Today, this building is still one of the priorities of the Canal du Midi, as a building to be protected and showcased.
In the decree of construction for the Canal Royal du Languedoc (former name of the Canal du Midi), the King specified that the canal would be a seigneury, entrusted to a lord. To ensure the canal was managed correctly, the most significant policing and justice restrictions were imposed for the canal seigneury.
Back then, the seigneuries (territories) where these restrictions could be enforced were known as 'châtellenies'.
Justice was therefore delivered by a 'châtelain' judge and the building where justice was delivered was called a château.
That is why the Canal Château is named as such. This was where legal decisions related to the Canal du Midi seigneury were made before the French Revolution.
The Canal du Midi Château was built in 1715 as the residence for the canal lords, created by Louis XIV for Pierre-Paul Riquet and his family.
The chamber of justice was in the south tower on the first floor. That was where offences committed by users of the Canal du Midi would be judged. The prison was in the same building, most likely in an area between the ground floor and first floor.
But what exactly were the offences that could be committed by users of the Canal du Midi? There were in fact a lot of them, including goods theft, the theft of linen, insulting the barque de poste tax collector, etc. Punishments ranged from a simple fine to imprisonment at the Canal Château.
For example, Malvez, a labourer for the barque de poste, was arrested in 1735 for attacking Mr. Bimenet, a tax collector for the barque de poste. The same year, Gaujet dit Albio de Villesèque was imprisoned for 27 days at the canal prison in Toulouse for cutting off the water flow at Lauzes stream in Castelnaudary.
Did you know?
The Canal Château is dedicated to Pierre-Paul Riquet, and there was once a sundial on the façade with the engraving, 'Le temps passe, la gloire de Riquet demeure' (Time goes on but Riquet's glory remains)
Unfortunately, this sundial was destroyed in 1960 when the façade was restored.
The Château was built on a plot of land acquired by the lords of the canal in 1708. The Canal du Midi Château may be in the city centre today, but when it was built, it was on the outskirts.
The Canal du Midi Château is on the opposite side to the unloading docks at Port Saint-Etienne, and the building has various uses. Besides serving as the court of justice and prison, it was also used for the canal administrative services. It also housed offices and lodgings for prison guards, port employees and administrative personnel. There was a storehouse with the materials needed for Canal du Midi maintenance work, such as timber, pozzolan, tow used as caulk for lock gates, etc.
At Port St Etienne there is a big timber shop with a pavilion on either side, one of which is used as the chamber of justice and prison, and lodgings for the 'gardes à bandoulière' officers. The other one was the Director's residence but nobody lived there as it was barely furnished
The architecture of the Canal du Midi Château was designed according to its uses. It has two pavilions with two upper floors on either side of a large single-storey central building.
The central building, with a surface area of more than 250 m2, was used to store materials. It was originally open onto the upper docks, with a series of regularly spaced-out openings. It was enclosed in the 19th century however, to provide more security for the storage of wood.
The court of justice was in the south-side pavilion. The second floor of the south pavilion and the north pavilion were used for lodgings.
The French Revolution marked the end of court leet. That is when the Canal du Midi Château chamber of justice was transformed, and up until 1830 when the archives building was built, a part of the canal archives was kept there.
From 1830, the entire south pavilion was used as lodgings, including a residence for the archivist!
Another transformation of the Canal du Midi Château came in 1980. The south pavilion lodgings were replaced by the offices for the flood warning service, which remained there up until 1997.
The north pavilion was used for lodgings until the last tenant left in 2002.
In the 20th century, the central building was converted into a mechanical repair garage for the Canal du Midi service cars.
The Canal du Midi Château is the oldest remaining building of Canal du Midi administration in Toulouse. It was listed as a Historic Monument in 1992.
In 2020, a health and safety inspection of the building detected structural problems with the wooden elements of the building. Some of these were a risk to the future of the building so it was therefore decided to carry out some building work to protect this historic site.
Today, VNF (Voies Navigables de France) in partnership with Toulouse Métropole, is working on enhancing the urban and heritage sites of the Canal du Midi in Toulouse, including Port Saint Etienne, and the Château and archives building are included in this initiative.