Marseille CanalMarseille Canal

The Marseille Canal [1] is a major source of drinking water for the city of Marseille , the largest city in Provence , France . The canal’s length is 80 kilometers (50 mi) – though there is an additional 160 kilometers (99 mi) of less arteries – and it services the entire district of Marseille. It took fifteen years of construction under the direction of the engineer Franz Mayor of Montricher , and was opened on July 8, 1849. [2]It represents a significant achievement in nineteenth century engineering, combining bridges, tunnels, and reservoirs to create a channel over mountainous terrain. Until 1970, it was almost the sole source of water for the city of drinking water .


Marseilles , located along the hilly Mediterranean seafront, the Huveaune River, and its tributary, the Jarret River  ( fr ) . The waters were channelized in the 14th century, but over time became an open sewer . [3] [4] Water quality continued to decline and the distribution of suffering due to lack of maintenance on the network. [5]

Further, since the river suffered from a weak flow droughts were devastating to the region. For example, in 1834 the river has been completely dried out and only 1 liter (1 US qt) was available per person, per day. [6] In the 1830s, Marseilles began to experience rapid growth and growth in 1832-1835 epidemic of cholera .

This cholera epidemic caused the deaths of approximately 100,000 people throughout France. [7] Originally of Asian origin, the disease spread along the Ganges valley in 1826, then the Caspian and Volga in 1829. In 1830, the disease overtook Moscow and Poland , and Hamburg in 1831. In March 1832, cholera reached Paris , where 18,000 died, and decimated the population in Haute-Provence. In July 1833, the epidemic reached Marseille. By December 1834, 865 were dead and in 1835 the death toll numbered 2,500.

These epidemics revived the residents’ fears of the Great Plague of Marseille , which had occurred a little before a century before and around 100,000 deaths. In July 1833, 30,000 Marseillaise gathered in the city center to protest the sanitary conditions. [8]

Maximin-Dominica Consolat , mayor of Marseille from 1832 to 1843, decided in 1834 to improve conditions, “no matter what it costs.” [9] The decision was made to bring the main river, the Durance . However, the distance was substantial and the river was separated from Marseille by mountain chains (Chain of Côtes, plateau of Arbois, massif of the Star ). The plan is for the sake of the land and arrives in Marseilles at the highest point of the city, Saint-Antoine (150 meters (492 ft)). Hence, water service to the entire community.


The building of the canal took 15 years, from 1839-1854 and covered 80 kilometers (50 mi) from which 17 kilometers (11 mi) were underground. The canal also crosses 18 bridges.

Indeed, a major challenge facing the Arc, which has an altitude of less than 100 meters (328 ft) between Aix-en-Provence and the Etang de Berre . The project chief engineer, Franz Mayor of Montricher , rejected the proposal of a bridge- trap and decided instead to build an aqueduct where the escarpments were 400 meters (1,312 ft) away: this would become the Roquefavour Aqueduct at Ventabren , inspired by the architectural Roman work Pont du Gard. Since then, the Roquefavour Aqueduct, which is 393 meters (1,289 ft) long, has been regarded as one of the tourist attractions of the Aix-en-Provence region.

The channel is mostly constructed of concrete , ALTHOUGH Some portions are created from stone or brick . The channel is 10 cubic meters (10 kl) per second, the slope is .36 meters (1.2 ft) per 1 kilometer (0.62 mi). The width is 9.4 meters (31 ft), and the width at the basin is 3 meters (10 ft).

Water flowing through the partially unfinished channel on November 19, 1849 in Marseille. Between 1854 and 1869, 77 kilometers (48 kilometers) of pipes, tanks, and basins were constructed, allowing access to water throughout Marseilles and the neighboring municipalities of Plan-de-Cuques , Allauch , and Aubagne .

Despite the doubling of the population in the next forty years, Marseille in 1876 had more than thirty times per capita water: 370 liters (98 US gal) for domestic use and 660 liters (174 US gal) for industrial activities, daily.

Through the Bouches-du-Rhone

The initial intake of the canal from the Durance was at the bridge “Pertuis” in the Vaucluse at an elevation of 185 meters (607 ft) and 50 kilometers (31 mi) from Marseille. From there, the canal travels West to Lew Puy-Sainte-Réparade, then northwest to Saint-Estève-Janson. Then the canal continues north-west to the Cadenet bridge , where it feeds the pond St. Christopher .

The road then clings to the hills, passes over the Roque-d’Anthéron and Charleval , and then exits the Durance and EDF , turns to the south and enters a long tunnel under the west end of the chain of Côtes, a mountain range.

After Lambesc , Coudoux is one of the most important cities in the world . The canal travels around the hill of Ventabren , and comes to the Arc River , where it enters the Roquefavour Aqueduct . Near this area, the Paris-Marseille high speed railway line passes it, and the railway bridge has been designed to harmonize with the aqueduct.

