The Canal du Midi and the round lock
The Canal Royal du Languedoc : a monumental labour, a construction that is unique in the world !
Since 1997, the Canal du Midi is classed as World Heritage by the UNESCO. It is a testimony of XVIIth-century France's ingenuity and spirit of enterprise.
The Canal du Midi is the work of Baron Pierre-Paul Riquet, a French engineer born in Béziers who devoted his fortune and his career to the construction of this workpiece. His intention was to dig a channel that would join the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, so that it would be possible for trade ships to avoid the costly and dangerous Strait of Gibraltar. In 1966, after six years of fierce struggle against general scepticism about the project, Louis XIV finally signed the Royal Edict that gave Pierre-Paul Riquet the permission to start the construction of this waterway.
Its achievement was an incredible feat. The main obstacle was the shortage of water on the Mediterranean slope : Pierre-Paul Riquet had the genius idea to capture the water of the rivers that spring near the line of waterparting but flow towards the Atlantic, and, by means of an unprecedented system of underground gutters and storage lakes, to divert this water to the boundary line from where it can feed both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic side.
After the Revolution, the channel was renamed the Canal du Midi. The digging of the "Canal du Rhône à Sète" in 1829 and the "Canal latéral à la Garonne" in 1856 finally connected the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.
Today, the two main activities of the channel are river tourism and irrigation (300 million m3/year).
The round lock
lock is the only round lock on the canal. Original size: 29.20 m in diameter, 5.20 m deep.
Built in 1676 of volcanic stone, it is an architectural and technical triumph as it has to cope with three different water levels and allows boats to turn right round on themselves in order to take one of the three outlets leading to Béziers (and on to Toulouse), the Etang de Thau via the River Hérault and the town of Agde via the ?Canalet?, which flows through the Belle-Isle plain and has been the link between the Canal du Midi and the Hérault for the last 300 years.
The canal du Midi in present-day Agde
is the last stop on the channel before reaching the Etang de Thau and Sète. It's not only a stopping-place, with its inland harbour where still stands the old "Hôtel de l'Administration du Canal", but also a starting point for many cruises : self drive boat hire, mini-cruises on passenger boats, organised to the Etang de Thau or Béziers (half day or full day), to reach a timeless world of green and restful landscapes.
The river port on the canal
The port was created on a broadening of the canal just before the lock and, in the 17th Century, was given the loveliest building ever built on the canal: The Canal Administration House.
It was once made up of other buildings that are now closed: stables, shops, guardhouse and one of the 5 chapels found along the Canal du Midi, where a chaplain was allocated, paid by the Canal.
River tourism professionals : have a look in the directory.
The yachting on the Canal du Midi
With surprising ease, navigation on the channel is restricted to 6/8 kms/h, to prevent damaging of the riversides.
No need for a permit to pilot a boat : the professional who puts it at your disposal will teach you the basic skills (mooring, passing through locks)
Navigation is only limited by the opening times of the locks. Apart from that, you can navigate freely, but there is a break of a few weeks in winter.
Ask for details at Voies Navigables de France : www.vnf.fr
The banks of the Canal du Midi with bike or in ride
Moreover, the restful and shady tow-path upstream and downstream of the harbour is much favoured by walkers, cyclists and anglers alike
Cruise ships travel at the pace of improvised stops that will show you the region's heritage : environment, villages, traditions and local produce...
The Canal du Midi in figures
- A total of 240 kms of channel was digged between Toulouse and Sète, moving 7 million cubic metres of earth and rock
- 12.000 workers, of whom 600 were women, took part in the construction
- 328 constructional works were built (bridges, dams, locks, aqueducts, tunnels?)
- 450.000 plane-trees and cypress trees were planted along the tow-paths
- The works took 15 years to complete, from 1666 to 1681 ! But Pierre-Paul Riquet never witnessed the inauguration of his masterpiece, because he passed away a few months too soon
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