In the earlier post on the river Lot we mentioned the elimination of Escambous lock in the navigable length centred on Puy-l’Évêque. This means dredging and rock-blasting to eliminate the weir beside this lock, to provide a navigable channel. The département Lot is now carrying out these works under a four-month contract, at a cost of €750 000. Dredging is also needed in the Floiras and Castelfranc reaches. In all, 5000 m3 of rock and sediment will be cleared to make the channel. Another €1.8m contract for restoration of the 17th century Floiras Lock is nearing completion. The lock-gates are being installed and the lock will be operational this autumn. These works will add about 10km to this navigable secion of the Lot, to make a total of 40 km. Complementary dredging in the Orgueil reach will be undertaken in 2013 to ensure navigability through to Fumel dam.
IWI President Dave Ballinger reports:
I had the distinct pleasure to attend a commemoration ceremony in Rochester, N.Y. on Friday, June 22, 2012, where a new park building was named after our former president (and current vice-president) Tom Grasso.
In her speech Maggie Brooks, Monroe County Executive, hailed Tom Grasso as a ‘statewide leader in the preservation of the Erie Canal and […] strong advocate for revitalization efforts of the canal throughout our community. It is fitting that our County Park System’s newest lodge, which was inspired by structures found along the Erie Canal, will bear his name and honor his legacy’.
There were many colleagues, family members and friends at the event under a sunny sky to see Tom and his grandchildren cut the ribbon. The lodge, for those not familiar with this type of building, is a multi-use building for rent that can accommodate up to 99 people. This particular building is the first of its kind in the Monroe County Park system to incorporate geothermal heating and cooling, while also providing air conditioning for summertime rentals. It also includes first-class amenities, such as a gas fireplace, stainless steel appliances and a covered outdoor area. The architectural design firm, Architectura P.C., recently won an AIA-Rochester design award for the lodge. The crowning piece of the lodge is the Canal boat weather vane on its peak.
Larry Staub, Monroe County’s Director of Parks. further defined the importance of the event and stated that ‘having the new lodge named for Tom Grasso is a lasting tribute to a man who has devoted so much of his life to educating us about the Erie Canal and its importance to our community’s past, present and future’.
So IWI’s past president and Council member has been formally recognized in his community for his tireless work promoting and protecting the Erie Canal which is such a valuable resource to Rochester and New York State, and in turn an important contribution to the world of waterways and canals. Congratulations Tom and also Monroe County for recognizing the importance of its canal, its history and its citizens who are involved with the Canal.
A report commissioned by former prime minister François Fillon has delivered its verdict on the scale of works required to restore the Canal du Midi‘s priceless tree canopy. The 42,000 plane trees (82% of the trees lining the banks) are being decimated by canker stain. Despite a range of preventive measures and careful felling of the affected trees, the whole population of plane trees east of Carcassonne is practically condemned. VNF, managing this UNESCO world heritage site, developed a plan for regeneration in close collaboration with the Government’s High Commission on Sites and Landscapes (CSSP), but the report suggests intensifying the campaign to fell the diseased trees and replant resistant species throughout the length of the canal over a much shorter time-frame than initially envisaged: 10 years.
The cost to covered over the 10 years is estimated at €200 million, and breaks down as follows:
• €79 M (just under 40%) for the tree felling (this concerns not only the trees lining the canal but also the bordering woodland areas; in all, 4000 trees to be cut down per year, with a dedicated staff of 64 tree surgeons),
• €44 M (22%) for replanting trees lining the canal, including 2 years of maintenance,
• €72M (36%) for bank protection works,
• €4M (2%) for preventive measures: research and development and protection of roots in the non-contaminated areas.
This evaluation does not include the costs of prospection, monitoring and trimming the trees as required over a period of 15 to 20 years to form the characteristic canopy.
The new report was commissioned from Haute-Garonne Senator Alain Chatillon, who is also the mayor of Revel, in the heart of the canal’s feeder system at the foot of the Montagne Noire.
The Government wanted a broader strategic view of the issues raised by the environmental disaster which sent a huge shock through all involved in managing the waterway.
The first conclusion is that both the tree felling and the replanting should be moved forward more rapidly. VNF is currently dealing with 300 trees per year.
But the Chatillon report seeks above all to justify the investment, to better define the canal’s values, to identify means of funding the works and to prepare for long-term governance of the waterway.
The socio-economic benefits of the canal through recreational use and tourism on the water and on the banks have been documented for many years, and are undisputed. But the rapporteur implies that there is inadequate ‘bundling’ of the canal into broader-based tourism products through the corridor, which should be considered like a ‘valley’.
He fears that transformation of the canal’s landscape will have a negative impact on the canal’s image and use in the coming years, and suggests that planning should start without delay, to adapt to the probable changes in visitor’s use patterns. He also feels that the canal’s parallel functions of irrigation and water supply should receive more strategic attention.
