History of the Canal du Midi:
It was the vision of Pierre-Paul Riquet to connect the Atlantic to the Mediterranean by a canal. It would allow the safe passage of goods and services avoiding the long and dangerous route via the Straits of Gibraltar. This vision was presented to Colbert, Minister of the King of France in 1660.
It took Riquet 6 years of arguing with skeptics and adversaries to finally convince Colbert, the most powerful man in the country. On the advice of his Minister, Louis XIV ordered the construction of the Royal Canal of Languedoc, which, subsequently, under the French Revolution, became the "Canal du Midi".
At 60 and extremely wealthy, Pierre-Paul Riquet embarked on the greatest adventure of his life. Concurrent to the digging of the canal, Riquet designed a water collection system in the Black Mountains. He built the reserve of Saint-Ferréol to store the water. Lateral canals brought the water to the summit of Naurouze thereby feeding the canal in two directions; to the Mediterranean in the East, and to the Atlantic in the West.
Tragically, Riquet died in 1680, a ruined man, unable to see the fulfillment of his dream; a few months later, the canal opened.
With the completion of the "Canal du Rhône à Sète" in 1829, and the "Canal Latéral à la Garonne" in 1856, the waterway at last connected the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean.
The Canal du Midi represents a huge undertaking for the 17th century: 15 years of work, 12 000 workmen including 600 women, 328 structures (bridges, quays, locks, aqueducts, tunnels...), 45 000 plane trees and cypresses planted along the banks.
On the whole, 240 km were dug by shovel and pickaxe between the cities of Toulouse and Sète.
There are two principal uses of the Canal today: irrigation and tourism. The canal irrigates 300 million square meters per year. River tourism sees on average 400 boats hired which translates into approx 8200 passages listed at the locks of Fonseranes. Boat traffic on the Canal continues to grow, and offers a perfect alternative way for visitors to see the countryside.
Some significant Dates:
- 1667: first stone laid
- October 1, 1680: death of Pierre-Paul Riquet in Toulouse
- May 24, 1681: official inauguration of the Royal Canal of Languedoc
- October 1996: designation of the locks of Fonseranes as a Heritage site
- December 1996 : The Canal du Midi is classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO
- April 1997: The Government of France classifies the Canal du Midi as a protected Site.
- May 2008: the Exclusive Hotel Barge Alegria is launched!!