A closer look at the astonishing history of the Canal du Midi


Quite simply, you cannot pass up the chance to visit the Canal when you are on holiday in this part of Languedoc. It connects the Garonne River with the Etang de Thau on the Mediterranean, combining with the Canal de Garonne to form the Canal des Deux Mers, which joins the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.

Whether one stands at the Toulouse or Sete ends of the Canal du Midi, no one can deny that it is an astonishing sight. With the structure widely declared a jaw-dropping feat of engineering at the time of its 17th century construction, UNESCO certainly agreed in inscribing it as a World Heritage Site in 1996.

Talk of a possible waterway bringing together the Atlantic and the Mediterranean had been voiced by the Romans as well as Charlemagne, but it was Pierre-Paul Riquet, a tax inspector for Louis XIV, who finally oversaw its construction.  In designing and building this stellar waterway, Riquet was well-served by his in-depth knowledge of the rivers of southwestern France, especially the springs of Montage Noire (Black Mountains).

Construction of the structural and hydraulic engineering masterpiece began in 1667, involved some 12,000 labourers and culminated in its official opening as the Canal Royal de Languedoc on May 15, 1681 – Riquet having passed away just months earlier. The completion of work enabled the Canal du Midi to serve its principal function of the transportation of wheat, wine and textiles from Nimes.

It took another two centuries, however, for the Canal to become a link to the Atlantic as Riquet had dreamed, when the connection was made to the Canal du Garonne. The Revolution saw a switch to its present name, and although a million passengers and 111,000 metric tonnes of cargo were being carried on the Canal each year by 1856, the following year saw the opening of the Bordeaux to Sete railway, which saw a drastic drop in commerce.

British barge tourism powered a resurgence of activity on the Canal in the early 1990s, and that’s no wonder – after all, the sheer beauty of this structure is more than apparent to anyone who pays it a visit from well-appointed Canal du Midi accommodation like La Souqueto.

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