Barging in France: The Canal de Briare
Part 1: About the Canal de Briare
The picturesque Canal de Briare, one of the oldest canals in France, connects the valleys of the Seine and the Loire. A popular route for both private and commercial cruising vessels, the canal is renowned as one of the loveliest places for a barge cruise, and being a highly impressive feat of engineering.
The Canal de Briare begins just north of Montargis at Buges. The section of the canal between Montargis and Rogny follows the valley of the River Loing. Many of the villages and hamlets date earlier than the origin of the canal.
History of the canal - An engineering triumph
The Canal de Briare, the first summit-level canal in Europe (35 miles & 35 locks), joins the Loire to the Seine via the Loing River. On the Seine side, 24 locks make up for a difference in height of 252 feet, and on the Loire side, 12 locks make up for a difference of 135 feet.
The Canal de Briare was first considered by Maximilien de Béthune, King Henry IV’s first minister and the Duke of Sully, as a way of getting produce from the Loire Valley and Gâtinais to Paris quickly and efficiently. In the 17th century, Paris was booming and its population was hungry. A canal linking the food bowl of France with the growing metropolis would cut the food shortages Paris was experiencing. It would also provide the local area with employment and the King with taxes.
Satisfied with the plans, Henry IV awarded the project to the engineer Hugues Cosnier in 1604. Work started on the building of the canal and 12,000 workers toiled to dig the canal by hand.
The Canal de Briare was the first canal to be constructed at summit level using pound locks, which feature a chamber with gates at either end to control the height of the water within. Before then, locks only had a single gate. A summit-level canal first rises and then falls along its course. The 57km Canal de Briare rises through 12 locks, then falls 85 meters with its 24 descending locks.
During construction, they created several artificial lakes to feed water into the locks. At the most precipitous location, Rogny, it was necessary to build a “staircase” of seven locks in order to navigate the fall of the canal. While it was an outstanding feat of engineering, the design caused huge hold-ups, as each vessel had to navigate all seven locks before the next could pass through. In the end, they abandoned the staircase of locks and re-routed the canal to bypass them. Later, they renamed the town Rogny-les-Sept-Ecluses in its honor.
The assassination of King Henry IV in 1610 halted construction for 10 years. Cosnier was invited to continue the ambitious project in 1620. Guillaume Boutheroue took charge in 1629 after Cosnier died. They completed the canal in 1648.
Unlike the Canal du Loing, which follows a river its entire length, the Canal de Briare is a watershed canal. The canal suffered from water shortages when it first opened, even though supplied by carefully designed reservoirs. In the late 19th century, they diverted the canal over the River Loire with the construction of the Briare Aqueduct.
French Hotel Barge Cruises - Canal de Briare
Upper Loire/ Burgundy: Canal de Briare
Up to 8 guests
Charters and Cabin cruises
Family, Golf, Wine
- Part 1: About the Canal de Briare
- Part 2: Towns & Villages Along the Canal de Briare
- Part 3: Places of Interest on the Canal de Briare