Funding the works – Chatillon suggests that one third of the cost should be covered by the State, one third by the regions (including EU funding and interregional cooperation projects supported by INTERREG), and the last third by corporate patronage. The State part could be achieved through an increase in the boat licences paid for the canal (an extra €200 000 per year) through VNF, and application of a visitor’s tax per night, as applied for hotel nights. More value should be extracted from properties within the canal’s estate, he suggests.
Corporate patronage incentives – Alain Chatillon sees considerable potential for attracting funds from the private sector. The UNESCO listing will give contributors worldwide visibility, and the population is genuinely attached to the canal through its history and as a tourism asset. Corporate patronage could be boosted by the tax reduction of 60% to be claimed on contributions. The tax rebate is even higher for individual contributions (66%).
Scenarios for developing patronage – The idea is eventually to create a trust, which could be part of a national heritage foundation. In the meantime, a public subscription offer could be set up to attract funds from the general public, while a club of canal patrons could be the first stage in promoting the principle of patronage, eventually leading to a strong patronage offer associated with the tasks of preserving and restoring the canal’s environmental and cultural heritage.
Canal marketing – Chatillon is convinced that the canal’s tourism-based economy can only survive if it is associated with a clearly identifiable mark, supported by a seal of approval (‘label’ in French). This is the only weak link in an otherwise well-structured and well-argumented report, because no orientation is suggested. Marketing initiatives taken by VNF and the three regions have to date produced limited results, especially at the international level. The information portal Rivières et Canaux du Midi does not even have an English version! This is European and regional funds poorly spent.
Three scenarios for future governance
The report examines three possible scenarios. The plane-tree replanting programme has highlighted the difficulty in taking measures with such a complex and multi-layered network of stakeholders, and a common structure is now increasingly urgent, not just on the Canal du Midi but throughout the ‘Deux Mers’ route and its connecting waterways.
Scenario 1 – VNF continues to manage the waterway. The partners sign a co-funding agreement for 15 years; in return, they are fully associated in the decision-making process, and have clearly defined tasks to perform. Complete transparency is essential for this approach to work, to ensure that the regions and the other stakeholders feel a genuine sense of ownership of the canal. This scenario has the advantage of avoiding any interruption in management, and being quick to implement.
Scenario 2 – A new structure is set up, such as a mixed economy corporation (‘Société d’Économie Mixte’) or a Public Interest Grouping (GIP), which would collect the public funding for the canal’s environmental functions: the tree-planting and water resources. This organisation, as project authority or ‘owner’ for the projects thus funded, possibly with VNF as contracting agency, would at last embody the effective cooperation among the three regions Aquitaine, Midi-Pyrénées and Languedoc-Roussillon.
Scenario 3 – The most ambitious scenario involves setting up an independent interregional body for development of the Canal des Deux Mers. This would have the strongest identity, and would be focused on local development, animation and enhancement of the canal. It would cover the three essential missions of a waterway authority:
- environmental (tree-planting and water resources),
- managing the waterway property and economic development,
- tourism development based on the ‘valley concept’ (on and around the water).
The funders would bring together all players wishing to be involved in these three fields of action, and would delegate their authority to a management body. The transfer of these responsibilities to an interregional agency has proved to be successful at a smaller scale. Our member the Entente Vallée du Lot is an example. This new entity would effectively coordinate the three missions, each performed by specific operators. This could be the new ‘founding act’ of the canal, just as the White Paper laid valid foundations, albeit with inadequate results, in 1996.
Watch out for further information and updates on this issue of heritage canal governance which is critical for French waterways in general!
Our thanks to the Réseau Fluvial Toulousain for drawing our attention to the press conference.
Canal historian William E. Trout III* will attend the World Canals Conference in Yangzhou, China, this September with an agenda. He hopes to find out what happened to the Emperor’s lock model, taken from England to China in the late 18th century. This mystery is tied up in the broader history of technological development of hydraulics and engineering related to locks and inclined planes for inland navigation.
Professor Needham presented convincing evidence that the Chinese were the first to invent the pound lock – with a lock chamber – and that many locks were in use while large government boats plied the canals 1000 years ago. However, by the time European travellers began to rediscover China, the large boats were no longer used, and locks had been abandoned in favour of flood-gates with inclined planes or slipways, which were found to be better suited for the comparatively small boats then in use. In forming their impressions, they did not have the benefit of, Hu Su’s vivid description in 1027, quoted by Needham: ‘The lock basin is deep as the home of a sleeping black dragon, and like a dragon, the water rises in the pool, so that the ships come and go continually, borne on waves like the tide flowing and ebbing. When the great gates are closed the water forms a whirlpool as the lock fills, and the white foam washes sides that never dry.’
