Castelnaudary is a popular place to visit between Toulouse and the Mediterranean, with a whole host of gourmet themed explorations and historic sites to discover.
Initially, Riquet was not planning for the Canal du Midi to pass via Castelnaudary. But, unlike the town of Carcassonne, the town's consuls and the diocese of Saint Papoul did everything they could to change the canal route. They invested 30,000 pounds in a big port and the canal was built to pass via the town! A strategic choice…
For functional and topographical reasons, a Grand Bassin was created at the foot of the town walls, covering a former swamp area, at the bottom of the hill that sheltered the old town. Upstream from the basin, a port with docks and shops was created.
Very quickly, the port of Castelnaudary was used by the traders of Lauragais. Thanks to this infrastructure, they could export harvested cereals, mainly wheat.
The size of the Grand Bassin boosted the installation of various professions in the boating industry. Shipbuilders, wood merchants, rope makers, etc. The port of Castelnaudary was booming!
The 'barque de poste' would also dock here in the evenings, providing travellers with a place to stay overnight near the port of Castelnaudary, before then continuing their onward journey to Sète. This all contributed to the town's booming economy.
Have you noticed?
There are two Cales de Radoub (dry docks) that still bear witness to the flourishing shipbuilding sector between the 17th and 20th centuries.
Downstream from the Grand Bassin, you'll come across Saint-Roch lock. The difference in height to overcome to reach the next canal pound (Bief de Gay) meant that Riquet had to build a staircase lock with four chambers.
With a difference in height of 9.42 metres, this is the second biggest lock of the Canal du Midi after Fonseranes lock.
Did you know?
The decree for construction for the Canal Royal du Languedoc (former name of the Canal du Midi) signed in 1666, autorised the owner of a specific area to set up mills that would make use of the excess water power from the canal.
Bearing in mind the port's main activity was the cereal trade, Pierre-Paul Riquet decided to have the first mill built there in 1680. A second mill was built in 1750, downstream from the first one.
At the beginning of the 1830s, a flour mill was built between the two mills. Hydraulic power is no longer utilised here today, but these constructions still shape the landscape of the lock.
Due to its exposed location in the Lauragais plain, there are often strong winds in the town of Castelnaudary. The region is well-known for being windy! To make sure the unpredictable gusts of wind did not affect navigation in the Grand Bassin at the entrance to the town, it was decided to create a 'windbreaker' island, Ile de la Cybèle, whose name refers to the ancient earth-goddess.
It therefore became easier to moor boats here and the island was a popular place. Up until the 1940s, there was a traditional 'guinguette' that brought to life the 'windbreaker' island.
Did you know?
Washerwomen were particularly fond of the wind! They used washhouses on the edge of the Grand Bassin and then hung their washing out to dry on long washing lines on Ile de la Cybèle!
In May 1681, when the first boat sailed along the canal from Toulouse to Sète, there was a big celebration around the Grand Bassin in Castelnaudary. A mass was held in the Chapel of Saint-Roch near the lock and the barges were blessed by the church authorities.
Today, there are walkways around the Grand Bassin so visitors can explore the area. From these walkways, you can admire the architectural renovations of the facades overlooking the Grand Bassin, such as the vinegar factory for example.
Castelnaudary is in the ideal location to visit some of the Canal du Midi must-sees. Explore the town and surrounding area either on foot or by bike.