he Canal du Midi (Occitan: Canal de las Doas Mars, meaning canal of the two seas) is a 241 km (150 mi) long canal in Southern France (French: le Midi). It was originally named the Canal royal en Languedoc (Royal Canal in Languedoc) but the French revolutionaries renamed it to Canal du Midi in 1789. It was considered at the time to be one of the greatest construction works of the 17th century.
The canal connects the Garonne River to the Étang de Thau on the Mediterranean and along with the 193 km (120 mi) 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 near the Mediterranean.
Strictly speaking, the Canal du Midi means that part initially built from Toulouse to the Mediterranean — the Deux-Mers canal project aimed to link together several sections of navigable waterways to join the Mediterranean and the Atlantic: first the Canal du Midi, then the Garonne which was more or less navigable between Toulouse and Bordeaux, then the Garonne Lateral Canal built later, and finally the Gironde estuary after Bordeaux.
It was the wheat trade that motivated the construction of the canal. Colbert authorized the commencement of work by a royal edict of October 1666. Under the supervision of Pierre-Paul Riquet the construction took from 1666 to 1681 during the reign of Louis XIV. The Canal du Midi is one of the oldest canals of Europe still in operation (the prototype being the Briare Canal). The challenges in these works are closely related to the challenges of river transport in modern times. The key challenge, raised by Pierre-Paul Riquet, was to convey water from the Montagne Noire (Black Mountains) to the Seuil de Naurouze, the highest point of the canal.
It was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
A Canal for Tourism and Recreation:
The Canal du Midi is now used primarily by tourists, recreation, and housing.
It attracts more and more river tourism, sailing on chartered boats, restaurant-boats, or hotel barges such as the Anjodi. This tourism has grown from the 1960s under the leadership of the British then exploded in the 1980s. The canal was featured prominently in the BBC television series Rick Stein's French Odyssey (2005), further publicising the canal to a British audience. Busier than the Seine it alone accounts for one fifth of French river tourism and 80% of passengers are foreigners - mainly Germans, Swiss and British. There are approximately 10,000 boat passages per year through the Fonséranes locks, the peak attendance being at the Argens lock with 11,000 boats carrying an average of five passengers. The canal employs directly about 1,900 people. The annual economic impact due to the activity of the canal is about 122 million euros.
Its navigation is open from the third Saturday in March to the first week of November. Outside this period, navigation can be authorized for individuals who have requested it. The winter period is called the "period of unemployment" and allows the completion of all maintenance work.
The Canal du Midi also allows other sports, mainly in urban areas, such as rowing, canoeing, fishing, cycling, roller-skating, and hiking along the banks. A paved stretch of 50 km from Toulouse to Avignonet-Lauragais and another 12 km between Béziers and Portiragnes are particularly suited to cycling and rollerblading. It is possible to cycle the entire Canal des Deux Mers from Sète to Bordeaux. In addition many barges have been converted to family housing, theatres, exhibition spaces, and restaurants.