The “Canal des Deux Mers”, from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean
The Canal des Deux Mers is the result of an early example of regional planning on a grand scale, backed up by strategic military interest, since the kings of France, from Henri IV onwards, dreamed of this inland waterway and the impact it would have in political terms. Trade between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean would thus be saved the perilous detour via Gibraltar.
It is Pierre Paul Riquet, Baron of Bonrepos, who turned the dream into reality. He was the visionary entrepreneur who devoted the last 20 years of his life to the mammoth task of building the Canal du Midi (240 km, from Toulouse to the Bassin de Thau, and 101 locks). Born in Béziers (Languedoc-Roussillon) in 1604, Riquet lived for many years close to Toulouse at Verfeil, and it is from here that he managed the works between 1662 and his death in 1680. Just seven months later, the canal was opened to the first freight barges, soon followed by packet boats which also carried paying passengers.
It is thus more than three centuries of waterway operation for the benefit of regional development which were recently celebrated, when UNESCO gave the Canal du Midi the prestigious World Heritage label. “Canal des Deux Mers” is the name now commonly used for the entire navigable route which extends for nearly 500km from Bordeaux to Sète.
Hundreds of thousands of people visit the waterway each year. It has the effect of increasing their period of stay in the area, and has even brought about a change in holiday habits, compared to the traditional migrations towards the sea or the Iberian peninsula. The canal encourages the visitor to linger, to discover extremely varied localities and landscapes. It has become an essential factor in development of the local economy in the entire corridor of the “rivières et Canaux du Midi”.
The Canal des Deux Mers – two canals, and a navigable river
The Canal du Midi
240 km from the Port de l’Embouchure (Les Ponts-Jumeaux) in Toulouse to the Onglous lighthouse on the Bassin de Thau, and its feeder system from the Montagne Noire.
Le Canal latéral à la Garonne
193 km from Toulouse (Port de l’Embouchure) to Castets-en-Dorthe.
54 km, from Castets-en-Dorthe to the Pont de Pierre in Bordeaux.
•La Nouvelle branch (Canal de Jonction and Canal de la Robine), 37 km
•Canal de Brienne in Toulouse, 1,6 km
•Montech branch from Montech to Montauban, 11 km
•locks down to the river Tarn at Moissac
•locks down to the river Baïse at Buzet-sur-Baïse.