The Canal du Midi
An essential part of the historical, geographical and cultural heritage of the Haute-Garonne, the Canal du Midi was UNESCO World heritage listed in December 1996.
A living monument
Inaugurated in 1681, it links Sète to Toulouse and owes its existence to the entrepreneur Pierre-Paul Riquet (1604-1680), to Colbert (1619-1683) and to Louis XIV (1638-1715). Riquet’s stroke of genius was the invention of the canal’s water supply system, of which the key element is the Saint-Ferréol lake, lying 60 kilometres south-east of Toulouse. After 14 years of pharaonic labour which occupied 12 000 workers and peasant labourers, the canal became a major axis of development for the Haute-Garonne. Thanks to its existence, a great deal of merchandise could be transported, in particular wheat from the Lauragais up until 1970. Nowadays, 121 kilometres of the former towpaths, along which you can walk or cycle, have been made into a “green way” which follows the line of the canal.
A “green way” in the Lauragais
Fed by the waters of the Saint-Ferréol lake, now a bathing and multi-leisure centre, this route is lined with tall, very old plane trees and by a cycle path. In the Haute-Garonne, it covers 40 kilometres, from Toulouse to Avignonet-Lauragais, through the vividly coloured countryside dotted with bastides (mediaeval villages), windmills and wall bell-towers typical of the Lauragais. This area in the east of the Département, swept by the only too-well-known winds, the Autan and the Cers, has seen others of equal fame pass through : the Romans built a road through it leading to Aquitaine; the Visigoths, Franks, Arabs and the English under the Black Prince all swept across these green hills, and Riquet dug his canal here.
Nowadays, the Canal du Midi is there for holidaymakers seeking natural beauty and peace. Cycling, walking, or on a barge, with family or friends, you can let yourself be carried gently along from lock to lock — there are 64 of them between Toulouse and Sète, of which 14 are in the Haute-Garonne.
Information : canaldes2mersavelo.com
The Pays de Cocagne
Forming a triangle between Albi, Carcassonne and Toulouse, the Pays de Cocagne owes its name to the “cocagne”, which was quite simply a ball of “pastel” leaves — Isatis Tinctoria, or woad — crushed and compacted by hand. The cocagne was then sold to makers of dyestuffs, and their product underpinned the wealth of the region from the 13th C. until the 16th C. The land in the Lauragais gave rise to an exceptionally high quality of pigment. Nowadays, wheat, maize and sunflowers are grown here, but that’s no longer the case for pastel, or « grass of the Lauragais », which was ousted by indigo coming from the Indies in the 17th C.
Revel, a “Meuble d’Art” (craftsman-made furniture) town
Founded in 1342 by Philippe VI de Valois, this town, which is a stopping-place on the Santiago Pilgrim Ways, experienced an unprecedented expansion in the 19th C. with the arrival of high-quality furniture making. Sculptors, bronze-smelters and cabinet-makers set up business and forged the town’s reputation. Nowadays, craftsmen keeping these skills alive have brought together their creations at « Les Artisans Réunis », a showroom, exhibition centre and sales point. And, in the town centre, the Museum of Wood and Marquetry has similar aims, showing how wood has been used and made into beautiful artefacts over the centuries. Revel can also be proud of its almost unique architectural conception and layout, compared to other bastides in France, thanks to its octagonal ground plan and very regular construction. Its immense 16th C. covered market, where renowned markets are held, possesses a magnificent belfry, once a watch-tower and prison.
Saint-Félix-Lauragais in the Pays de Cocagne
Built on a promontory, the fortified village of Saint-Félix-Lauragais had a turbulent history throughout the Middle Ages. It overlooks the plains of the Pays de Cocagne and stands where the Autan and Cers winds meet. A viewing table on the Montfort Tower, on the highest point of the former ramparts, enables you to fully comprehend its situation. The first village was most likely to the north-east of the present one, on the site of the « Butte des Trois Moulins » , where there are two mills in a perfect state of preservation. You can also see stone and half-timbered houses on the central square where a centuries-old wooden market-hall stands, and the 14th C. Collegiate church houses the Rabiny organ dating from 1782 and listed as a Historic Monument.
The Museum and Gardens of the Canal du Midi by the Saint-Ferréol Lake
In a building dating from 1745, in 800 m2 of space with an itinerary leading you through six different display rooms, you can find out all about the Canal du Midi : its conception, the original water supply site and the story of its inventor, Pierre-Paul Riquet.
Musée & Jardins du Canal du Midi - Boulevard Pierre-Paul Riquet - Saint-Ferréol - 31250 Revel - Tel. : 05 61 80 57 57
The castle of Bonrepos-Riquet
The historic home of Pierre-Paul Riquet where, in the nearby Garenne valley, the inventor set up his Hydraulic Model covering almost 2 hectares. There he studied, on life size scale and over a period of ten years or so, how to supply water to his future canal. The château is a Historic Monument, with the distinction “Maison des Illustres”.
Château de Bonrepos-Riquet - 6, place Paul Riquet - 31590 Bonrepos-Riquet - Tel. : 05 67 16 16 18 (Syndicat d’Initiative)
The Montbrun-Lauragais windmill : built in the 17th C. and remarkably well restored, typical of the windmills of former times in the Lauragais and on the Supplementary List of Historic Monuments. Located 20 kilometres south-east of Toulouse.
The wall bell-towers of the Lauragais
With the innovative form of their ancestral wall bell-towers, Occitanie and the Lauragais can claim their very own architectural style, going against ideas coming from elsewhere. What is more, this bell-tower heritage enables full circle ringing, which is very sonorous. To be seen in Aignes (church of Saint-Baudile), Saint-Orens-de-Gameville (church of Saint-Antoine), Baziège (church of Sainte-Colombe), Montesquieu-Lauragais (church of Maraval), Espanès (church of Saint-Martin), Belpech (church of Saint-Michel), Saint-Félix-Lauragais collegiate church), Villefranche-de-Lauragais (church of Notre-Dame)…
La Rigole de la Plaine
This water channel dug in the 17th C. brings water from the Saint-Ferréol lake to the Canal du Midi. A “green way” in two 20 kilometre sections follows the route of the Rigole de la Plaine : the first, in the Aude, goes from the Seuil de Naurouze to the Lenclas lake ; the second, in the Haute-Garonne, goes from the Lenclas lake to the Saint-Ferréol lake.
When for the first time, the two seas were joined, all the peoples of Europe marvelled at the aspect of such a prodigy, for, since first the world brought forth wonders, nothing of the kind had ever been seen beneath the vault of Heaven.
With its budget estimated at between 17 and 18 million pounds in the money of that era, the Canal was the second largest construction project in the kingdom of France after that of the Château de Versailles.
The Saint-Ferréol lake was the largest dam in France and the largest in Europe at the end of the 17th C.