In the late 18th century, when the canal era in Great Britain was just beginning, the western world not only thought that the Chinese were ignorant of locks, and lacking in inventiveness; but were so bold as to present a lock model to the Emperor of China, as a technological present from western civilizationl This model is mentioned in a handwritten comment which Bill Trout discovered in a William Chapman’s Observations on the Various Systems of Canal Navigation, published in England in 1797 (he saw the copy in the library of The University of California at Berkeley). This book, dedicated to the Duke of Bridgewater, England’s ‘Canal Duke’, is subtitled ‘with inferences practical and mathematical, in which Mr. Fulton’s plan of wheel-boats, and the utility of subterraneous and of small canals are particularly investigated, including an account of the canals and inclined planes of China‘.
William Chapman (1749-1832) was consulting engineer on the Grand Canal of Ireland. In the middle of his fascinating discussion of inclined planes, boat lifts, and other inventions, he observes:
‘It is an argument against the inventive powers of the Chinese, that they have not hitherto constructed Locks, as a great part of invention lies in the conception of the possibility of the event; and the Chinese have been informed, for upwards of a century, of its absolute possibility; as the Jesuit Missionaries sent to China by Louis XIV, in 1635, acquainted them with the principles of a Lock, with which they appeared astonished. The Fathers also thought that anyone who would carry to China the model of a Lock would be well received; and cause as much admiration as the first watches that the Missionaries presented to the Emperor.‘
This suggestion by the Jesuit Missionaries seems to have been taken up, because at the end of this paragraph a cross in the margin points to a handwritten note at the bottom of the page: ‘Dec. 1797. I gave one to S. G. Staunton before he set out, and he and it has as yet never been heard of – R. Mylne‘
Because the title page of this copy of the book is inscribed, ‘Robert Mylne Esq. from the Author‘, we know that this marginal note was by Robert Mylne (1733-1811), architect and engineer, involved in the Gloucester and Berkeley Canal and the Worcester Canal, and described by a cartoonist as the ‘firey comet‘. Sir George Leonard Staunton (1737-1801), to whom Mylne gave the lock model, was a born diplomat, a friend of Dr. Samuel Johnson, and Minister Plenipotentiary of Britain’s first ‘embassy’ or delegation to China, under Lord Macartney, in 1792, five years before the date of Mylne’s marginal note.
The obvious inference is that Mylne’s lock went to China with Sir George. But what happened to it?
Sir George Staunton was ill when he returned from China in 1794, so that may be why he never got in touch with Mylne. He had in fact planned to remain in Peking as the British Minister but his health prevented this – as well, no doubt, as a rule of the Emperor that any ambassador desiring to reside in Peking had to stay there for lifel As it was, the delegation was hustled out of China after a stay of only 47 days. Critics at the time charged that this was because Lord Macartney refused to kowtow before Emperor Ch’ien-lung. However, a table was drawn up showing that all embassies to China had been eased out in a short time so prostrating oneself made no difference.
Sir George probably entrusted the lock model to the delegation’s scientist or ‘machinist’, Dr James Dinwiddie (1746-1815), who had been giving public lectures on science throughout the British Isles, complete with ‘philosophical fireworks’ and balloon ascensions, so was the ideal person to demonstrate western science to the Chinese Emperor. Dinwiddie described his duties as ‘the erecting and regulating the planetarium; the constructing, filling and ascending in the balloon; descending in the diving bell; together with experiments on air, electricity, mechanics, and other branches of experimental philosophy; astronomical and other calculations‘, and presumably the demonstration of Mylne’s lock model. Unfortunately for canal historians and the Emperor’s court, this series of spectacles never took place, because Emperor Ch’ien-lung was not at all interested in foreign science and technology. Dr. Dinwiddie heard him say, when inspecting an air pump, ‘These things are good enough to amuse children‘, but otherwise were of no interest to the Emperor and his court. Perhaps one reason for this indifference was that the great Lord Macartney, representative of His Majesty’s government, and his entourage, were considered mere merchants or traders by the Chinese and therefore of extremely low rank. No self-respecting Chinese scholar who knew English dared stoop to serve as translator, and by decree, foreigners were not allowed to learn Chinese, and any Chinese caught teaching them had to be punished. Macartney’s translator was a Chinese who knew Italian. So although the lock model may have been demonstrated to the Emperor (as the air-pump was) it obviously made little impact on Chinese science, despite the prediction of the Jesuits 100 years before. Also, the language barrier made it impossible to delve deeply into Chinese culture. Dr. Dinwiddie did, however, get a good look at the canals and made the following significant observation:
‘The flood-gates in the canals of China are preferable to English locks in every situation where the canal is nearly level, and are constructed at a quarter of the expense. The inclined plane down which the boats are launched and up which they are drawn is a mode superior to our practice, for besides their being cheaper they are much more expeditious. The power employed consists of two windlasses. placed opposite to each other on the banks or abutments of the canals, the axis perpendicular, the gudgeons of the lower end supported on a stone and the upper end turning between two stones, sustained in an horizontal position on four upright stones. Each windlass has four bars which are manned with twelve to sixteen persons. The time employed in one instance observed was two minutes and a half, and in another about three.‘
