January 3, 2012

0090 FRANCE (Occitania) - Canal du Midi (UNESCO WHS)

Unlike many other monarchs, Louis XIV had at its disposal, besides tenacity and funds, enough time to carry out his plans, so that after over 72 years of reign he was left a legacy to France as only very few others have succeeded. Among the constructions left behind is the Canal du Midi, probably the most important engineering project of the XVII century, which cost over 15 million livres. Probably you wonder, like me, how much means 15 million livres. 

After two hours of searching, in which I tried to find out as things stand with the French livre, livre tournois, livre parisis, écu, bla-bla-bla, I concluded that I can't make any conversion, because on that time wasn't any standardization. When I was ready to give up, I discovered that Fluery, the chief minister of Louis XV, standardized the livre in 1726, so I can make a reasonable approximation, at least the size degree. So, if 8 ounces of gold being worth 740.45 livres, and today the price of gold is 1,224.46 euros per ounce, this means that 1 livre worth 13.23 euros, and 15,000,000 livres worth 198,440,944 euros or 256,702,106 dolars. Or almost 4.6t of gold. Nor is it so much if we consider that Pizarro took as ransom for Atahualpa 6.5t of gold and 13t of silver, or that China for example, currently the world's largest producer of gold, produced in 2010 345t.

The Canal du Midi runs from the city of Toulouse down to the Étang de Thau (the second largest lake in France), and along with the Canal de Garonne forms the Canal des Deux Mers, which linking the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The idea of this shortcut which avoid a long sea voyage around the hostile Spain, through the waters haunted by pirates, has fascinated many engineering minds, even from Roman times, but logistical problems have proved insurmountable, the main one being how to supply the summit sections with enough water.

The solving was found by Pierre-Paul Riquet, a rich tax-farmer in the Languedoc region, which convinced to Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the finance minister of France, to submit the plan of Louis XIV. Riquet started his enterprise in 1667, with the help of Chevalier de Clerville, whose military engineers built a huge dam, the Bassin de St. Ferréol, on the Laudot river, to fed the canal with water where it crossed the continental divide, replacing water that drained toward the two seas.

The Canal, which has 240km in length and 91 locks which serve to ascend and descend a total of 190m, was opened officially as the Canal Royal de Languedoc on May 15, 1681, 8 months after the death of Riquet. He contributes to the investment with nearly two million livres, his family managed to recover the money and pay debts only after 100 years.

Between 1683 and 1693 Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban improved the canal adding drainage ditches and over 40 aqueducts. By 1838 273 vessels were working the canal and passenger and packet boats for mail continued a brisk trade until the coming of the railways in 1857. Commercial traffic continued until 1980 when it began to decline rapidly, ultimately ceasing altogether during the drought closure of 1989. Now Canal du Midi has become a tourist attraction and place for leisure activities and in 1996 it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The stamp is the same blue Marianne et l'Europe about which I wrote here.

Many thanks, Sheila (A Postcard a Day).

Sender: Sheila (direct swap)
Sent from Toulouse (Midi-Pyrénées / France), on 12.12.2011

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