Canal du Midi, Toulouse
When you come out of the Toulouse-Matabiau railway station, the first thing you see is the Canal du Midi – unless you just cross the bridge without even noticing it.
By today’s standards, the Canal du Midi (Canal of the South) does not look particularly monumental, in fact it looks downright narrow and impractical, but when it was built in the seventeenth century it was a huge project that had a great impact on trade and the economy throughout the South of France.
Ten to twelve thousand workers toiled for nearly two decades to construct this 240-kilometer canal joining the Garonne River at Toulouse with the Thau Lagoon near Sète, thus creating a waterway from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. The canal was officially opened in 1681, but was soon closed and emptied of its water so more work could be done. In 1683 it was again filled with water and re-opened for barge traffic.
When Sebastian le Prestre de Vauban first saw the Canal du Midi in 1684, he called it “without a doubt the most beautiful and the most noble work of its kind ever undertaken” (sans contredit le plus beau et le plus noble ouvrage de cette espèce jamais entrepris).
Since Vauban was Louis XIV’s Commissioner General of Fortifications, he was not usually involved in civilian engineering projects, but the Canal du Midi was one of the two big exceptions to this. (The other was the Aqueduct of Maintenon, which he disapproved of but had to work on anyway.)
Although he had not taken part in the original construction of the Canal du Midi, Vauban was called in to advise on how to keep the canal from silting up and running out of water. In 1685 he wrote a report recommending changes in the route of the canal. In 1686 he visited the canal again and wrote a memorandum for the king which resulted in additional funding. Between 1686 and 1689 he designed further improvements such as a tunnel to bring in additional water.
According to the website www.canaldumidi.com, Vauban was “preoccupied with the necessity of isolating the canal from the streams which crossed it, to keep the canal from silting up. He also constructed an entire system of drainage to prevent storm water from discharging uncontrollably into the bays of the canal.”
Fifth photo: This sign by the canal reads: “Formerly the Royal Canal of Languedoc, the Canal du Midi was finally opened in 1681. It includes six locks in Toulouse: Bayard, Matabiau, Minimes, Béarnais and Garonne. It is inscribed in the World Heritage of Humanity.”
Directions: VélôToulouse station 61
Books: Daniel Halévy, Vauban, Editions de Fallois, Paris, 2007 (first published in 1923)
Alain Monod, Vauban ou la mauvaise conscience du roi, Riveneuve éditions, Paris, 2008
More tips/reviews on Vauban:
Vauban memorial in the Dôme des Invalides, Paris.
Introduction and several reviews on my Besançon page.
Vauban and the Aqueduct on my Maintenon page.
Vauban’s Citadel on my Lille page.
Schloßberg in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany.
Vauban Sustainable Model District in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany.
Vauban was here in Maastricht, the Netherlands.
Vauban was here on the island of If off the coast of Marseille, France.
The Old Town in Strasbourg, France, with the Barrage Vauban.
Vauban was here in Toulon, France.
Statue of Nicolas de Catinat in Versailles, France.
The Royal Chapel in Versailles, France.
Next Toulouse review: Bilingual street signs
The Canal du Midi is the other major waterway of Toulouse is the Canal du Midi, and unlike the River Garonne, it is man-made. You can go on river cruises here too, but I somehow think that it is better to do that on the Garonne - which is bounded by the old city of Toulouse rather than cookie cutter apartment blocks and office buildings. The Canal was constructed in the 17th century and, together with the Canal du Garonne, it connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Mediterranean. The impressive thing is that, given this is supposed to be a commercial waterway, it neither smells nor reminds the visitor of some sort of sleazy port. In fact, since 1996, it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This is only a suggested route…..I did this myself, and think it’s worth it…
From the Grand Rond, take Allée des Soupirs and make a right when you reach Boulevard Monplaisir…Voilá…you’re in Canal du Midi…..go as far as you can…..I did like 10 km down….the landscape is awesome…..
By the way, if you don’t have a bike you can rent it behind the Capitole or at the Gare Matabiau.
Sycamores grow along the canal side: 45000 to protect the banks from erosion. Roots reach out like veins in old man's hand.
Water for the canal comes from Black Mountains. It is light green in colour. The trees and banks are a deeper green, the sky grey. Long stretches of straightness, like a watery Roman road.