Port Agde et hôtel Riquet sur canal du Midi © VNF

Where the canal enters Agde, there is an impressive architectural complex comprised of Hôtel Riquet and associated buildings. Both the port and these buildings were built from 1750 as part of the canal developments. They are proof of the importance Riquet's heirs attached to their privileges as owners of the fiefdom.

The port of Agde dates back to 1751

It may be surprising, but when the canal was first opened, there were no port facilities, and Agde was no exception!  

Upstream from the round lock, an embankment and a small storehouse were built in the 18th century. There was a small space for storing wood and port activity began to develop here. In 1750, Pierre-Paul Riquet's heirs decided that Agde needed a bigger port. In 1751, stone docks were built as an extension to the existing facility, and buildings were built there, including Hôtel Riquet. 

Hôtel Riquet and several buildings used for canal management

A huge building for administrative purposes was built in 1752, at the same time as the port: Hôtel Riquet. This manor house resembled those built during the reign of King Louis XV.

The purpose of this building was to house offices and lodgings for employees, and there was a central section with monumental staircase leading to lodgings which were allocated in order of hierarchy, between the senior employees (tax collector, director, etc.) and subordinates (those responsible for leading projects or carrying out verifications, etc.). There was also a chamber of justice on the ground floor. 

Hôtel Riquet was surrounded by other buildings required for managing the Canal du Midi, and also for welcoming travellers using this means of transport. There is also a landscaped garden alongside the port.

In the late 18th century, a chapel, barns and new stables were built as part of the 'barque de poste' passenger transport service which arrived in Agde after four days of travelling from Toulouse. 

Hôtel Riquet is an exact copy of the Château du Canal du Midi at the Port Saint-Etienne in Toulouse

Goods haven't been unloaded at the port of Agde for several decades now. On the docks today, sightseeing boats take passengers on day trips or longer outings. A small marina and boat repair area can now be found opposite Hôtel Riquet.

As part of redevelopment plans for industrial wasteland behind Hôtel Riquet, ways of developing the inland waterway heritage of Agde are being considered. This should give a boost to this key place for Canal du Midi heritage.

Elévation du bâtiment hôtel Riquet, 1777 © VNF, archives

Elévation du bâtiment hôtel Riquet, 1777 © VNF, archives

Fun fact  

At the mouth of the 'canalet' (branch) of the Hérault in Agde, there are two statue bases with nothing on them. They were intended for allegories of the canal and the Mediterranean.

This project was put forward in 1759 by Jean-Etienne Ribart, director of the Agde division between 1758 and 1766, but was suspended by the Count Riquet de Caraman, Pierre-Paul Riquet's great grandson. He accused his employer of pushing aside the standard maintenance needs of the canal and instead focusing on extravagant projects.

Riquet de Caraman said of his boss in 1763, "We have to keep an eye on the director's sometimes rather vivid imagination focused on extravagant details and decorations, rather than improvement and repair. He is more of an architect than a director".