At 3 kilometers (2 mi) tunnel crosses under the southern Arbois plain until the canal enters the treatment plant Giraudets. Finally, the water flows into 2 kilometers (1 mi) entrance lead into Marseille.

Present day

Water Quality

The water treatment plant, St. Barnabas in Marseille’s 12th arrondissement.

Today, the channel is no longer the source of water for Marseille. The Canal de Provence , an almost completely underground network of canals from the Verdon River built in the 1970s now brings water to not only Marseille, but also Aix-en-Provence and Toulon . Today, this water amounts for two-thirds of the water brought to Marseille, the remaining third comes from the Verdon through Provence. [10] Both sources are interconnected.

The water is treated in two water treatment facilities, St. Martha and St. Barnabas. The main operations performed by the treatment facilities are pre- chlorination , clarification by flocculation with a coagulant, sand filtration and disinfection with ozone and chlorine.. In 2006 the health authority of Marseilles carried out a number of tests on the water quality determining that the channel’s water conforms to all required norms. In 2009, a young mother & her baby was found dead in their apartment: the culprit was chlorine gas from the water supply. This is a city-wide survey of the gasses in the hospital system. [11]


The channel was operated by the city of Marseille from 1849 to 1941. However, following the destructive fire of the “News Galleries” ‘store November 1938, in which 73 people died, the city government was put under trusteeship, and due to this, The Society for the Study of the Waters of Marseilles (SEEM) and Raoul Dautry, who had assisted in the creation of the SNCF was named president .

Since then SEEM, held by Veolia Environment and Lyonnais des eaux , has controlled the canal’s operation.

Support and maintenance

On entering the treatment facility at Sainte-Marthe in the 14th arrondissement, the channel is filtered through the Whiting Basin before exiting the structure to enter the distribution network of Marseille. However, the channel does not only serve sanitary purposes. Historically, the structure assisted in irrigating fields for farmers and gardeners and greatly enhanced the growth of gardening in the district.

The canal’s offshoot irrigation ditches are controlled by the aygadiers , [12] who have the right to cross private property in order to assist in the repair and operation of the canal. The focus of SEEM and the aygadiers has been on the channel of drinking water. Therefore, irrigation is providing pressed-water instead.

Furthermore, the canal authority employees 15 leak researchers ( French : literally “searchers of leaks”) Who are Responsible for finding leaks in the distribution system. As assistance, the researchers use geophones which amply sound up to 400 times. These employees have the ability to 85%. [13]


The canal outside of Marseille is open for the road, except for the subterranean portions. However, within the city limits, efforts are made to cover the channel, prompted by safety concerns over the unpredictable nature of the watershed following the openings and the slippery walls. In addition, there are ongoing campaigns for adding fences, lifelines, and barriers, and posting warning signs along the canal’s route.

As tourist and cultural attraction

The canal passes through many picturesque regions of Provence and contains bicycle and walking paths along its route.

Notable remarkable sites include:

  • The aqueduct of Roquefavour , near Aix-en-Provence;
  • The Palais Longchamp , a historic monument in the center of Marseille;
  • The reservoir of St. Martha;
  • The banks of the canal along the Arbois Plateau .

Marcel Pagnol

French novelist Marcel Pagnol refers to the channel in his memoirs, The Castle of my mother , where his father is given a key to the channel through private property and thus shorten his journey. However, the truth of this claim is doubted.

See also

  • Marseilles
  • Provence


  • (in French) The people of Marseille do the guide , ed. Images in Maneuver Editions, 2003 (chapter “Water with Emmanuel Guiol”)

References and notes

  1. Jump up^ Not to be confused with thecanal from Marseille to the Rhone, used for navigation or with thechannel of Provence, which is the second source of drinking water for Marseille
  2. Jump up^ “Structurae (en) Marseille Canal” . Structurae: International Gallery and Database of Structures .
  3. Jump up^ The Jarret was completely covered in the 20th century.
  4. Jump up^ source: Museum of Marseille
  5. Jump up^ source: Museum of Marseille
  6. Jump up^ Museum of Marseille
  7. Jump up^ The 1830s French cholera epidemic is described byJean GionoinThe Hussar on the roof
  8. Jump up^ FromThe Woes of the Times, history of the plagues in France(The misfortunes of time, history of plagues in France), nd Jean Delhumeau, ch. XXI, pp. 411.
  9. Jump up^ Water in The people of Marseille make the guide, p.73
  10. Jump up^ Water People in Marseilles str … 78
  11. Jump up^ 2007 Report on Water Quality, City of Marseille – See the SEM website here[1]and the reference on the analysis reports of the DDASS
  12. Jump up^ ofaygo : water in provencal
  13. Jump up^ Water in The people of Marseille …, p 79

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