But we are still left with the question, what happened to John Mylne’s lock model? Curiously, Chapman’s 1797 book, in which Mylne made his notation, has material on China obtained by the delegation, and actually quotes passages from Staunton’s account. If Chapman had known about the lock model, he would surely have mentioned it. Perhaps because the scientific programme of the delegation was something of a fiasco, it was not widely publicised in England. But there may be another reason why Chapman and Mylne were not informed about the lock model. When the delegation returned to England in 1794, Dr. Dinwiddie stayed behind, taking a closer look at the canals, and then sailed to India with the scientific apparatus – which the Chinese had ignored – presumably including the lock model. He stayed in India until 1805, lecturing on science and on China, and for five years was Professor of Fort William College in Calcutta. This raises the interesting speculation that Dr. Dinwiddie may have introduced canal locks to Indial Has anyone worked out the history of canals in India? In any event, it is possible that he did not take the model back to England with him in 1805, but left it with Fort William College, or with the East India Company’s Botanical Garden in Calcutta where he delivered some of the material collected by the delegation; but inquiries in India have not yet turned it up. There is still hope that Dr. Dinwiddie himself can tell us more about the Emperor’s lock model, in his journal, if it can be located. (Extracts were published by his grandson. W.J. Proudfoot, in 1868.)
What, indeed, did you do with the Emperor’s lock model, Dr. Dinwiddie?
* This article is based on Bill Trout’s research published in American Canals, No. 40, February 1982, inspired by the works of Professor Needham: Science and Civilisation in China, and a detailed article in the Transactions of the Newcomen Society
What does Lille, the historic capital of Flanders, have in common with Milan and Tokyo? Or even with The Hague, featured in this blog a few days ago?
It is a city that is determined to revive its historic intimacy with water, or what our Lombardy friends elegantly describe as la civiltà delle acque, or civilisation centred on water. This means reversing the trend which started in the years after World War II – covering or infilling small canals, or piping underground small streams – justified at the time by two benefits: public hygiene, and more roads for vehicle traffic.
In recent years, Lille’s Mayoress Martine Aubry has seen many reports pointing to the role revitalised canals could play in the city’s development, but the current ambitious plans date roughly from the time the Canal de Roubaix restoration was being completed, in 2009. The EU Blue Links project is a separate story, but it is clear that the remarkable success of that restoration and the Blue Days festivities in September 2009 gave new impetus to the plans being designed by the city of Lille and the Metropolitan District Lille-Métropole.
As long ago as 1994, working with Mark Lloyd of EuroWaterways Ltd, I wrote of the benefits of opening up Lille’s old canal arms, and architect Roger Beckett showed in some simple drawings how the canal basin in Lomme could become a vibrant boat harbour and urban centre. Since then, how many boats have given Lille a wide berth, skirting round the Citadelle on the high-capacity waterway, without realising what they were missing, or simply regretting that nothing had been done to welcome them in the city?
Determined to implement the proposals of the successive studies, Mayoress Aubry and her council opted for the most ambitious and costly of the three canal arms, the Vieille Deûle, penetrating into the historic city centre. As shown on the map, this involves a new cut to link with the Deûle, part of a local regeneration project called ‘Cœur de Deûle’, and re-excavation of the cut south from the historic Porte d’eau (now a major cross-roads) towards the church of Notre Dame de la Treille. Three design-and-build consortia were selected from six projects, and invited to prepare detailed designs and costings.
In the meantime, I was in another consultancy group advising Lille on an overall master plan for water in the city. I observed that it was unfortunate to spend €40 million on this branch, however spectacular for the city centre, while not treating the other arms, where it seemed more value could be derived from smaller investments.
In essence, the counter-proposal was to restore the link between the Moyenne Deûle south of the Citadelle and the modern waterway downstream of the Grand Carré Lock, also developing a boat harbour with all services in the canal basin at Lomme. But the issue of priorities was not the only reservation to be expressed. Councillors faced unexpected opposition to the project at public meetings. Local inhabitants were concerned about car parking, the risk of flooding their cellars (unrelated to the project, but it is hard to overcome prejudices and perceptions); there was also scepticism about the usefulness of the canal arm. Finally, Lille politics clouded the issue. Outlying communes in the metropolitan district felt that the investment was going to benefit the central commune of Lille, and should be balanced by other investments to boost waterway tourism throughout the network. This is the purpose of the Plan Bleu for Lille Métropole, in which I have also been involved, with landscape architect Alfred Peter.
