Friday 23 August 2013

Men of Yore: Pierre-Paul Riquet

This is another in a series of posts about men from history who have either achieved great things in one form or another by pushing boundaries: either in themselves or in society or science or exploration of some form.  Boundary pushing and growth is what men do, it's their nature: to grow and push outwards.  We, as men, are the frontiers men, the first to discover/uncover new territory, in a metaphysical sense (i.e. including both material and the immaterial) that is later colonised and 'civilised' by the rest of humanity. 

It is also partly intended to show images, be they paintings, statues or photographs of the countenaces of men of yore.  Because, quite frankly, many men wear the countenances of women these days: smiling, smirking, cooing, rolling their eyes, looking smug etc.  It's a sign of the times, and by showing some images of men from the past, I hope to show some modern men why looking surly, frowning and giving hard-ball stares at people is something to do, something to practice.

Pierre-Paul Riquet

Pierre-Paul Riquet (June 29, 1609 (some sources say 1604) – October 4, 1680) was the engineer and canal-builder responsible for the construction of the Canal du Midi.
Paul Riquet was born in Béziers, Hérault, France. As a youth, Riquet was only interested in mathematics and science. He married Catherine de Milhau at age 19. As a fermier général ("farmer-general") of Languedoc-Roussillon, he was a tax farmer responsible for the collection and administration of the gabelle (salt tax) in Languedoc. He was appointed collector in 1630.[1] Riquet became wealthy and was given permission by the King to levy his own taxes. This gave him greater wealth, which allowed him to execute grand projects with technical expertise.

The Canal du Midi
Riquet is the man responsible for building the 240-kilometre-long artificial waterway that links the southern coast of France to Toulouse to link to the canal/river system that ran across to the Bay of Biscay, one of the great engineering feats of the 17th century. The logistics were immense and complex, so much so that other engineers including the ancient Romans had discussed the idea but not proceeded with it. Even so, Louis XIV was keen for the project to proceed, largely because of the increasing cost and danger of transporting cargo and trade around southern Spain where pirates were common.
Planning, financing, and construction of the Canal du Midi completely absorbed Riquet from 1665 forward. Numerous problems occurred, including navigating around many hills and providing a system that would feed the canal with water through the dry summer months. Advances in lock engineering and the creation of a 6 million cubic metre artificial lake—the Bassin de St. Ferréol — provided solutions.
The high cost of construction depleted Riquet's personal fortune and the seemingly insurmountable problems caused his sponsors, including Louis XIV, to lose interest. The canal was completed in 1681, eight months after Riquet's death.[1][2]

Another engineer this week, and one who thought on a grand scale, who thought outside of the box, and did something that was considered impossible at the time: he built a canal across dry and mountainous land allowing goods and people to travel between the Atlantic cost of France and the Mediterranean coast of France without having to travel around Spain (which was plagued by pirates and high taxes at the time).  Operating on a grand scale was not daunting to this man, whenever he encountered a problem, a difficulty, he didn't shy away, but engaged with the problem and solved it on his own.

Check out some of the other entries from the 'Men of Yore' series:


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