Amazing water staircase at Béziers: The Nine Locks of Fonseranes

By July 10, 2018TO SEE, TOWN
TO SEE | TOWN

As an official Site d’Exception en Languedoc, “Les Neuf Écluses de Fonseranes” is one of Béziers’ top places to visit. This architectural highlight of the Canal du Midi, created by Pierre-Paul Riquet, is an ingenious water staircase made up of nine locks. In 2017, the locks and their surroundings were entirely renovated to their former glory. With great success; I can easily spend half a day here!

Le Coche d’Eau

Since Pierre-Paul Riquet was born in Béziers, the Bitterois are incredibly proud of the inventor of the Canal du Midi. I recommend seeing the immersive show at the visitor centre before you visit the actual locks. This informative film, beautifully designed with the newest technology, uses surround screens and explains the history of the Canal du Midi and the nine locks in 14 minutes. The visitor centre is a good starting point regardless, and houses in the former inn “Le Coche d’Eau”. This was the place where sailors and horses regained their energy before towing the boats up and down the locks.

Pierre-Paul Riquet

The history of the Canal du Midi started in 1666 when King Louis XIV signed a decree to officially authorise building a canal linking the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic. Although many attempts had been made to create a connection between the two coasts, it is the visionary Pierre-Paul Riquet who succeeded. The nine locks of Fonserane were built to overcome the difference in height of 48 meters with the Garonne river. Altogether, this masterpiece of engineering took up the rest of Riquet’s life. He put all of his knowledge, love and money into the project and died penniless in 1680, eight months before the Canal du Midi was completed.

Ça bouge

Today, Les Neuf Écluses isn’t only a popular tourist destination. Les Bitterois also find their way to Fonseranes to attend a yoga class, stroll around the Sunday morning market, eat, drink and dance during “Les Soirées Divines” or go to one of the many other events organised during Summer. “Ça bouge à Béziers!” as they say here in the South. And it’s true; things are happening in this rough diamond of the South.

Board a boat

Although it is already quite impressive seeing the locks in action from the banks, to get the true Canal du Midi experience you have to board a boat. There are many boat companies to choose from; I chose “Les Bateaux du Soleil”. You can get tickets at the boat office next to the visitor centre, or you can search the internet and book directly. Tours last from one hour to a whole day, including other highlights of the Canal du Midi.

Action

If you are visiting the site, you might count the locks to see if there are nine. I did… And I noticed that when going up the water staircase, we actually went through six ovoid-shaped lock chambers and seven gates. How did that happen??? Well, back in the day, boats had to cross the Orb river. However, the Orb can be an unpredictable and turbulent river. Just crossing the river was a dangerous undertaking that wrecked many boats. So it was decided to permanently close the eighth gate, to lead boats from the seventh chamber to the Canal Bridge. The ninth gate is located in the direction of the Orb river and was therefore not needed anymore. Either way, it is still impressive to see the more than 300-year-old lock gates in action.

Info

Access to the site of Les Neuf Écluses de Fonseranes is free. You can wander around the nine locks, have a picnic at one of the picnic tables and visit the tourist office. I would recommend seeing the immersive film before you visit the locks. You can buy tickets at the visitor centre. You can also go on a boat trip, for more information ask at the visitor centre or check on their website. It’s worth having a look at the nine locks website anyway, very informative.

Parking

Signs to Les Neuf Écluses de Fonseranes will direct you to a large, paid car park. From here, it is a leisurely walk to the top of the nine locks, where you will also find the visitor centre.

Visitor Centre/Office de Tourisme
Chemin des 9 Écluses
34500 Béziers
+33 (0)4 99 41 36 36

website

Les Bateaux du Soleil
6, rue Chassefières
34300 Agde
+33 (0)4 67 94 08 79

website

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