Canal du Midi
The Canal du Midi is a 240 km long canal that in its time (late 17th century) was a great engineering achievement. It is one of the technologically most significant canals in the world: it uses lock staircases, reservoirs, aqueducts, dams, bridges, and tunnels. The largest work on the canal is the dam of Saint-Ferréol
The canal is located in the south of France, connecting the Garonne River at Toulouse to the Étang de Thau on the Mediterranean. Four adjoining channels are also included.
The original purpose of the Canal du Midi was to be a shortcut between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, avoiding the long sea voyage around hostile Spain, Barbary pirates, and a trip that in the 17th century required a full month of sailing.
Pierre-Paul Riquet designed the canal with monumental grandeur, displaying the power of 17th century France. The surrounding landscape was also taken into account: the canal was framed by trees and plantations.
Visit April 2013
How to "visit" this Canal, that stretches for over 240km and is visible right from the highway a number of times? I decided to have a closer look at two separate places: Castelnaudary and Toulouse.
Castelnaudary is a small town with a large manmade lake, the Grand Bassin. This is the largest open body of water within the canal, and also the site where its official opening took place. It is pretty underwhelming nowadays, just a little harbour with small private boats and swans.
In Toulouse I was staying near Canal de Brienne, one of the side canals that is also included. Early Sunday morning I walked on the towpath along that Canal until it joins the Canal du Midi. It's a pleasant and quiet route, mainly used by joggers and people walking their dogs nowadays. Just as at Castelnaudary, there's not a lot to see except for the straight canal and the trees closing it in on both sides.
More photos can be found in the Picture Gallery
|KEITH SANDERS (FRANCE):|
We travelled by boat from Castelnaudary to Toulouse. This took us past the summit of the Canal du Midi. An overnight stay here combined with more extensive research enabled us to marvel at the ingenuity which had been used to ‘harvest’ the water required to service the canal. The building of two dams, the diversion of rivers from the distant Montagne Noire and extensive feeder canals, at one time navigable up to Revel was awe inspiring.. When one looks at the contemporary history of France with conflict both local and international, it is a wonder that the canal was built at all. That over 12,000 men and women were employed on the job and that the driving force Pierre Paul Riquet was 60 when he embarked on the enterprise makes this feat of engineering border on the miraculous. Of course it helped having Colbert and Louis XIV as allies.
As to the journey itself, the endless avenues of Plane trees can become a little tedious, especially as, from a boat, the high banks either side of the canal limit the view of some pretty unexciting countryside. But the frequently encountered locks and their settings, the little villages and canal side houses more than compensate.
The early morning run into Toulouse itself, involving an aqueduct passing over a dual carriageway jammed with commuter traffic, was exciting. The canal passes through the centre of Toulouse and the contrast between one’s tranquil progress on the canal and the seething bank-side traffic of the town is quietly satiisfying.
The canal’s true flavour can only be obtained by a leisurely boat voyage along a marvel of engineering which has been in constant use for 327 years. For those interested in reading more about the canal I would recommend a book entitled ‘From Sea to Sea’ by the champion of British Inland Waterways, L.T.C.Rolt.
|David Berlanda (Italy / Czech Republic):|
In our trip to France we have seen the Canal du Midi, built between 1667 and 1694, that is 240 km long (360 km with his four lateral canals) and in average 18 m large and goes from the Étang de Thau on the Mediterranean coast to Toulouse, where flows into the Garonne, that goes to the Atlantic: it links the two seas and has 328 structures (locks, lifts, aqueducts, spillways, bridges, tunnels). Its architect Pierre-Paul-Riquet was a tax collector from Béziers and presented his project to the minister Colbert and to the Versailles court: only the king Louis XIV believed in him because he thought that it was the ideal connection between the port of Séte, that was under construction, and the ocean. 12000 men worked here and Riquet became its architect and had to have many capacities. When money didn’t arrive from the court (the project cost 15 million libras) he had to spent his; he died before the canal was finished. He was conscious that he was creating a symbol of the power beyond a functional communication wateway: he ensured the quality of the architecture and the works were designed with monumental dignity and simplicity. He was also very conscious of the impact of the canal to the landscape, so he planted trees and plantations along it. We have seen the beautiful canal at Fonséranes, near Béziers, where are nine lifts that go over 25 m and are 315 m long, a port and a bridge, that makes the canal cross the river Orb.
I liked very much the lifts and the bridge because of the quality of the architecture and their working, that I have admired when a boat passed them. It's worth to be visited if you are in the Midi-Pirénées and justifies the incription also because it's the most interesting canal in the world and the only one inscribed.
Photo: Béziers - Lifts of Fonséranes on the Canal du Midi
| Date posted: February 2006|
|roger marz (Ubited States- Michigan):|
Three of us were on the canal for a week from corbieres to trebes and back with a side excursion by bus to medieval carcassonne. A wonderful trip. Everyt curve in the canal opens a new vista, I draw and paint , filled two sketchbooks and feel the need to return to pick up what i missed. We docked at towns like capestaing and trebes for the night and picked up bread and croissants each day after 7 am when the bakeries opened. Wine , cheese and bread while underway and then to a new village and a restaurant for dinner. All the meals were good. all the people we met were nice and nothing was crowded in mid May.
| Date posted: September 2005|
|Ren (The Netherlands):|
The Canal du Midi is truly magnificent. From the standpoint 17th century engineering, doubtless it must have been regarded then as a miracle. Personally, I think it still is. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the Canal du Midi three times, although I have never been able to navigate the Canal by boat. A shame.
The surrounding countryside is beautiful, with everything Mother Nature has to offer. Vineyards, the beautiful old trees, which are so typical for France. And please, dot't forget, the Languedoc has a very interesting 2000 year old history. You can feel it. And for me as a Northern European, it is very nice to see that life has a different pace along the banks of the Canal. So, visit the Canal du Midi and the Aude region, enjoy it. You will. Oh, and it does smell so nice over there.
In for a laugh? Visit the nine locks of Fonsérannes. The skippers of the rental boats will make it worth your while, mostly not being hampered by any knowledge of seamanship and line handling.
The Canal du Midi is rightly on the list of UNESCO World Heritage. The French can be proud.
Little tip for visitors in the neighbourhood of Bezier: a bit to the west lies the village of Nissan, close to the Canal du Midi. You might as well take a look at the Opidum d'Enserun. See for yourself, because it is hard to describe, but I am sure you will be astounded.
|Maureen Dickson (United Kingdom):|
We were a party of four adults, novices at boating, and one of us (me) didn't like boats or water! We had a marvellous week and I would recommend it to anyone. We decided on the Mediterranean route as this involved less locks (cowards!) but it was what we needed - a leisurely week to appreciate the waterways, food and wine and great weather. We started at Beziers with the plan to reach Aigues Mortes and return - we eventually reached Carnon! Probably because we stayed two nights at Marseillan - a lovely village with really nice restaurants. You need to be aware about lock procedures and also that the bridge at Frontignan only opens three times a day so you need to plan your arrival time to coincide with these openings. For anyone who is not sure whether they can cope with locks, try this route - only 14 to navigate and it's good fun.
I would definitely recommend visiting this canal if you are ever in the Aude region. The locks are fun to see operated and the trees are magnificent. It's amazing to know how old it is. Words really don't do it justice, if you want information on its history, I would recommend searching the web - it won't take that long. I enjoyed a peaceful day up on the top of my family's rented boat. Just don't forget to wear sunscreen. :-D
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