The Canals of France !

After having spent some times in canals in Paris, Brittany, and the Toulouse area I like to bring these back into my blog with an introductory post on them. This will be in my black and white series,no pictures. Therefore, here is my take on the canals of France! Hope you enjoy them as I.

What is a canal ? It is a course of artificial water created by man with the aim of communicating two rivers or two seas fed by a river, stream, or water sources that it needs to keep. And of course, France have plenty of them. I like to tell you a bit on them as we have taken boat rides in some. The Canals are concentrated in the Center, East, North to feed Paris, Also, in Brittany, and Languedoc. Some are still use for river transport such as the Canal du Rhône et Rhin , and others are more touristic like the Bretons canals. Today, the network has more than 7 000 km but in 1970 there were 12 000 km !

You have the canals of Languedoc and the Sud Ouest (southwest) such as the Canal du Midi (great one), canal latéral à la Garonne (nice) , and the canal du Rhône à Séte. In Brittany/Bretagne you have the Canal de Nantes à Brest (great one), Canal d’Ille et Rance, and the Canal de la Vilaine. In the Centre-Bourgogne (center burgundy) we have the Canal de Berry, Canal de la Briare, canal latéral à la Loire, canal de Bourgogne , Canal du Nivernais, canal du Centre ,and canal d’Orléans.

We continue in the Est (East) with the Canal d’Est, canal du Rhône au Rhin, canal de la Marne au Rhin, canal de la Marne à la Saône, canal latéral à la Marne, canal de l’Aisne à la Marne, and canal des Ardennes. In the North (Nord) we have the Canal de la Sambre à l’Oise, Canal Saint-Quentin, canal de la Somme, canal de Picardie, and canaux Flamands. And by Paris, we have the canal de l’Ourcq, canal Saint Martin, and canal Saint Denis.

We have a bit of history as to who were the precursors of these canals and we start with Leonardo de Vinci that started as in others the principals of the canal from Florence to the sea. He was followed by Adam de Craponne native of Salon de Provence but Italian who in 1554 dug up a canal of irrigation between Durance and the lake of Berre ; he was assassinated before doing his next project a canal between the basins of the Loire and the Saône. We follow on these great men of canals with Maximilien de Béthune , duke of Sully after the wars of religion he helps on the Canal de la Briare, Follow up with Pierre-Paul Riquet he starts the Canal des Deux Mers he died in ruins before missing the last 4 km of his work, We go on with Charles-Louis de Freycinet he helps the ideas of canals and the modernation when he fixe the lenght of them with a peniche boat from the north called the Freycinet.

You have the great dates in the construction of canals such as in the 15C with the invention of airlocks in Italy, By the 16C we see these in France on the Vie et Vilaine first irrigation canal in Provence. In 1642 the opening of the canal de Briare first diving reach canal. In 1681 the opening of the Canal du Midi, In the 19C we see the development of canals on the plan of Becquey and Freycinet as well as the coming of the railroad. In the 20C we see the modernisation of boat making on the first half of the century and then decline due to the highway trafic, In the years 1970’s we see the beginning of river tourism that save the canals, In 1991 was the creation of the navigable ways of France to manage the work on these canals, this is the VNF, webpage;

The trades of this fascination with canals are the lock keeper to insure the passage of boats. The Hauler to pull a boat by the river banks,with odds jobs. The sailor that with time live with the boats and even bring his family and also the wife becomes a sailor ! Along the canal you have the construction of the reach extended between two locks with a variable length. Then you have the locks, like a hydraulic elevator/lift that allows the passage of the boats. The gates that are varied and serve to monitor the rise of waters . The nozzle with a pointed angle that is held by the lock when closed. The bottom radier that is the beton part covering the bottom of the canal as foundation. The aces when the gate is open the boat enters here to wait the level of water reach the level of the anterior. The sidewalks are the lateral walls of the lock to help resiste the force of the water. The bollards with a cylindrical form of a mushroom help to tight in the boats,and help them descent and ascend the lock. The weir helps to evacuate the exterior of the canal with too much water. The house of the locksmen, there is one on each lock sometimes two. They tell the name of the next lock as well as the name of the canal and lock and the distance to the next one. The towpath once for the men and horses pulling the boat today is a promenade for pedestrians and cyclist as well as maintenance of the banks of the canals. The trees, bordering the canal planted for economic reasons to aspire the humidity, stop water mirrors, and shade as well as aesthetic.

There has been some wonderful innovations such as the airlock that allows the navigation both ways with an elevator to raise or lower the level of water and carry the boats onwards, The lock ladder that allows to go thru high slopes like the one in Fonséranes on the canal du Midi, seven locks for a height difference of 25 meters ! The tunnels with the first one in 1679 on the Canal du Midi, 165 meters long with a vault of 8 meters ! The first bridge canal was the Répudre in the Canal du Midi. You see a good example on the pont canal de Briare done in 1896 and allows the canal latéral to go over the Loire river on a distance of 662 meters. The inclined plane ; a ferry attached to a trolley which rolls on rails makes the boats go up and down along an inclined plane, example at Arzwiller on the canal de la Marne au Rhin built in 1969 replaces 19 locks with 45 meters of height difference !

The pont canal de la Briare was done in 1890 joining the canal latéral de la Loire with that of the canal de Briare, Of course, done the Canal de Nantes à Brest long of 360 km with 236 locks (not done them all!) linking four rivers , the Loire, Vilaine, Aulne and Blavet, Also helps linking 8 rivers such as the Erdre, Oust, Blavet, etc, It ends at 184 meters below the sea level and was decided to be done by Napoléon in 1806 to link the arsenals of Nantes, Lorient, and Brest, Work stopped when Napoléon lost but took off again in 1822 until 1842. The Canal Saint Martin in Paris from the basin of the Villette to the Seine river for 4,5 km including 2 km underground and 9 locks with a height difference of 25 meters. The work was decided by Napoléon and finished in 1825. On the basin of the Arsenal is where the wells of the Bastille built by Charles V, it is the most important pleasure boat marina in France ! The Arsenal was done in 1806 !

Different earlier boats were used for these canals such as the chaland, sapine, flûte de bourgogne, bé de cane, coureau , and choche d’eau. I have ridden the chaland on the Loire river built to the identical old model.

The project Babel on the canals of France good info in French:

The Canals of Bretagne in French:

The city of Paris on its canals in French :

The Paris tourist office on the canals of Paris:

The official canal du Midi in French:

There you go folks, a beautiful way to see the countryside of my belle France! Also, near the canals are wonderful monuments to see and enjoy by all. One nice activity to do and hope you have enjoy the post as I.

And remember, happy travels, good health, and many cheers to all!!

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