Canal du Midi

Years ago we spent a glorious day on the Canal du Midi, and I’ve wanted to come back ever since. Mainly I’ve wanted to come back in a boat for a few weeks, but a walk and a bike ride along the tow path is is a great way to experience it.

The Canal du Midi is much older than I had realised. It was launched in the 17th century, in the reign of Louis 14th, with the first operations beginning in 1681. The idea was to reduce the long time it took to go around Spain to get from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic and vice versa. Toulouse is the very end of the navigable part of the Garonne (a river from the Pyrenées to the Atlantic), and so a canal from there to the Mediterranean massively reduces the time for a boat voyage.

Some quite impressive engineering was needed to make it all happen, as well as a workforce of around 12,000 people at its peak. Interesestingly, several of the articles I’ve read about this suggest that the local workforce of men and women (particularly a set of Basque women from the Pyrenées) had continuous knowledge of management of water, canals and various other parts of water infrastructure maintained since roman times – which they used to assist the “expert”engineers in the design of such a novel piece of infrastructure.

In common with most canals, it was defeated by the railways – in the mid 19th century the management was given to the railways, but they raised prices, to avoid competition for their favoured railways. These days, it is generally only used for leisure, as it’s not really big enough for the big barges that are still used on canals further north in Europe.

So for the last couple of days in my spare time from french homework I’ve been exploring. First a walk along the main city part of the Canal du Midi, and then today I branched out with a bike ride, using the local share bikes – surprisingly comfortable as long as I was riding on the flat. I’ve still got a taste for the full experience, but it’ll do for the moment.

1 thought on “Canal du Midi

  1. Merci pour la petite histoire. Je l’ai trouvée informative et les jolies photos m’a fait une belle image.

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