Classified as a World Heritage site by UNESCO since 1982, the Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans is the masterpiece of Claude Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806), visionary architect of the Enlightenment. Its construction was begun in 1775 and the commissioning of the plant took place in 1779, under the reign of Louis XVI.
Innovative for its time, this is an outstanding example of the type of structurization of space that would be developed during the 19th century. Though Ledoux’s initial project was to realize the ideal city, this project would never be realized. Because there is no salt in Arc-et-Senans, it was transported from Salins-les-Bains to be treated here. Today the Royal Saltworks of Arc-et- Senans is most famous for the architecture of its buildings for its innovative industrial activity.
Saline Royale of Arc-et-Senans
25610 Arc et Senans
Website - tel : 03 81 54 45 45.
November through May: Full price / reduced price: €8.80 / €7.50 / 16 to 25 years old: €6 / 6 to 15 years old: €4.50. Free for children uner 6 years old.
June through October : Full price / reduced price: €9.80 / €8.30 / 16 to 25 years old: €6.60 / 6 to 15 years old: €5. Free for children uner 6 years old.
Audio guide in 3 languages and guided tour available. Visit booklet in 7 languages. Bookstore and shop.
Discounts for the entrance fee of the Royal Saltworks upon presentation of an entrance ticket from the Great Saltworks of Salins-les-Bains.
Opening times, every day:
November through March: 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. / 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
April, May, June and September : 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
July and August : 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
October : 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. / 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Audio guides adapted (only in French), workshops, booklet-game and discovery trail.
Salt has always been vitally important to man, which earned it the nickname "white gold". Since ancient times it has allowed the preservation of food, especially meat and fish. Starting from the Middle Ages, the state levied a heavy, unpopular tax on the sale of salt, which fed directly into the state coffers. The economic importance of salt was vital for everyone.
The saltworks of Salins-les-Bains, active for hundreds of years, consumed large amounts of fuel for evaporating brine and salt crystallization. But by the 18th century, the timber resources around the village were depleted.
In 1767, a Commission for the saltworks of the Lorraine and Franche-Comté regions was designated to assess the main forestry surroundings. It was Claude Nicolas Ledoux, architect of the king, who identified the significant potential of the Forest of Chaux, near the villages of Arc and Senans (then separated). It therefore appeared that it was easier to transport salt water to the forest than large quantities of wood to the mines of Salins-les-Bains. He proposed the construction of a new production plant. His first architectural project, thought to be too ambitious and innovative, was vetoed by Louis XV. The second project was confirmed by the king 15 days before his death. It was under the reign of his successor, Louis XVI, that the Royal Saltworks was built. The exploitation of salt began in 1779, 10 years before the French Revolution.
The architect was given free rein to this imagination, leading to the creation of an semicircle 370 meters in diameter, around which technical buildings and dwellings were carefully organized. The aesthetic construction in no way resembles a factory. Upon arrival at the site, one is struck by the architectural ensemble and its Doric columns. The director's house is without a doubt his greatest achievement. It is a prime example of an integrated plant where the distribution of space allowed for the optimization of work and movement, from brine to salt production. The factory was more like a town where the laborers’ work, family and social lives were in perfect harmony.
After the Revolution, the position of Farm General and the salt tax were suppressed. Claude Nicolas Ledoux, perceived as too royalist, was imprisoned. He took advantage of this troubled period to continue plans for an Ideal City that would surround the saltworks. A true visionary, he rethought the urban structure of the site in the same spirit that inspired structure of the saltworks. But his project would never see realization due to the post- revolutionary period that disgraced the great architect and prevented him from achieving this monumental work. Beyond the legacy handed down to us, it is the spirit and vision of this outstanding architect, as well as his creative genius, that live on today and that led UNESCO to select the saltworks as a World Heritage site. A visionary loyal to the ideas of the Enlightenment, he was a pioneer of the industrial revolution of the mid-19th century.
