It was in the XNUMXth century, during the reign of Louis XIV, that the « Royal Canal of Languedoc »Was invented, created and built by Pierre Paul RiquetLe Roi Soleil boasted about de boastr  this major work of art and Colbert  considered le Canal as a way of " trade at the service of the greatness of France »... Back on the formidable history of this work of genius!

1609 -1667 Feet

PIERRE-PAUL RIQUET: GREAT INVENTOR OF THE “CANAL DES DEUX MERS”

Pierre-Paul Riquet, baron of Bonrepos, born in 1609 in Béziers in the province of Languedoc (now Occitanie) and died on October 1, 1680 in Toulouse, is a general farmer of salt tax and entrepreneur. It was then that he embarked on the crazy project of building a waterway connecting the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.

In 1633, Pierre-Paul Riquet was 24 years old. Already, he is interested in the debate on the creation of a canal through Languedoc. The idea of ​​joining the Ocean Sea to the Mediterranean Sea gained ground and it was from his castle of Bonrepos that Riquet decided to write to Minister Colbert to present his project to him: " I am writing to you from this village (Bonrepos) about a Canal which could be made in this very province of Languedoc to connect the two seas. You will be surprised that that I undertake to tell you about something apparently I do not know and that a collector of salt tax mixes with levelling. But, you will forgive my enterprise when you know that it is on the order of Monseigneur the Archbishop of Toulouse that I write to you... ”

The project seduced the King, flatters his personality and convinced Colbert, then at the head of all the major ministries in charge of the administration and the economy of the kingdom. The canal will see the light of day but the funds will be those of Sieur Riquet! In 1666, Louis XIV signed "the Edict of construction for the canal of the Océane and Mediterranean seas". Work began in November 1667 and lasted 15 years.

 

Photo: Statue of Pierre-Paul Riquet in Béziers

1667 -1681 Feet

THE CONSTRUCTION PERIOD

The inventor is a genius. For 5 years, surrounded by experts, he studied the possibility of filling the canal with water before starting work ... because the most important difficulty is finding water! He will find her in the Black Mountain ...

In 1669, Pierre-Paul Riquet became the contractor for the building work of the Trèbes canal at the Etang de Thau as well as the construction of the port of This (Sète). The building sites progressed quickly and there could be up to 8 workers involved. And they were treated well by the entrepreneur: they were paid when they were sick and were paid on Sundays, even though it was a day of rest.

In 1672 the section between Toulouse and Naurouze was filled with water and a year later, the excavations of the canal from the Etang de Thau to Béziers were completed. The works of art could therefore be built.

1678 was the year that the construction of Fonséranes lock with eight lock chambers in Béziers began, probably the most majestic construction of the Canal du Midi. At the end of the following year, the last major project led by Pierre-Paul Riquet began: the Malpas tunnel which was completed in the summer of 1680. But that summer, Riquet fell seriously ill. He died on the 1ther October 1680 in Toulouse and was buried the next day in Saint-Etienne Cathedral. He would not see his canal in water which was between the 15 and 25 May, 1681. His eldest son, Jean-Mathias Riquet continued his work.

 

Illustration: Inauguration of the Canal du Midi in 1681

LATE XNUMXth century - LATE XNUMXth century

A CENTURY OF SPLENDOUR MARKED BY THE CONSTRUCTION OF MANY IMPROVEMENTS

Representatives of the King were satisfied by the inspections of 1683 and 1684. However, the canal quickly silted up and Riquet's heirs became crippled by debt because the taxes collected did not cover the maintenance costs.

It was in 1686 that Vauban intervened on the orders of Louis XIV. He recommends the construction of works in order to limit the problem. Between 1687 and 1694 are carried out, under the direction of Antoine de Niquet, 48 aqueducts and canal-bridge, the digging of counter-ditches. The water supply system is reinforced and the Saint-Ferréol dyke - the Canal's main supply basin - is raised; bringing the capacity to 6.3 million m3.

In 1694, the Royal Canal was considered finished. 12 women and men worked on the development of this remarkable project but the total cost of 000 million pounds (Contemporary value ≈ 17 €) will lead the Riquet heirs to temporarily sell shares of the canal property, which 'they will be able to buy back in 325 and thus retain their full control of the Canal.