To cut a long story short, the Vieille Deûle project through to the Avenue du Peuple Belge has been put on hold, while the overall strategy of the Plan Bleu is defined and eventually approved by elected representatives throughout the metropolitan area, from the Belgian border and the pastoral landscapes of the Lys valley in the north to the former coal mining belt in the south.
This means that boaters will also have to wait for a few more years, while these plans mature and are implemented, hopefully with less political wrangling and a clearer understanding of how all these canal projects are in the common interest of the population and tourists throughout the region.
Once this understanding has been reached, and the Plan Bleu approved, the Vieille Deûle project will be back on the agenda, and should hopefully be completed in the medium term. In the meantime, the old route round the Citadelle, via La Barre lock, should be back on the map! This will complement another major tourism and heritage project in the open space between Vauban’s fort and the city centre.
French president François Hollande supports inland water transport as a carrier of freight to and from the country’s struggling seaports. While still a candidate in the second round of the presidential election, he signed on May 2nd a letter to two waterway organisations indicating a firm intention to revive the Environmental Policy initiated and then abandoned by the previous government, to transfer more freight from road to rail and water. IWI‘s February Newsletter featured the letter from Jacques Romain, president of the Entente des Canaux du Centre France, to all 10 candidates for the presidential office. A similar initiative was taken by the French barge-owners through their representative body, the Chambre Nationale de la Batellerie Artisanale.
The letter, of which an English translation has been produced by DBA–The Barge Association (click on thumbnail, left), sets out the candidate’s objectives for transport and inland waterways, and underlines the importance of investment in infrastructure to ensure competitivity of intermodal solutions to and from the main seaports: Marseille, Le Havre and Dunkirk. The ports (and industry) are handicapped by the unsatisfactory waterway links to the hinterland, as a result of which, for example, 85% of freight movements to and from the port of Marseille are by road.
Water transport still only accounts for 2.2% of inland freight movements in France, compared with 12% in Germany, 16% in Belgium and 33% in the Netherlands. The policy statement refers to both the Seine-Nord Europe Canal and the Saône-Moselle.Saône-Rhine waterways, ‘to be the subject of careful study’, and to the principle of a pollution tax contributing to the funding of new investments. He stigmatises the previous government’s failure to implement the ‘Grenelle Round Table’ measures, aimed at increasing the share of rail and water to 25% of total freight movements.
The Entente (with its member DBA–The Barge Association) and the CNBA are to be congratulated for their initiative. Although the response is that of a candidate seeking votes, with all the caveats that implies, it is evidence of a position that is totally supportive of inland waterways. There will doubtless be occasions to remind President Hollande and his government of the candidate’s policy statement.
Header images from CNBA’s new web site
‘Small is beautiful’ could be a motto for canals, especially in cities. And this simple precept is now being followed in the Netherlands with spectacular results. This was the main lesson learned during the EU Waterways Forward partnership meeting in The Hague on May 30th-June 1st.
During the first day of proceedings, May 31st, delegates discovered the ambitious canal restoration plans of South Holland and the association of local authorities RegioWater. The above extract from their planning map shows the remarkable density of ‘water routes’ which could potentially be opened up to navigation in boats of the appropriate dimensions. The green lines are all routes not normally available to recreational boats, while the crosses mark specific obstacles to be lifted, usually very low fixed bridges. The one furthest to the west, the Moerbrug, is said to be too low even for swans to pass under!
A vivid demonstration of the issues – and the potential – was provided in the afternoon, as the 25-strong delegation (with members from the UK, Ireland, France, Italy, Poland, Hungary, Latvia, Norway and Serbia, as well as the host country) embarked on two open trip-boats run by the association Ooievaart, to discover the ring of canals (green on the map, beside the name Den Haag).
Despite rain of similar intensity to that experienced by the million visitors at the Thames Pageant for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee three days later, the 90-minute trip was both entertaining and instructive, as the history of the capital was explained street by street, bridge after bridge. Entertainment came from the numerous covered sections of the canals, where we all had to bend over completely to squeeze under beams, pipes and other protruding parts. It was like being in a surgeon’s probe, exploring the entrails of The Hague.
And lo and behold! Structures were already in place to start implementing the RegioWater plan by removing the canal’s cover, to expose it and restore it to its rightful place in the urban environment. As in Lille and in Leipzig, the argument for covering the canals (or infilling them completely) was salubrity, in the absence of proper sewerage systems. With proper sewerage, water quality is now very good.
The idea, as the IWI tour discovered in Leipzig in April 2011, is to use the opportunity of maintenance or replacement works to raise the bridges and increase the available headroom.
