on January 17, 2012
The Béziers watermills can be seen within the public park "Le jardin de la Plantade" along the Orb river. Unfortunately these mills cannot be visited, for security reasons. I was lucky enough to do so for work purposes. The park and mills, which are certainly worth seeing from the outside, are under the responsibility of the Béziers "espace verts (green spaces) team, who kindly guided us through them.Several details jutted my attention on arrival. Upstream from the mills, a couple of large round cement blocks sit in the middle of the river, these look like manholes. Then I realized that the huge stone benches along the riverside were in fact broken millstones of a considerable size.Once everyone had arrived and we were ready for our private visit, we headed over a first bridge towards the grand metal gate, that closes the access to the mill buildings. Only three of the original 5 watermills remain, between each can be seen the metal locks which regulate the water passage between each mill building. The water wheels are long gone, but their traces left either side of the stone buildings remain, establishing their position and large dimension. Carved names and dates can be seen on the walls, which we guess could belong to past millers.We passed in front of the first small mill and the larger second, (which shelters the guardians house) and went into the third building, up a narrow stone spiral staircase and into a first room where have been carved on the stone walls, dates of impressive past flood levels. Back up the spiral staircase to the second floor, we discovered an artists den with several unfinished painted canvases in a light flooded 3 sided windowed room. The dome topped staircase gave to a third and top floor which was a red tiled roof terrace with a fantastic view point over the Orb river.Looking over the edge of the terrace, below the mill, my eyes stopped on those large round cement blocks in the middle of the river and I asked for an explanation. To my surprise I was told that they were part of Cordier's incredible invention ... these wells were dug in order to pump drinking water up to the old town of Béziers, some 100 meters higher, using the mill as a pump and a revolutionary steam engine in 1827.The mills were first mentioned in writing in 1141 and were composed of 5 buildings equipped with 9 hefty millstones. They were used to grind grain, crush bark (tannery), make oil and to work cloth and wool (fulling mill).The park is open from 10am to 5.30pm from mid October to the end of March and from 10am to 7pm the rest of the year. Within the park, you'll see Cordiers house and gardens as well as his unfinished "super pump" next to it.
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