The Canal du Midi (Occitan: Canal de las Doas Mars, meaning canal of the two seas) is a 240 km (150 mi) long canal in Southern France (French: le Midi). The canal connects the Garonne River to the Étang de Thau on the Mediterranean and along with the 193 km long Canal de Garonne forms the Canal des Deux Mers joining the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. The canal runs from the city of Toulouse down to the Étang de Thau. The Canal du Midi was built by Pierre-Paul Riquet. It was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
The Canal du Midi was built to serve as 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 took a full month to complete. Its strategic value was obvious and it had been discussed for centuries, in particular when King Francis I brought Leonardo da Vinci to France in 1516 and commissioned a survey of a route from the Garonne at Toulouse to the Aude at Carcassonne. The major problem was how to supply the summit sections with enough water.
The canal was built on a grand scale, with oval shaped locks 30.5 m (100 ft) long, 6 m (20 ft) wide at the gates and 11 m (36 ft) wide in the middle. This design was intended to resist the collapse of the walls that happened early in the project. The oval locks used the strength of the arch against the inward pressure of the surrounding soil that had destabilized the early locks with straight walls. Such arches had been used by the Romans for retaining walls in Gaul, so this technique was not new, but its application to locks was revolutionary and was imitated in early American canals.
Many of the structures were designed with neoclassical elements to further and to echo the king's ambitions to make France a New Rome. The Canal du Midi as a grand piece of infrastructural engineering in itself was promoted as worthy of Rome and the political dreams behind it were clarified with plaques in Latin, and walls built with Roman features. The Canal du Midi was opened officially as the Canal Royal de Languedoc on May 15, 1681. It was also referred to as the Canal des Deux Mers (Canal of Two Seas).
It eventually cost over 15 million livres, of which nearly two million came from Riquet himself, leaving him with huge debts, and he died in 1680, just months before the Canal was opened. His sons inherited the canal, but the family's investments were not recovered and debts not fully paid until over 100 years later. The canal was well managed and run as a paternalistic enterprise until the revolution.
Characteristics Of The Canal
The 240 km long Canal has 91 locks which serve to ascend and descend a total of 190 metres (620 ft). It has 328 structures, including bridges, dams and a tunnel. There are now over 40 aqueducts, but when created by Riquet, there were only three, the Répudre Aqueduct, Aiguille Aqueduct and Jouarres Aqueduct. To cross the other streams, the streams were dammed below the canal and the boats crossed on the rivers themselves. From 1683 to 1693, Vauban improved the canal adding drainage ditches and over 40 aqueducts. Among the most important were the Orbiel Aqueduct and Cesse Aqueducts. The Orb Aqueduct was finished in 1858 and finally, the Herbettes Aqueduct in 1983.
Now the Canal has become a tourist attraction and place for leisure activities, with many people rowing, canoeing, fishing or even cruising on luxury hotel barges such as the Anjodi. The canal's beauty is enhanced by rows of stately Plane trees that line each side. The 42,000 trees, which date from the 1830s, were planted to stabilize the banks. In 2006 a wilt infection was discovered that is killing the trees. About 2,500 had been destroyed by mid-2011, at which time it was projected that all would need to be destroyed and replaced in 20 years.