The king’s touch
Louis XIV, the Sun King, always comes to mind when someone mentions Versailles. We’ve been to that magnificent palace just outside of Paris a few times and we always come away impressed with its size, grandeur, and this shear feat of 17th century construction. Although we’re 800 kilometers (500 miles) from the capital city, the king’s influence is equally prominent here as a result of his royal decree in 1666 that created the Canal-du-Midi.
Wanting to live on the water has long been a wish for us. While that might traditionally mean a large body of water like an ocean or a lake, we’re very happy being near both a river and a canal, especially one that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. It was 350 years ago this month that Louis XIV authorized the construction of a canal that would allow ships to sail directly across south western France avoiding the sometimes month long journey around Spain, both a competitor and sometimes enemy.
This ribbon of water that ties one coast of France to another involves rivers, bays, and estuaries but I find this 240 kilometer (150 mile) 15-year construction project, begun in 1667, the most amazing. No wonder it’s listed as a UNESCO world heritage site that took 12,000 women and men, who were paid twice the average daily farming salary of the time, to complete. Although now used mostly by pleasure boaters, it was an essential transportation pathway until Napoleon III granted a 40-year lease of the canal to its major competitor, the railway who naturally diverted traffic to the trains.
This summer the canal boat named La Naïade (The Water Nymph, I think) was moored here by the train station to promote the canal and its history with exhibits and presentations. The day we visited it was nice to see that anchored next door was a barge called Le Tourville filled with school children involved in an activity centered around floating down the canal. We look forward to our next walk along these peaceful waters.