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Started: jan 12, 2005
Last Update: may 8, 2005

The Map of the Canal du Midi


The right side of the painting is dominated by a group of men occupied with hanging a large size map on the wall. This map represents the southern part of France with the Mediterranean at the top. The key words in the Joconde database and a letter in the Dossier at Versailles strongly suggest that the map is linked with one of the major enterprises in 17th century France: the construction of the Canal du Midi by Pierre-Paul Riquet.

Baron Pierre-Paul Riquet de Bonrepos

(b. 1604, Béziers, France--d. Oct. 1, 1680, Toulouse), French public official and self-made engineer who constructed the epochal 150-mile (240-kilometre) Canal du Midi (also called the Languedoc Canal) connecting the Garonne River to the Aude River, thus linking the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The canal has been called the greatest civil engineering project in Europe from Roman times to the 19th century.
A tax collector under Louis XIV, Riquet interested himself in the long-discussed problem of constructing a navigable waterway to provide a shortcut from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean. In 1662 he laid a proposal before Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Louis XIV's finance minister. Through Colbert's influence, Riquet obtained from the province of Languedoc loans that permitted him to carry out the work, which required many locks, a reservoir to provide water for the summit section during the dry season, and the famous Malpas Tunnel, where Riquet became the first engineer to use an explosive (black powder) for blasting rock. Worn out by his labours, he died while executing the final work on the harbour of Cette (modern Sète) at the Mediterranean terminus. The canal opened the following year (1681).Copyright 1994-1998 Encyclopaedia Britannica

Midi Canal

also called LANGUEDOC CANAL, French CANAL DU MIDI, or CANAL DU LANGUEDOC, major link in the inland waterway system from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean. A landmark engineering work carried out in France in the 17th century, the Midi Canal connects Toulouse with the Mediterranean and provides a waterway to the Atlantic via the Aude and the Garonne. Rising 206 feet (63 m), via 26 locks, in its 32-mile (51.5-kilometre) journey to the summit of its route, it runs 3 miles (5 km) along the summit, then descends 114 miles (183.5 km) with a difference in elevation of 620 feet (189 m) taken up by 74 locks. The engineer, Pierre-Paul Riquet, overcame a rocky rise near Béziers by a daring innovation, employing black powder to blast a 515-foot (157-metre) tunnel, 22 feet (6.7 m) wide and 27 feet (8 m) high, the first canal tunnel ever so built, and the first use of explosives in underground construction. The canal was built between 1665 and 1681, with its final completion in 1692.Copyright 1994-1998 Encyclopaedia Britannica
More information can be found at http://www.canalmidi.com/. The pictures of Riquet and Colbert were found at this site.