The openings of Jonction canal and Robine canal were built between 1777 and 1782 and the construction of the "deviation" of the canal in Carcassonne between 1789 and 1810.

A program of planting trees, mainly mulberry trees, was introduced between 1725 and 1730. In 1765, they were replaced by poplars, a distinctive species.

 

Illustration: Sketch of the operation of the Fonserannes locks

FIRST HALF OF THE XNUMXTH CENTURY

THE COMPLETION OF THE CANAL DES DEUX MERS (CANAL OF TWO SEAS) TO THE ATLANTIC OCEAN

The troubled period of the French Revolution led to the confiscation of property belonging to the descendants of Riquet. The reason was simple: they belonged to nobility. The Canal became an estate management company and it was at this time that it took the name of "Canal du Midi". But the condition of the canal became worrying due to lack of maintenance and the worst was feared. Consequently, the "Cie du Midi" was created and Napoleon sold the shares of the State to this organization. The future of the Canal du Midi suddenly became a lot brighter.

In this first part of the 1825th century, there were three projectsthat paid tribute to the genius Riquet. The project of 189, introduced by the family,was chosen to honor the brilliant designer of the Canal du Midi: the obelisk of Naurouze (in Aude), the highest point of the Canal du Midi (standing at XNUMX meters).

During this period, the lateral canal to the Garonne, connecting Toulouse to Castets-en-Dorthe (Gironde) near Bordeaux was also built, as an extension to the Canal du Midi, which connects Toulouse to the Mediterranean. Together, this forms theCanal des Deux-Mers between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean. It was officially inaugurated in 1856.

 

Illustration: Personification of the connection of the two seas - Galerie des Glaces, Versailles

Nineteenth century

THE TOUGH COMPETITION FROM THE RAILWAY

Works such as those of Libron and the canal bridge in Béziers were built between 1854 and 1857 and it was in July 1858 that the Cie des Chemins de Fer du Midi took over the entire management of the Canal du Midi. The objective was clear: "get rid" of a competitor. It was therefore in an atmosphere of mistrust that the shareholders of the Cie du Midi were obliged to transfer the management of the construction to the Cie de Chemins de Fer du Midi, in the form of leasing and for a period of 40 years. Quite logically, goods and passengers would from then on be transported by train and no longer on the Canal du Midi.

During this period (from 1850 to 1880) the vegetation was renewed and plane trees were planted along the waterway.

In 1897, a law allowed the State to buy back the canal for 40 million francs (current equivalent of around 95 million euros).

Félix Faure, President of the French Republic, gave the State the possibility to manage the network, by using the "Service des Canaux du Midi". There was a particularly significant event at that time: the abolition of the toll. Boats were from then on granted free movement along the canal.

 

Illustration: The Midi railway line, from Bordeaux to Cette (Sète)

TWENTIETH CENTURY

RIVER TOURISM, VNF AND UNESCO ...

A century later, in 1991, the public establishment Voies Navigables de France (VNF) was created and took charge of the operation, maintenance and upgrading of most of the national network, representing a total of approximately 6 kilometers.

In the 7th century, the canal was classified as Historical Monument by a number of organisations. But the UNESCO classification was the most well-known worldwide because it represented the recognition of the exceptional quality of the construction and its universal value. The Canal du Midi was listed on the prestigious World Heritage List on December 1996, 1930. The French State listed its channels as "Sites de France", protected by the law of XNUMX.

 

Photo: Pleasure-boating on the Canal du Midi

Since its creation, the Canal du Midi has therefore experienced very prosperous periods, as well as more troubled ones, prone to doubt and worries about its future ... Butcthanks to the splendour of this work of art, and sewhat it brings to the landscape, it must be de protected and local players are doing everything they can to ensure its protection. The Grand Site de France labeling procedure - currently underway between Capestang and Béziers - is an example, as is the plan to draw up a global management plan undertaken by the State…

Because there is a lot at stake: it is about protecting an important part of our history and our heritage so that it continues to be a place of life, meetings, exchanges... and wonder!