Last Saturday I went to prison! Yes, you read that right – I went to prison, in Beziers!!
If you’re starting to get concerned, remember that in my last post I mentioned that I was planning to explore some of Beziers’s lesser known places during the European heritage days! 🙂
The weather was grim. Heavy rain had been forecast for the weekend, but I decided to go out anyhow! Dressed in a showerproof jacket, and umbrella in hand I explored. What I was able to visit was amazing and exceeded all my expectations!! I managed to pack in a lot, so this is the first of a series of blog posts on the places I visited during my day in Beziers.
And yes, I went to prison in Beziers – the old prison, which is next to the cathedral, and which was closed down ten years ago!!
As you approach Beziers from across the river, the old prison is very visible as it sits at the top of the hill, with the cathedral next door. But because it’s built with the same kind of stone as the cathedral, and because it has a crenelated tower on one side, it looks from afar as though all the buildings belong together. Not altogether far-fetched – on the site of the prison were buildings which at one point belonged to the archbishopric of Beziers, housing clerics until the French Revolution. These buildings were demolished to make way for the prison!
Building work started in 1850 and lasted until 1857. The building site was on the side of a very steep hill, so it could not have been easy to build. Only in 1867 did the prisoners and staff move in. The prison closed down in 2009, when a new facility opened on the outskirts of Beziers. Here is an aerial shot from google maps which shows the T-shaped building of the old prison, with another building just north of it.
A curtain wall encloses the yard in front of the prison – to the right of the entrance, visitors would have been waiting on visiting days; the yard on the left had a large gate which allowed vehicle access to the outside world. It was also where the guillotine was located! The last execution took place in Beziers in 1949!!
Just Inside the building was the reception area, where prisoners would be “processed” before being taken to their cells. It was rather cramped for our group of 20, so taking pictures was not possible. The room in the picture below was for prison visits. One wall had been decorated to make the families of the prisoners feel more at ease. I wonder how that would have worked, since they would have been sitting with their backs to that wall.
Each cell had a vaulted ceiling and measured about 10 – 12 square metres. There were 56 cells, each housing two to three (and at times even four) prisoners. Nothing has been done to the prison since the last prisoners left in 2009 – what you see in the pictures is what it was like when the inmates would have last been there!
The cells had toilets and wash basins, some of them also had showers, but all of them had minimum privacy! The prisoners would have been in their cells most of the day, but there were some physical activities: on the lowest level of the prison there were four wedge-shaped yards, each with high walls and covered with steel netting – there was no escaping. Can you magine the boredom of walking around the edge of this yard day after day??
There was also a gym:
and a library:
Some of the prisoners were allowed to work in the kitchen – the kitchen knives were counted after each session!!
Wooden stairs connected the three levels. I was very glad when we made our way back up!
As we left the prison we walked along a corridor in the building in front of the prison proper – the view from a window along the corridor showed the drop outside the windows of the cells!
Of course, there was some barbed wire too!!
We left via the garage and the gate by which the prisoner transport vans would have passed. I was very glad to be outside again!!
This was probably the last time that the prison will be open to the public in its current state. The building has been sold and planning is underway for it to be turned into a luxury hotel! Pass the champagne, darling! 🙂
Watch out for next week’s post, which will continue my story of my visit to Beziers!
And lastly, if you are still wondering about the title of this post, “clink” is a colloquial term, referring to a jail or prison. It comes from the Clink prison in London – Wikipedia has all the information here.