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France Canals

France Geography
There are many canals in France for irrigation and the transportation of goods and people.

Click for a large Map showing the major France Canals and Rivers

Canal de Briare


One of the oldest canals in France, It was ordered by Maximilien de Béthune, duc de Sully, in order to develop the trade of grain, and to reduce the food shortages. Its construction started in 1604 and was completed in 1642. Between six and twelve thousand workmen worked on this canal which connects the basins of the River Loire and the River Seine.

Hugues Cosnier obtained the contract to build the first canal crossing a watershed. It was thus necessary to use locks, invented (but never built) by Leonardo da Vinci. A flight of locks was built in Rogny: it has seven successive locks.

But the king Henri IV, withdrew his support for work. Hugues Cosnier had to give up work in 1611. In 1638, Guillaume Boutheroue and Jacques Guyon proposed to resume work, and receive from Louis XIII the letters patent with this intention.

They created with other nobles "Compagnie des seigneurs du canal de Loyre en Seine". Work was completed the following year. Being a junction canal (between two different basins), it was not only necessary to build locks, but also to design a particular level, on the watershed. Indeed, for each passage of boat, one needed to use the locks displacing approximately 2000 cubic meters of water.

Ponds were therefore dug. They include the ponds of Turfs, Chesnoy, Grand-rû, Tilery, Du Chateau, Cahauderie, Beaurois, the Bourdon reservoir, and the Moutiers reservoir on the Loing.


The canal was repurchased by the State in 1860.

In 1894 and 1895, an elevatory factory was built in order to bring water to the canal, from the summit pond, to mitigate the insufficiencies of the ponds which fed the canal during periods of drought. To allow the passage of this canal the Canal Latéral à la Loire (built in the years 1820 and 1830), a tubular bridge was built on the Loire in Briare, of 1890 to 1896, by engineer Abel Mazoyer.

The iron canal bridge across the Loire river in Briare (France), Europe's longest, built at the end of the 19th century by Gustave Eiffel

The Tubular bridge of Briare is built on fourteen piles. On these piles is placed a single metal beam which supports a u-shaped basin which contains more than 13,000 tons of water (2.2 meters of depth). The width of the bridge, tow paths included, is 11.5 meters; and it is 662.7 meters in length. Eight valves make it possible to empty the tubular bridge in the event of severe freezing.

Canal de Burgundy

The Canal of Burgundy (French: Canal de Bourgogne) is located in central eastern France. There are two river entances; to the North the river Yonne allows access in the town of Laroche-Migennes whilst in the south the river Saône allows access in the town Saint-Jean-de-Losne.

Burgundy Canal at Poully-en-Auxois

The construction began in 1727 and was completed in 1832.

The purpose of the canal is to connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea via the rivers Yonne and Seine to the river Saône and Rhône. Allowing barges to transport merchandise of all kinds, from sand to wheat, wood to pottery. The barges were able to carry upto 250 tons of cargo.

North entrance of the canal tunnel at Poully-en-Auxois

The canal is 242 km long, with a total 209 locks and passes through two départements of Burgundy, the Yonne and the Côte-d'Or. The highest point of the canal is the "partition" at Pouilly-en-Auxois, which is 378 metres above sea level. The lowest point is at the junction with the river Yonne at 79 metres above sea level.

The Grand Canal d'Alsace

(or Grand Alsace Canal) is a canal in eastern France, channeling the Rhine river. It is 50 kilometers (about 30 miles) long. It provides access to the region from the Rhine River, Basel in Switzerland, and the North Sea for barges of up to 1,350 metric tons. Construction began in 1932 and was completed after World War II. The canal diverted much of the water from the original bed of the fast-flowing Rhine in this area, which is now almost entirely unnavigable by boats. The Grand Canal produces hydroelectric power at Kembs and Ottmarscheim to supply electricity to one of the most heavily industrialized regions in France.

Canal du Midi

Canal Nantes - Brest

The Canal from Nantes to Brest is a French canal which links the two cities of Nantes and Brest through inland Brittany. It was built during the 19th century and its total length is 364 km, with 325 locks along its path.

The original idea of such a canal is dated from the 16th century but it's only when Brest was blocaded by the English fleet that Napoleon I of France decided to build this canal to assure a safe inland link between the two largest military ports of the French atlantic front. Building started in 1811 and the inauguration by Napoleon III of France was celebrated in 1858.

Canal Saint-Martin

The Canal Saint-Martin is a 4.5km long canal in Paris, France. It stretches from the Square Flemaître to the Rue Lafayette and shortcuts a long loop in the River Seine on the eastern side of Paris in the Xe arrondissement.

Northern portion of the Canal Saint-Martin

The canal was opened in 1825 after Napoleon had ordered the artificial waterway dug to supply Paris with water, however by the 1960s, traffic had dwindled to a trickle and the canal narrowly escaped being filled in and paved over for a highway.

Bridge of the Canal Saint-Martin in Paris

Today, the canal is a popular destination for Parisians and tourists who watch the barges navigate the series of locks and road bridges.

The canal as it goes underground to return to the Seine

The canal in fiction
The canal is featured in the 1938 movie Hôtel du Nord, directed by Marcel Carné.

The canal is featured in the 2001 movie Amélie where Amélie Poulain enjoys skipping stones at the locks of the canal.


Credits : This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Canals of France".


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