The Canal du Midi, 240 km of navigable waterways!
The mild climate of the Languedoc enables year-round navigation of the canals; however the opening times of the locks must be taken into account.
The 240 km long navigable waterways of the Canal du Midi, once known as the "Royal Canal", stretch across the Languedoc plain. This is the most significant work of civil engineering ever to have been undertaken in the Languedoc. It has contributed to the economic development of an entire province as it provides a means of transporting grain, wine, oil, fruit, cloth, and construction materials, among other products. Generations of people had dreamed of linking the Atlantic with the Mediterranean. It wasn't until the spring of 1681 that this dream came true, thanks to the determination and the genius of Pierre Paul Riquet, a native of the region... This undertaking would have been impossible without this man's imagination, resolve and energy. The obstinacy of the minister Colbert and the intelligence of the Chevalier de Clerville brought him even more support. His brilliant idea was quite simply to supply the future canal with water from the streams on the Montagne Noire (Black Mountain). With great determination, he was able to get the necessary authorization and financing to put his great plan into action. Thanks to the support of the Archbishop of Toulouse, who was convinced of the feasibility of his project, Riquet obtained backing from Colbert, and in October 1666, an edict from Louis XIV ordered the construction of the canal for navigation and communication between the two seas: the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean. Riquet then invested all of his personal fortune in the project and took on responsibility for the work. In exchange, the canal became his for life. His heirs were thereby able to appropriate the canal and make a fortune off of it. Construction was completed in record time. For fourteen years, heading a an "army" of 12,000 workers, men and women alike, Riquet built the astounding Saint Ferréol reservoir, and overcame all obstacles by building 328 structures such as locks (including the 8 successive Fonsérannes locks near Béziers to compensate for the 21.5m difference in water level), bridges (one of the oldest is the Pont du Somail), aqueducts, tunnels (such as the Malpas tunnel beneath the oppidum of Ensérune), etc. The responsibility put a great strain on Riquet's health and he died, exhausted, on 1 October 1680, six months before the official inauguration of the navigable canal linking Toulouse and Sète. His work was to be completed during the centuries that followed, thanks to the works of Vauban in the late 17th century with the Cammazes Gap, in the 18th century by the Canal de Jonction et de la Robine that links Narbonne and Port la Nouvelle, and in the 19th century by the construction of the canal alongside the Garonne River which links Toulouse with Bordeaux, for a total of 450 km of navigable waterways between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. During the French Revolution of 1789, the Royal Canal's name was changed to "Canal de Midi", which was deemed to be more democratic.