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The Fonséranes locks

Come and explore this major structure on the Canal du Midi, located in Béziers,
on the right bank of the Orb, at the foot of the Cathedral of Saint-Nazaire.

It is the most amazing attraction on the Canal because of its succession of cascades and its splendid view of the town of Béziers in Languedoc. It is the starting point for boat trips that you can take with friends or family or in a barge with a guide. You could also enjoy strolling or cycling along the towpath.

Les vannes s'ouvrent, écluses de Fonséranes - Hérault, le Languedoc © Photothèque Hérault Tourisme - S. Lucchese

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Ecluses de Fonséranes - Hérault, le Languedoc © Photothèque Hérault Tourisme - S.Lucchese

 

The Canal du Midi and its locks have been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996. Its 320,000 visitors each year make it the 3rd most popular tourist site in the Languedoc-Roussillon region after the Pont du Gard
and the citadel of Carcassonne.

Technical genius

Ecluses de Fonsérannes - Hérault, le Languedoc © Photothèque Hérault Tourisme - Julie Noclercq

Coping with a difference in height of 21.5 metres over a distance of only 312 metres: that was the problem that Pierre-Paul Riquet encountered
as his canal approached Béziers.
Originally this not-to-be-missed site on the Canal du Midi had 8 lock basins and 9 lock gates allowing the bargees to reach the level of the River Orb, which had to be crossed a little further
downstream before re-joining the canal
on its other bank. Traditional structures
such as the horse-drawn barge, the stables
and the lock-keeper’s house, can still be seen.
Once the Orb aqueduct was built, the last basin downstream was removed from service and the last but one was converted to allow the barges to cross the Orb by means of this famous aqueduct. After that there were 6 lock basins and 7 lock gates, hence the frequent debates as to whether there are
7 or 9 locks at Fonséranes.

In 1983 the Water Slope was put into service and made it possible to see how a much more rapid ascent and descent might be achieved. This invention of Boucher and Aubert also allowed barges more than 38 metres long to navigate the locks. However, the heyday of commercial canal traffic was already becoming a thing of the past, finally giving way to tourist traffic which was far less concerned with the question of reducing travelling time, and so the water slope was no longer needed. 
In the evening, even when all activity on the canal has ceased, the lock gates stay open except for the top ones, so those who are fascinated by this feature of our heritage can still admire this canal stairway. 
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