Canal du Midi - Visit time : 2 to 4 days.
The Canal du Midi, completed during the reign of Louis XIV, is extraordinary in its scope, representing one of the major works of civil engineering. Its conception, the ingenuity required by Pierre Paul Riquet to feed water to the canal and the creation of dozens of water features along its route, all testify to its exceptional technological innovation. It opened a safe and fast navigable link between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, thus providing commercial prosperity to the regions it crossed in the three centuries of its use.
At a length of 240 kilometers, the Canal du Midi was the largest construction site of its time and today remains the oldest canal in Europe still in operation. Beyond the technical challenges overcome by Pierre Paul Riquet, it is the aesthetics of his architecture and the landscapes created that make the Canal du Midi so unique.
In 1994, the Voies Navigables de France (Waterways of France), which manages the canal, presented a proposal to classify the Canal du Midi as a World Heritage Site. The regions of Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées subsequently submitted its candidacy to the World Heritage List in June 1995.
UNESCO accepted its candidature on December 6, 1996 for the classification of the Canal du Midi. Registered under this heritage site is the initial work of Pierre-Paul Riquet: the canal between Toulouse and the Etang de Thau, the watershed point in Naurouze and its supply system, as well as all works dating from this early period. The collection system of the sources of the canal in the Montagne Noire (Black Mountain), the Canal de Jonction, the Canal de la Robine and the Canal de Brienne in Toulouse were also included in the scope.
“The Committee decided to include the nominated property on the basis of cultural criteria (i), (ii), (iv) and (vi) considering that the site is of outstanding universal value being one of the greatest engineering achievements of the Modern Age, providing the model for the flowering of technology that led directly to the Industrial Revolution and the modern technological age. Additionally, it combines with its technological innovation a concern for high aesthetic architectural and landscape design that has few parallels elsewhere.”
Criteria for Selection
Criterion (i): The Canal du Midi is a living example of the creativity of engineers of the time of Louis XIV, which marked the shift from the Renaissance to the modern period in terms of development of construction techniques. For this reason, the canal is known as a kind of inauguration of the modern era of the development of inland waterway networks in the industrialized countries of Europe and North America. The genius of this work is manifested in various aspects of the design and construction of the Canal du Midi, in studies of water supply networks, organization of construction work and the constant modification of the project to meet the realities on the ground.
Criterion (ii): The construction of the Canal du Midi is simply the largest public works project in Europe since the end of the Roman Empire. The work was conducted in a constant search for perfection. Its achievement is all the more remarkable because for the first time on this large scale, the contractor and engineers sought to shape the landscape and vegetation to become a source of visual enchantment, an example worthy of the linear planning masterpieces of the Roman Empire. The canal inspired many famous men of the time who visited while under construction or after its completion, such as the Prince of Denmark and Thomas Jefferson, future President of the United States of America.
Criterion (iv): The canal is the symbol of an era of prosperity in which engineers and entrepreneurs endeavored, for the glory of the Sun King (Louis XIV), to bring together art and function. The canal was principally used for transportation and irrigation of agricultural land, but its builders wanted to create works that conveyed a sense of overall harmony. The canal generated social, technological and architectural progress, and while implemented efficiently, managed to maintain an artistic aspect in its overall composition. The canal also represents a significant period of European history, from maritime transport to hydraulic engineering. This period began at the time of the Italian Renaissance and continued until the industrial revolution and the arrival of the railway.
Criterion (vi): The construction of the Canal du Midi has become the most important element of the landscape it crossed. Perfectly integrated in its environment, it delicately molded the surrounding landscapes.
Source : UNESCO / ICOMOS