Erie

Click on the following link for more on getting to the Languedoc by the French canal network

Click on the following link for more on canal holidays in the Languedoc

Click on the following link for more on Pierre-Paul Riquet

Click on the following link for more on other famous Languedoc people famous Languedoc people

 

 

Canal du Midi Photo Gallery

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External Links
   History of the canal's construction:   http://www.midicanal.fr/
  About the Canal du Midi:   http://www.canal-du-midi.org/english/rubriques/canal/m-histoire.htm
  Maps and Photographs of the Canal:  http://www.midicanal.com/canal/index.htm
 
Boat hire: http://www.midicanal.com/boathire/
  Travelogue - Moët & Chandon, a narrowboat on the Canal du Midi

 

 

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