Canal du Midi – the masterpiece of civil engineering

canal_du_midi0That canal is the greatest engineering achievement of that time! Construction miracle! Piece of art! This is how Canal du Midi in France was described to me. Canal, a work of art? I laughed. But after sailing with a small boat, I stopped laughing, and only a smile of satisfaction stayed on my face. This canal is really – a piece of art. Sliding, quietly and slowly, in a small boat along the canal, you feel like in another dimension. Oil on canvas. Impressionism. Majestic plane trees on both sides, ducks swimming and playing safely next to you. Plane trees tunnels, leaves lazily falling… canal_du_midi3While water is pouring from locks and filling in, if you close your eyes you can go back a century and a half earlier, and hear the thunder of horses pulling a boat with burden. canal_du_midi4Occitanians would say: Canal de las Doas Mars, which means Canal of Two Seas. It’s true, this canal connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea. Waterway canal is 360 kilometers lenght and contains over three hundred aqueducts, bridges and tunnels. It was built between the 1667th and 1694th year to avoid dangerous journey around the enemy Spain. canal_du_midi101The idea of canal was born in early 16th century, but there was a big problem that even Leonardo da Vinci didn’t know how to solve – how to stocked canal with plenty of water. canal_du_midi2Only a century and a half later, local guy Pierre-Paul Riquet made ​​a masterpiece project in building structuring that paved the way for the industrial revolution in France. At the peak of canal construction 12,000 people were involved. The most interesting fact for me was the fact that the female workforce was extremely important for the canals construction. Many women came from ancient Roman baths in the Pyrenees, where knowledge of classical hydraulics maintained as a tradition. canal_du_midi1They were initially employed to transport ground material for dam at St. Ferreol, but their male supervisors (who have struggled with the structure of supply canals dam to the navigable canal) recognized their capabilities. From today’s perspective it looks incredible  that the engineering in this period was mainly focused on the fortress construction, while water-techniques were mainly focused on mining and drying problems. canal_du_midi100Navigation canal construction across the continent was outside the formal knowledge of military engineers who were supposed to supervise, but the local women, as conveyers of conventional hydraulic methods, have expanded the repertoire of available technical solutions. Not only they  improved water supply system for the waterway, but they also implemented a canal through the mountains next to Beziers using just a few systems, and have built a staircase of eight systems in Fonserannesa. canal_du_midi6On both sides of canal there were tracks that men used for pulling the boats and then they were drawn by horses that were eventually replaced by steam engines. Plane trees are planted along the canal. Magnificent arch provides a deep shade, but the foliage had a second function – preventing evaporation. Unfortunately, it seems that soon 40,000 trees will be cut down because of fungi attack: trees lose leaves, and its roots are slowly rotting away. Platanus die. canal_du_midi10UNESCO has recognized the Canal du Midi as a site of outstanding universal value – one of the greatest technical achievements of the modern age that combined technological innovation with landscape design, and it’s included on the World Heritage List 1996th. canal_du_midi5If you are passing by, don’t miss to relax in the deep shade of plane trees , or bike drive along the canal, or a few hours tourist boat trip that will take you along the canal. canal_du_midi9p.s Dogs are welcome on the tourist boats, free of  charge. canal_du_midi8Copyright ©