This means that navigability in larger craft can only be a long-term objective, but the process is to be hailed, as well as the opportunities for exploring such canals in small craft.
Forty years after I was blocked in a hireboat on the canal route south from Groningen to Coevorden, which had just been closed, the phase of economic development which led to the abandonment of so many small canals has clearly come to an end. ‘Small canals’ are now being revived on a significant scale, in both town and country.
Edo Bricchetti, a member of IWI’s Council and The International Council for Conservation of Industrial Heritage (TICCIH), has been tirelessly defending the priceless heritage of Lombardy’s historic canals, the navigli, working closely with the responsible authorities for more than 20 years. During this time, although it does not directly manage the canals, Lombardy Region has set up an agency, SCARL Navigli Lombardi, whose task is to coordinate restoration works, develop tourism and promote the heritage of the canals themselves and their corridors; these canals are the ideal vector to visit gems of architecture, enjoy cultural landscapes and see countless vestiges of the industry that for centuries used the abundant waters crossing the plain.
Lombardy at the time of Leonardo da Vinci
When Leonardo da Vinci arrived in Milan in 1482, he discovered works of hydraulic engineering that were already unrivalled in Italy or even throughout Europe. The Viarenna lock, within the city limits, had already been in operation for 40 years, while to the north-east the city was served by the Naviglio della Martesana.
During his 25 years in Milan, Leonardo was to make a significant contribution to improvement of the waterway system which was the most extensive and strategic in Europe at that time.
Between the Ticino and the Po the Padua plain is divided horizontally into distinct sections, between the arid and infertile strip of land to the north and the well-watered lower plain to the south, better suited to agriculture. Springs, irrigation feeders, channels and offtakes conveyed water for irrigation, where formerly spring water and the left-bank tributaries of the Po flowed into stagnant marshes. The canals enabled cultivation of vast areas of arid land to the north of wide tracts of low vegetation and dense heathland. On this network, in the towns, in the villages and countryside, grain mills were established, oil presses, basins for husking rice, paper and felt mills, presses for working metals, tanneries for leather. In short, all economic activity revolved around the waterways, which acquired strategic importance in the regulation of flows for hydraulic energy and for transport.
Lombardy civilisation was founded on this combined use – for industry and agriculture, leading to the development of considerable areas of land, where traditional trades and crafts coexisted with new forms of agriculture, new manufacturing industries, trades and communications.
Brief history of the canal system
Situated roughly half way between the Ticino and the Adda, Milan has always seen these two rivers as potential outlets to the sea through the Po. After abandoning the idea of a direct connection to the broad river through the Lambro, the city concentrated on a system of canals, which were built over a period of seven centuries.
They are divided into two subsystems. The Naviglio Grande, the Naviglio di Bereguardo and the Naviglio di Pavia belong to the Ticino; the Naviglio Martesana and Naviglio di Paderno are connected to and supplied from the Adda. These were linked by the fossa interna or canal ring in the centre of Milan, not unlike the grachten which characterised Dutch cities. Commercial activity was concentrated in the large basins at Porta Ticinese and San Marco.
However, Milan’s dream of becoming a seaport remained unfulfilled for many years, mainly for political reasons, but also on account of objective technical difficulties of navigation (climatic events, irregular river flow regime, problems of water table rise, and competition with nearby cities for control of the waterways). All these obstacles were overcome by the practical approach of the Milanese who already in Roman times, from the second century AD, adapted the smaller rivers Seveso, Nirone and Vettabbia for small-scale navigation.
Ravenna, capital of the Empire of Bysance and Pavia, capital of the eastern Roman empire, served as centres of exchange of produce between the Orient (precious metals, woven cloth, spices and miscellaneous goods) and the West (weapons, timber, construction materials, foodstuffs).
Around the year 1000, Milan, Lodi and Pavia were in bitter competition for access to the river outlets, especially Lodi, protected by the Emperor Federico Barbarossa, and Milan, elected a free City. In particular Barbarossa, who founded the new city of Lodi on 3 December 1158, granted it the status of exclusive port of the Adda. Milan fought bitterly to defend its only access to the Adda through the Lambro, navigable at that time. Inevitably, only three years after the battle of Legnano and the historic victory of Lombardy Communes over the Emperor (1179), the Milanese started work (in the village of Panperduto) on a canal for trade on the left bank of the Ticino. The canal was to transport goods originating from Verbano and nearby Switzerland, thus releasing the city from blockades and imperial control. They were assisted by a flood which, by inundating land near the canal, suggested the extension of the section already built between Abbiategrasso and Landriano (Ticinello, 1157). The limit of navigation was extended in 1187 to Trezzano, in 1211 to St Eustorgio bridge in Milan, and in 1253 to Gaggiano (Naviglio di Gaggiano). The third section, completed in 1257, finally completed the Verbano-Ticino-Milan system.
