May 21, 2024

The Engineering Marvel Of The Canal Du Midi

The Canal du Midi, in the south of France, is the world’s oldest working canal and it is a true feat of 17th century engineering. In 1985, it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list qualifying under four separate criteria including the category, “… a masterpiece of human creative genius.” Once used for strictly for commerce, the 240 km body of water now focuses on the finer things in life, including barge holidays. France is bursting with historical monuments and sites and while cruising down the spectacular Canal du Midi you will be enjoying one that is right under your feet.

Early Stages of the Canal

Roman emperors Nero and Augustus dreamt of a canal that would allow ships to avoid the sea voyage around Spain. Over time, Charlemagne and the kings Francois I, Charles IX and Henry IV expressed the same desire. Each ruler commissioned a study to determine how to turn the dream into reality, but they all fell short. It was determined that the canal would need to rise almost 200 metres above sea level, which was said to be impossible.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

In the 17th century, Pierre-Paul Riquet, a royal judge, persuaded King Louis XVI that a canal to join the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea was technically feasible using water feeds from the Montagne Noire. Riquet’s plan was to join the River Garonne to the Mediterranean, which meant that the ocean would be connected to the sea. Imaginative hydraulic solutions had to come into play when dealing with the Languedoc as countless obstacles stood in its path.

If you would like further insight in terms of logistics be sure to ask a crew member on your barge holidays. France takes tremendous pride in the Canal du Midi and finding someone to go into detail about its creation will be a simple task – especially if they have a vested interest.

How the Project Came Together

The majority of the work took place from Toulouse, a city in southwest France, to the Mediterranean coast. Work began on the Saint Ferreal reservoir, the largest artificial reservoir in the world. Riquet himself funded a great majority of the first section of the feat and the whole project took fourteen years.

A model employer, Riquet cared greatly for the well-being of the more than 12,000 people working on the canal. While his employees were in great condition, Riquet’s health began to deteriorate as the project continued. Unfortunately, a few short months before the canal’s completion, he passed away. Having given his fortune and dedicated his life to the canal, it was a true shame that he never saw the completion of his vision.

Now used primarily for barge holidays, France owes a huge debt to Riquet’s accomplishment. It took a huge and far-reaching vision to bring to fruition the 240 km long, ten metre wide and two metre deep canal. With 328 locks, numerous dams, and other engineering marvels that are still fed by a complex system of feeder canals and reservoirs, this is a truly phenomenal achievement.