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Let Languedoc’s Landscape Tell You its Story at Montady

Author: Laura Jeeves
by Laura Jeeves
Posted: Jan 11, 2018

There are few sights more impressive – and more intriguing – than the view of the Étang de Montady from the ruins of Oppidum d'Ensérune. A barge holiday in France is the perfect opportunity to explore this fascinating corner of the Languedoc-Roussillon region. If you’re cruising the nearby Canal du Midi, I would highly recommend an excursion to the site.

Oppidum d'Ensérune

An oppidum, or Iron Age settlement, nestles in the hillside at Ensérune. The scope and number of artefacts of this important archaeological site have made it invaluable to archaeologists and scientists, who believe that it was occupied from around the sixth century BC until the beginning of the first century AD. It offers a rare insight into pre-Roman France – visitors can learn more about its fortification, its trade network and its eventual decline after the Roman conquest at a museum on the site.

  • tang de Montady

Although the history of the Oppidum d'Ensérune is interesting in itself, there is another reason why visitors explore the archaeological ruins. The ancient hilltop town offers a spectacular panoramic view of the Étang de Montady. Originally this swathe of land was a brackish wetland that was useful for nothing but incubating disease. In 1270, the Archbishop of Narbonne authorised the monks who lived nearby to drain the swamp using an incredible irrigation system that still performs its function perfectly today.

Irrigation channels – all radiating outwards from a central point – were dug in the marsh, draining the water and carrying it via underground pipes through the hill d'Ensérune to empty in the Clavilongue stream. This resulted in 450 hectares of land, separated by the channels into triangular wedges, that was subsequently suitable for farming. The colossal sun ray layout is best appreciated from the air, which is why many visitors enjoy the view from the hilltop vantage point of the Oppidum d'Ensérune.

Malpas Tunnel

400 years after the Étang de Montady was drained, its ingenious logic inspired Pierre-Paul Riquet, the chief engineer of the Canal du Midi, to push the boundaries of canal construction. When he came to the hill d'Ensérune, he was faced with a big problem: the hill was made of brittle sandstone that made it too dangerous to dig through.

Although he was told to halt works in the tunnel by the Prime Minister, Riquet was encouraged by the fact that the medieval monks had managed to pipe the water from the Étang de Montady through the hill. Working in secret, he instructed his master mason to excavate the tunnel, which was completed in eight days. The Malpas Tunnel is now one of the most famous engineering feats of the Canal du Midi and certainly a highlight of any barge holiday in France.

Barge enthusiasts will be blown away by the quiet but impressive history written on the landscape of Languedoc at Montady, from an ancient hillside settlement to a masterpiece of medieval engineering that inspired a landmark of the Canal du Midi. If you’re planning a barge holiday in France, make sure that you pick an itinerary that includes a visit to this fascinating area.

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Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider if you're looking for an all-inclusive, luxury barge holiday in France or other great destinations. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.

About the Author

Writer and Online Marketing Manager in London.

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Author: Laura Jeeves

Laura Jeeves

Member since: Jul 20, 2017
Published articles: 446

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