In 1272 the canal, called the Naviglio Grande, was already in regular use by barges, transporting wood, hay, cheese, cattle, marble and granite to the city, while “exports” upstream included salt, iron, grain and various manufactured goods.
To the south, however, Milan could rely only on the Navigliaccio, completed by order of Gian Galeazzo di Visconti in 1359, for irrigation of Castello di Pavia (and later extended for 8 km to the Certosa di Pavia), and on the Naviglio di Bereguardo, between Abbiategrasso and Bereguardo.
Meanwhile, they applied themselves to connection of the Naviglietto (1156) to the Lombardy waterway network through the Conca di Viarenna (1440) near the lake of Sant’Eustorgio. This connection suggested the future development of a circular canal connecting all the navigli, with the Porta Ticinese canal basin at its centre.
The Incoronata (‘coronation’) lock at San Marco, near Borgo Nuovo at Porta Orientale (built under decrees for reform of navigation by Ludovic the Moor dated 13 October 1496 and 15 April 1497), completed the connection of waters of the Ticino to those of the Adda.
The latter was reached via the Naviglio Piccolo del Martesana, thus named after the county it crossed. Construction of this waterway, of great strategic importance for the city’s economic development, was suggested by the Milanese demand for goods originating in the Valtellina and the Valsassina valleys, especially after the conquests of Lodi and Pavia, from 1335 and 1339. Goods would be carried down the Lario and Adda rivers.
Thus the excavation of the Naviglio del Martesana was completed in only six years, between 1457 and 1463, from Concesa to Cassina de’ Pom. The gradient of the waterway made it possible to provide irrigation offtakes throughout its length, and hydraulic energy for manufacturing works, as well as navigation. The goods transported were principally (heading downstream) coarse and dressed quarry stone, lime, bricks, metals, sand and gravel, weapons and tools in wrought iron, foodstuffs and agricultural produce, wood and coal; boats would return upstream from the city towards the lake with some manufactured goods, but the main cargo was salt. The economic importance of this waterway soon led to the construction of a genuine, dedicated inland port in the San Marco basin in Milan.
However, the waterway suffered from the interruption caused by the Paderno rapids which prevented navigation in the section between Paderno and Cornate d’Adda. Shattered on these rapids were not only a number of intrepid boatmen, but the Milanese dream of uninterrupted navigation from lake Como to the city. Goods thus had to be transhipped and transported overland from Brivio to Trezzo, that is from the confluence of the Lario to the only waterway effectively navigable to the east of Milan, the Naviglio del Martesana.
The French king François I thus decided in 1516 to give the city of Milan 10 000 ducats per year, in support of construction of a new navigable canal, to serve his own political ambitions. Various projects were drawn up, which revived the old idea of a direct link from the lake at Lecco to Milan. A public commission, made up of the engineers Bartolomeo Della Valle and Benedetto de Missaglia, surveyed various solutions which suggested using successively water diverted from the Lambro, then from the Molgora, the Seveso, the Lura and the Olona, and finally, Lake Como. The latter option was chosen, with a choice of two routes: the first was for a major new canal, leaving the river at Brivio and running across the plain via Vimercate and Monza directly to Milan; the second involved using the Naviglio del Martesana and the river Adda from Trezzo to Brivio.
The latter project was judged feasible within space of two years and with the sum of approximately 50 000 Ecus. The Milan Senate decreed on 26 September 1518 to choose this second option, which again was debated between two engineering approaches. Should navigation be developed within the natural river bed, removing all obstacles (using locks in the bed of the river itself)? or should the river bed be avoided in certain sections, by building by-pass canals on the Milanese side of the valley? The second approach, proposed by engineer Benedetto de Missaglia, was chosen. This involved excavation of a canal on the Milanese side of the valley from the locality called Tre Corni to the sacred site of La Rocchetta. Placed in charge of the works was the architect and painter Giuseppe Meda, author (in 1574) of the project for a magnificent structure of masonry, portals and lock-gates in timber, bridges and various mechanisms, capable of overcoming the difference in level of the rapids with a single pound lock featuring separate upstream and downstream gate structures, called castelli d’acque (or ‘water towers’). The downstream structure was originally to be built to a height of 17.82m, while the upstream structure was 5.94 m high. However, various difficulties, compounded by the plague of 1567 and above all by bureaucratic delays, led to abandonment of the initiative.
Construction was in fact approved by the King of Spain only in 1590. The works started between 1590 and 1593 finished in the aftermath of disputes and trials which dragged on between 1596 and 1597. Meda even carried weapons on him as he went about his business, to defend himself.
