Canal du Midi

The Canal du Midi (Occitan: Canal de las Doas Mars, meaning canal of the two seas) is a 240 km (150 mi) long canal in Southern France (French: le Midi). The canal connects the Garonne River to the Étang de Thau on the Mediterraneanand along with the 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 Mediterranean port of Sète—which was founded to serve as the eastern terminus of the canal. The Canal du Midi was built by Pierre-Paul Riquet.It was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. The Canal has 91 locks which serve to ascend and descend a total of 190 metres (620 ft). It has 328 structures, including bridges, dams and a tunnel.

There are now over 40 aqueducts, but when created by Riquet, there were only three, the Répudre Aqueduct, Aiguille Aqueduct and Jouarres Aqueduct. To cross the other streams, the streams were dammed below the canal and the boats crossed on the rivers themselves. From 1683 to 1693, Vauban improved the canal adding drainage ditches and over 40 aqueducts. Among the most important were the Orbiel Aqueduct and Cesse Aqueducts. The Orb Aqueductwas finished in 1858 and finally, the Herbettes Aqueduct in 1983.At the town of Béziers there was a staircase of eight locks at Fonsérannes to bring it to the river Orb. The locks had to be cut from solid rock, and descended a hillside whose gradient varied. All the locks had to contain the same volume of water, but could not have precisely the same shape. Nonetheless, they were built successfully without need of repair. Surprisingly, this amazing piece of engineering was subcontracted out to two illiterate brothers, the Medhailes, and was built by a workforce composed mainly of women.Because of flooding problems, the Canal du Midi was equipped with aqueduct bridges. The first was over the Le Répudre River, but Vauban also designed subsequent ones.

Finally, an aqueduct bridge was built over the Orb Aqueduct, bypassing the bottom two locks at Fonserannes. In 1982/3, a new Fonserannes water slope was built for barges alongside the lock staircase, too, though it is now out of service.The design of the Canal included the first canal passage ever built through a tunnel (the Malpas Tunnel). The Canal du Midi passes through a 173-metre (568 ft) tunnel through a hill at Enserune.The Canal also involved building the first artificial reservoir for feeding a canal waterway, the Bassin de St. Ferréol. The second source, built in 1777-1781, was Bassin de Lampy.The construction of the Canal du Midi was considered by people in the 17th century as the biggest project of the day. Even today, it is seen as a marvelous engineering accomplishment and is the most popular pleasure waterway in Europe.Initially the canal appears to have been mainly used by small sailing barges with easily lowered masts, bow-hauled by gangs of men. By the middle of the 18th century, horse towing had largely taken over and steam tugs came in 1834 to cross the Étang. By 1838 273 vessels were regularly working the canal and passenger and packet boats for mail continued a brisk trade until the coming of the railways in 1857. Commercial traffic continued until 1980 when it began to decline rapidly, ultimately ceasing altogether during the drought closure of 1989. Now the Canal has become more of a tourist attraction and place for leisure activities than a commercial trade route, with many people rowing, canoeing,fishing or even cruising on luxury hotel barges .

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