Toulouse Conference Celebrates Canal du Midi

Toulouse this summer hosts the 26th World Canals Conference in celebration of the 240km-long Canal du Midi, an event coinciding with increased concern about challenges to the survival of this 333-year-old engineering marvel– equal in significance of scale to the Suez or Panama canals. 

Toulouse celebrates the 333-year-old Canal du Midi with an International Canals conference this September

One of the canal’s most tireless defenders Robert Marconis, a geographer and emeritus professor at Toulouse du Mirail university told La Dépêche du Midi‘s Lionel Laparade of some of his concerns over canal use and management: “There is firstly an ecological scourge, with the canker stain now attacking the plane trees that provide shade and structural support. There is the environmental threat, with (a series of) amenities in danger of disfiguring the structure and its surroundings. There is the political risk with the local communities along the canal developing their own canal-related economic and tourism projects, but without the scale and vision that an (overall state-backed) plan would bring. The loss of the Canal’s identity is thus a risk that we face and finally, and this is the result of the sombre scenario that I have just painted, UNESCO which has classified this waterway as a World Heritage site, could withdraw this classification”. 

(UNESCO declared the canal a world heritage site in 1996, saying it had “provided the model for the flowering of technology that led directly to the Industrial Revolution and the modern technological age”). 

He went on: “I think first and foremost the State must stop procrastinating on who does what about preserving and promoting the Canal. The government wants to shift the financial burdens onto other authorities, the latter are willing to inherit the responsibility for the waterway, but only after the cost of rehabilitation (has been paid for by the state). The three regions through which the canal passes should be grouped together within a canal administration authority to define a global project. They need to ask the question: what do we want from the Canal, what is its intended purpose — commercial, leisure and tourism? I would also urge the cities involved in the canal (Toulouse, Bordeaux, Beziers) to produce a detailed assessment of the canal’s value (in all its aspects).” 

As Robert Marconis tells it 12,000 men built the Canal in a 14-year marathon. They were paid on the basis of the number of baskets of earth they removed a day. Watch this long but fascinating interview with the academic, in a video by the Université Toulouse Ii-Le Mirail:

The issues and concerns he raises are among those — Canals as living heritage to be preserved; Canals as ecosystems; History and heritage of the Canal des Deux Mers;  Governance of inland waterways: towards new models? — that will be debated during the celebratory conference in September. 

In extending a welcome to the hundreds of expected participants Toulouse Mayor Pierre Cohen co-chairman of the Organising Committee for the 26th World Canals Conference that will run in the city between September 16 and 19, 2013, said: “The identity of our metropolis is intimately tied up in that of the river and canals that cross it. The Garonne is where the city was founded. The Canal du Midi, listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site, was a formidable technical and human challenge, completed thanks to the vision of its engineer Pierre-Paul Riquet. It symbolises the capacity of civilisation to develop and redefine entire regions. 

“The Greater Toulouse council is now embarking on a vast urban development project which aims to give a more concrete form to these historic links, to give more coherence, more ‘fluidity’ between the city and its waterways. The project will give the people of Toulouse the opportunity to re-appropriate for themselves a priceless heritage, and to reconsider the way we live and interact with our environment.” 

Below is a travel video narrated in English about the canal. “There are 91 working locks on the Canal du Midi along its 240-kilometre (150 mi) course from the Bassin du Thau on the Mediterranean coast to the junction with the Canal lateral a la Garonne in Toulouse. There are a further 13 locks on the 37-kilometre (23 mi) La Nouvelle branch which runs through Narbonne to the Mediterranean at Port-la-Nouvelle.[1] The locks are all under the management of the French navigation authority, Voies navigables de France”:

The September conference is held under the auspices of Inland Waterways International: “The World Canals Conference is the opportunity to bring together hundreds of canal enthusiasts, professionals and scholars from around the world, to exchange good practices on canals, including the protection of historic canals or features, revitalization of canal systems, harbour sites, canal trails and amenities; the presentation or interpretation of canals and corridors – their history and various elements; canals as a means to promote tourism, spur economic development and urban renewal”.

Full programme download here in PDF format
More information from:
Géraldine Legou Chargée de mission
26e Congrès mondial des canaux et voies navigables
SO Toulouse Convention Bureau
Arche Marengo
1, allée Jacques Chaban-Delmas 31500 Toulouse
Tel. : 33 5 81 31 30 20

Other links worth visiting:
The Canal’s Office de Tourisme has a useful list of gourmet delights awaiting canal boaters along the length of the canal and much else besides.
Tourism and History of the Canal.
Unesco heritage site: The Canal du Midi is one of the greatest engineering achievements of the modern age.
Canal du Midi was built in the 17th century by Pierre Paul Riquet.

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