Canal du Midi: A UNESCO World Heritage Site In France

The Canal du Midi in southern France.

Canal du Midi: A UNESCO World Heritage Site in France

Canal du Midi is a waterway system that was built in the 17th century in southwestern France. The canal covers a length of 150 miles with an average depth of 6.5 feet and a width of about 33 feet. The canal begins at Toulouse and runs through Seuil de Naurouze, Castelnaudry, Carcassonne, through the Fonserannes Locks, Trebes, Beziers to Agde and ends at the Etang de Thau. The Seuil de Nauronze section of the canal forms the highest point of the canal with an elevation of 186 feet. The Canal du Midi was previously owned by Pierre-Paul Riquet, but ownership was passed to the French State through the November 27, 1897, Act.


The construction of the canal was triggered by the desire to create a connection between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Long before the 17th century, the idea of creating such a canal existed but the implementation proved to be difficult. In 1666, Jean-Baptiste Colbert authorized the construction of the canal which lasted for twenty years, beginning in January 1667. Pierre-Paul Riquet provided a convincing proposal for constructing the canal and was assigned the task of the construction. The main challenge during construction was providing water to the raised section of the canal. This issue was solved by creating channels from the Black Mountains to the Seuil de Naurouze.


Canal du Midi was inscribed as a cultural world heritage site in 1996 due to its unique architectural and technical significance during the modern age. The canal provides one of the unique engineering creations during the 17th century. The construction of the canal has shaped the surrounding area into a unique scenery displaying complex layouts of water systems on land including waterways, channels, bridges, and reservoirs. The channel was classified as a Grand Site of France in 1996.

Historical Significance

The idea for creating a canal connecting the Atlantic and the Mediterranean was triggered by both political and economic reasons. During its construction, the Canal du Midi was aimed at providing a transportation route for passengers, textiles, wheat, and wine from Europe across the Mediterranean. By using the canal, traders would avoid the long voyage around the Iberian Peninsula not to mention the risks of piracy. Politically, the canal was viewed as a means of strengthening royal powers by opening up the Toulouse region through the distribution of various trading goods. Though the goal of establishing an international waterway was not achieved, the canal became one of the most important triggers for national trade.

Modern Role of the Canal

After its construction, the canal maintained its basic purpose for commercial shipment of goods and passengers until the 1980s. The canal is currently one of the most spectacular architectural attractions in southern France, attracting visitors from all over the world. River tourism on the canal attracts thousands of worldwide tourists with features such as hotel barges, chartered boat sailing, restaurant boats and sporting activities such as fishing, cycling, canoeing, rowing, and roller-skating. Through the tourism industry that is established, the canal provides direct employment to about 2000 people and raises about 120 million euros annually.

Management and Maintenance

The canal falls under the Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development, and Energy which is mandated with the management and maintenance of the canal. The canal poses challenges of siltation, invasion of weeds and inadequate funds for its regular maintenance.


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