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It is amazing to realize that this canal was constructed during the reign of Louis XIV in the 1600s and was a monumental work to connect the Mediterranean Sea initially to Toulouse and later to the Atlantic Ocean. 

canal_du_midi

 The man whose foresight, ingenuity and perseverance was essential in building the Canal du Midi was a salt tax collector and a farmer called Pierre Paul Riquet. 

In fact, the idea of the Canal was nothing new, even the Romans had considered linking the Atlanrtic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.  The political, economic and geographic advantages of avoiding the long sea voyage through the Straits of Gibraltar, around Spain and Portugal and through often treacherous seas of the Atlantic were obvious.  The problem was, how could it be done?

Riquet foresaw the advantages of linking the two seas, avoiding transporting goods by the Gibraltar Straits around the south of Spain.  For 40 years he worked as a salt tax collector and a farmer and managed to amass a considerable fortune.  All the while he considered the biggest problem which was where to find the water to make the canal work. 

It was on his own farm that he carried out experiments with hydraulic engines and dams to work out how to channel water in the mountains to a sharing point so that water could flow both East and West and  link both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.  

 It was not until 1662 at the age of 58 (when life expectancy for most at the time was only 40) that he began to see his dream come true.  In this year he wrote a letter to Colbert, the Finance Minister of Louis XIV, explaining that such a project would be totally feasible if only the funds could be found to pay for it.  He explained how his experiments had shown how this could work, and emphasised the economic and political advantages of linking the two bodies of water. Colbert was enthusiastic and persuaded the King, Louis XIV, that the canal should be built.

water divide
This is Riquet's water divide near Toulouse. The system of dams, hydraulic pumps, rivers and lakes keeps the canal supplied in both directions.

Riquet had so much confidence in the canal’s construction that he proposed investing his own money in return for him and his family being the owners of the canal in perpetuity. 

Riquet was not just a good employer who paid well, he also turned out to be somewhat of a social pioneer in that he paid his canal workers sick leave,  for working on Sundays and religious feast days, and even bad weather days! 

Continued on the right

fonserannes lock
The Fonserannes Lock system is visited by nearly 400,000 people a year. Boats queue to go through the locks.

finserannes lock

fonserannes lock

Sadly, Riquet did not live to see his canal become reality.  He died deep in debt in 1680.  His sons managed to complete his work in 1681. The Revolution dispossessed the family of the canal.

 

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