Meda died in August 1599, and with him all ambitions for completion of the enterprise. The water introduced in the first section in 1603 was drained away completely in 1617, on account of the impossibility of keeping the pound watertight; the inlet was blocked off, the site installations were dismantled and the materials sold off. Under Spanish domination (1525-1748), Milan went through a period of total inertia, again complicated by the bitter opposition of Como and Bergamo to all plans for navigable canals to Milan, which they considered as a serious threat to their own traffics.
Had it not been for the determination of some of Meda’s followers, and for the clear and precise designs of the Austrian administrators, supported by the Italian engineers, the works would never have been completed. It was under the first period of Austrian domination (1748-1796) that the ambitious project for implementation of the Naviglio di Paderno was revived. The studies were revised by count Firmian, representative of the Austrian government in Lombardy, by the adviser Pecis and by mathematicians Antonio Lecchi, Francesco Maria De Regis and Paolo Frisi. Count Firmian, responsible for approval of the works, finally advised minister Kaunitz to accept the bid by the contractor Nosetti (13 July 1773). The project provided for reuse of Meda’s lock foundations, but with the height of the downstream lock reduced to about a third of that in Meda’s original plan.
Nosetti doubted the feasibility of a lock as deep as that proposed by Meda, and envisaged breaking up the difference in level into six pounds instead of two, with the canal’s intake and outlet established respectively at Sasso di San Michele and Valle della Rocchetta.
On 11 October 1777 the canal was opened to navigation amid intense public and official festivities, in the presence of count Firmian, whose inaugural boat proceeded down the canal from Brivo to Vaprio, with the Archduke of Austria also on board. However, a structural failure at one of the locks delayed final opening of the canal until 6th October 1779.
‘Lombardy, a land of engineers never fully appreciated, and of works left incomplete‘
© Prof. Edoardo Bricchetti, 1998, edited by David Edwards-May, 2012
In just a few years, three bottlenecks on the eastern borders of the European Union will have been removed, thanks in part to the persistent efforts of many organisations working together, campaigning and lobbying for canals, waterways and inland navigation.
First to be completed was the restoration of the Augustowski Canal in Poland and its continuation in Belarus’ through to the Neman river, opened in 2009. The second, long-awaited, development is the construction of a permanent lock in Brest-Litovsk at the western end of the Dnieper-Bug Canal (see map in header).
This lock should replace in 2012 the temporary earth dam structure which for many years blocked through navigation to Poland’s Bug River. Finally, the canalised river Bega will be opened from the Tisa in Serbia through to Timosoara in Romania; again work is in progress on restoration of the first lock in Romania.
Our exhibition From Limerick to Kiev: Waterways for Tomorrow’s Europe contributed to promotion of these projects by showing in 2003/2004* how an integrated European waterway network is a concern for tourism and long-distance recreational boating, just as it is a concern for industrial and economic development through inland water transport. The exhibition map and panels were also shown at the boat lift at Strépy-Thieu in Belgium in 2004, and at a session of the Working Party on Inland Waterways at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe in Geneva.
Boatowners have for long been planning long-distance cruises throughout the continent, as shown by this planning map for the cruise of a lifetime from Paris to Moscow, Perm and Arkhangelsk.
A complementary issue is that of regulations for crossing that eastern border (or ‘internal border’ in the case of Serbia-Romania); discussions are in progress and outline agreements have been reached, one having been signed recently in Warsaw by Poland and Belarus’, but in practice there are still substantial administrative hurdles to overcome. Such cruises have now become feasible, at least in terms of reglementation, since the Russian Federation passed a law on May 25th allowing foreign recreational boats to use its inland waterways.
* first in Grenoble, for the 10th anniversary of foundation of Euromapping, then in October 2004 at the European Parliament building in Brussels; the partners for that operation were IWI, the Alliance Internationale de Tourisme, the European Boating Association, DBA The Barge Association and ICOMIA
Barge owners and operators will contribute up to half of the cost of building the 106km long Seine-Nord Europe canal through the toll levied by the canal’s future private-sector operator.
Two approaches were discussed at a meeting on April 18 in Ghent, bringing together VNF, Waterwegen & Zeekanalen (Flanders) and Service Public de Wallonie (Wallonia).
The first, proposed by the project partners, involves charging more for goods that are ‘captive’ or most likely to be carried by water, such as agricultural products, bulk minerals and metals, and less for goods more difficult to win from road and rail, such as containers.
The carriers argued on the contrary for a toll indexed on the value of the cargoes.
The proposed tolls range from €2 to €4.90 per tonne, according a report in the French magazine NPI – Navigation, Ports & Intermodalité.
These tolls were set at a level corresponding to 30% of the saving in transport costs offered by the canal.
This means that the carrying industry will retain 70% of the benefit of the reduction in transport costs.
It remains to select the private-sector partner to design, build and operate the waterway, although the competitive dialogue process should be completed in the coming weeks.
Watch this space!