Port de Capestang sur le canal du Midi avec bateaux à quai en stationnement

Capestang is a great place to visit
along the Canal du Midi

The village of Capestang is right at the centre of the long canal pound on the Canal du Midi, which is a 54 km section without locks, between Argens-Minervois and Béziers. This is a quaint little village and there's a superb view from the top of the church bell tower across the surrounding area.

Capestang, a port and authentic village

The village of Capestang is well-known for its collegiate church and château built by the archbishops of Narbonne, and it is at the northern tip of the wetlands bearing the same name (caput estang in Occitan dialect).

Here, the canal was built on a balcony, overlooking Capestang wetlands down in the dip. It follows this same contour line, winding around the landscape before reaching the highlands of the village.

The port activity developed during the 18th century, next to Saïsse bridge, which was one of the bridges built in the 17th century to restore the pathways that had been cut off by the canal. This port became more significant in the 19th century. The following statement is from a travellers guide about the Canal du Midi, published in 1836: "The winegrowing industry revived the port. There are often many barges here picking up their loads".

A house for a warden and navigation rights inspector was built in 1844. Today, this building houses the harbourmaster's office and the tourist office where you can find information about activities, visits and wine tastings in Capestang and the surrounding area.

Did you know?

The Capestang flood

Over the first two weeks of November 1766, torrential rain hit the Minervois region. The Cesse and Aude rivers were overflowing. Patiasses spillway was not enough to compensate the excess waters and the water levels continued to rise in the canal. Mr. Andréossy, head of the canal for the Le Somail division, was worried that the banks would be overwhelmed. Unfortunately that is exactly what happened on the evening of the 15 November. A 36-metre-long section of the bank collapsed just above Capestang and the village was flooded. Efforts were made to try and repair the banks, but after the rain came the frost. Working conditions were very difficult for the labourers working in shifts day and night. It took two months to repair the damage. At the end of January 1767, boats could once again moor in Capestang. The locals of the village would remember this nightmare for a very long time. 

Saïsse aqueduct

This structure was built in 1689 under the port of Capestang to drain the streams flowing down from the highlands.

This was one of the aqueducts commissioned by Vauban to allow the canal to pass under certain waterways. This aqueduct was often dry and the arch was quite high so the locals would use it to cross the canal without having to go to the bridges further away from the village (Saïsse and Pietat bridges). 

Plan du port de Capestang de 1837 issu des archives du canal du Midi de VNF

Plan du port de Capestang, 1837 © VNF, archives canal du Midi

The Fer de Mulet siphon spillway

Slightly upstream from the town is the first of the Canal du Midi's siphon spillways, built in 1776 by engineer Bertrand Garipuy.

This structure was built 10 years after the flood in Capestang that emptied a part of the long canal pound in 1766. This stone structure provides a passage and functions automatically, without human intervention unlike a standard spillway.

When the water levels of the canal are too high, excess water flows into the siphon according to the principle of communicating vessels, and then continues into a channel to Roubiolas stream.

Two other siphon spillways were built on the Canal du Midi: one downstream from Ventenac (at the long canal pound), and the other one upstream from Marseillette. 

Piétat spillway

As a direct consequence of the Capestang flood, a new spillway was built in around 1770, downstream from Piétat bridge.

Piétat was built on the right banks, to regulate water levels in the long canal pound.

The beautiful architecture is a typical example of the engineering structures that the Canal du Midi management had built in the second half of the 18th century.