The Atlantic coast of Europe clearly led the world in shipping technology in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Baltic took second place. French canal construction was also well developed for inland trade. A typical example was the Orléans canal built in 1692 to link the Seine and Loire. The Languedoc canal in southern France was also of crucial commercial importance. It was built by Pierre Paul Riquet at Colbert's instigation between 1666 and 1681 to link the Garonne at Toulouse with the Mediterranean via the Aude. Late seventeenth-century French canal-building reached a high standard which was not surpassed, even with later technological improvements. In central Europe the most important canals for heavy transit trade were the Havel-Spree canal, and the Kiel canal built in the later eighteenth century. In Russia access to the Baltic was also obtained by linking the Volga and the Don.
There was little improvement in road building, however, although hard surfaces began to appear on increasing numbers of French chaussées. These were kept in repair by resort to corvé, or compulsory labour, especially after 1738. In 1747 an École des ponts et chaussées was opened and a corps of bridge and road engineers established in 1750. Road construction was above all of military and strategic value to absolutist governments in central and east Europe. Frederick II of Prussia even allowed roads on his borders to fall into disrepair in order to hinder foreign invasions.
In shipping the activity of the Hanseatic and Scandinavian Baltic ports fell far behind that of the English and Dutch,