Pierre-Paul Riquet, The Founder

"I know the strengths and the weaknesses of my canal. I can tell you with some certainty that it will be more beutiful and more useful than one could never imagine."

Pierre-Paul Riquet

Genius, visionary, fascinating : all of these terms have come to define the man who built the canal du Midi. Pierre-Paul Riquet was born in Béziers at the beginning of the 17th century, as the son of a prosecutor, sitting in the Assembly of the States of LanguedocHe worked as a farmer of the Salt taxes for many years before devoting his life’s work to a project that could help him reach his aspirations of ennoblement: the construction of the canal du Midi. He was an admirer of architecture and technology and eventhough many architects had failed before him, Riquet persisted and leaned on his knowledge of the region. He conceived a unique and remarkable work of civil engineering beyond its pratical utility.

A few months after its presentation to Jean Baptiste Colbert, Minister of Finances of France, and King Louis XIV, who appreciated the economic and political arguments, the first feasibility studies were conducted and soon confirmed.

Throughout the construction, Riquet invested 2 million French livres of his own money in the project. This work is considered the second big construction site after the Versailles Palace at the time. The canal was often called into question but Riquet never gives up and sometimes reacted boldly by disobeying Colbert’s orders. For instance, he breaked the orders and launched the construction of the Malpas Tunnel with the support of its workers who approved his fair labour practices. Riquet was the first businessman in France to pay monthly wages and sick leave, enabling workers to be paid in the event of illness or inclement weather.

Riquet passed away on October 1rst 1680 in Toulouse, without ever admiring the finished canal. His descendants finalized the work one year later, sealing for ever the fates of Riquet in the History of France.


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