As you can imagine, a 240 km long waterway such as the Canal du Midi generates a huge quantity of documents. Very quickly, Pierre-Paul Riquet's heirs realised the necessity of preserving the written heritage, for management reasons.
Therefore, from 1747, an archivist was recruited to sort and classify the documents from all divisions of the canal, transported by the barque de poste which was making regular trips between Toulouse and Agde.
In 1750, a first storage building was created at Port Saint-Etienne. A strategic location was chosen. In having the archives close to the canal château, the judges serving for the canal can find all the documents they need.
But this modestly sized building was very quickly proven to be too small! The Count Riquet de Caraman was unhappy with how the Canal du Midi archives were being managed as he considered them to be a priceless treasure. The documents often remained in administrative buildings somewhere along the canal route.
In 1830, the Compagnie du Canal du Midi decided to build a new storage building near the Canal Château. This new building would be used to store all the documents produced by Canal du Midi administration, such as plans, letters, statements, legal documents, accounting documents, etc. These documents are concerned with both the construction and operation of the canals, from 1598 (first project from Henry IV) to today.
It was Jean-Polycarpe Magues, chief civil engineering engineer and general manager of the Canal du Midi, who was in charge of implementing the project.
Completed in 1832, this building modernised the Canal du Midi management by centralising the documents produced. This building still houses the historic archives of the Canal du Midi today.
There is nothing ostentatious about this building, but the Neo-classic style architecture leaves an impression of nobility. And rightly so! The architecture of this building resembles that of an ancient temple.
For Pierre-Paul Riquet's heirs, the construction of this 'temple' was a way to honour the memory of their ancestor, and preserve this written heritage produced by 170 years of administration, in the best possible way.
The building designed by Jean-Polycarpe Magues is perfectly symmetrical. It has a big front door on the main façade and the entrance hall leads to three rooms, two storage rooms on the sides and the archivist's office.
There is a unique collection in this building, with 700 linear metres of documents! Publications from engineers, watercolour plans of engineering structures, letters, accounting documents, posters, maps, etc. Keep your eyes wide open, the entire history of the Canal du Midi is right here!
The smallest storage room is fairly ordinary, but the bigger one is much more impressive. The documents are sorted in big cardboard boxes. The oldest document dates back as far as 1598, it is a study for the canal that was carried out during the reign of Henry IV. The front of the boxes is in green leather with gold decorations. All these details are what make this 90 m2 room so spectacular.
Still today, this documentation is essential for managing the Canal du Midi and its branches. It is also a treasure chest for anyone looking to find out more about the history of this inland waterway.