This saltworks was believed to have strong potential for production, but the remoteness of the wells and the fragility of the brine pipeline prevented the plant from achieving its production targets. At the end of the 19th century, competition from sea salt transported by rail was fatal to the salt production, and it ceased in 1895. In the early 20th century, the site was seriously damaged by fire and vandalism. Restoration of the site was undertaken in 1930 and then again after the Second World War.
Claude Nicolas Ledoux
Claude Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806). Born into a modest family, his architectural career began in 1764 as an engineer of Water and Forestry. He was later appointed inspector of the saltworks of the Lorraine and Franche -Comté regions, then General Farm architect and architect of the king. Upon this prestigious appointment he began construction of the Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans. He was one of the main creators of neoclassical style. Following the Revolution, in 1793, he was imprisoned for 18 months for the crime of aristocracy. His image was therefore associated with royalty, which put an end to his career as an architect. He took advantage of the last years of his life to write "Architecture considered with relation to art, morals and legislation" which would be published two years before his death.
The site today
In continuation of the questions and thoughts of the Enlightenment, the new cultural project of the Royal Saltworks, "The Utopian City" offers a contemporary reading of this heritage and dialogue between the arts and sciences, philosophy, industrial heritage and nature to create new Utopian areas in the 21st century, with the goal of finding and respecting humanity and a way to "better live together."
The buildings and the brine duct
The Royal Saltworks functioned as an integrated factory where most of the work community lived. Built in a circular arc shape, it housed living quarters and the production site, 11 buildings in total : the director's house, stables, the salt buildings, civil servants’ building, the bernes, the cooperage, the guards’ building and the ironworks.
The brine duct
The brine pipeline was a 21 kilometer-long pipeline that linked Salins les Bains and Arc et Senans, from the extraction of brine to the processing plant. The pipeline followed the slope of the land, and was buried in order to avoid vulnerability to climate and looters. At first the line was built with pine logs, but leaks along the route quickly encouraged engineers to replace them with stronger pipes made of cast iron. Along its course, guard posts were built to secure the pipeline. At each of these posts, the salt content of the brine was measured.
The people in charge of this monitoring were called « gabelous », customs officials of the salt trade and tax. This route has been transformed into a hiking and biking trail "le chemin des gabelous" (see "Activities").
The Guard Building
The Guard Building is located at the entrance of the saltworks. This magnificent building, enhanced by its Doric columns, is as impressive because the protection of the brine and its resulting "white gold" was essential to combat potential thieves. It served as home to the guards, janitors and chaplains. Inside was a prison, reserves of water and wood and all facilities necessary for the daily life of its inhabitants.
The Director's house is in the center of the saltworks. This magnificent neoclassical building with antique columns is the tallest and most opulent of all, reflecting the power and function of the Director. The triangular pediment of the facade is pierced with a central circle, symbolizing the center of the saltworks, where one could watch the comings and goings. Reserves of food, wine and wood were stored in the basement. The apartments of the "Farm General" (a sort of governmental official of farming), the assembly hall of directors, as well as a bank and a chapel, were located on the first floor. The second floor was reserved for servants. Today the ground floor houses a permanent exhibition on the history of salt, and the first floor is reserved for temporary exhibitions.
Exhibition in the Director’s House
The permanent exhibition, located on the ground floor of the Director’s House, presents a comprehensive history of salt in 6 rooms, from production to consumption through the centuries and continents. Each room presents a different theme :
Room 1: the origins of salt,
Room 2: salt production by man,
Room 3 : the history of the Saltworks of Arc et Senans,
Room 4 : the business of salt,
Room 5 : the role of salt in history,
Room 6 : the uses of salt and its past and present symbols.
The reception building and basin
The reception building (destroyed in 1920), which was located on the present street, Rue des Graduations, consisted of a channel about 500 meters long and 7 meters high, as well as housing for the carpenter who was responsible for its maintenance.
It is here that the brine from Salins-les-Bains arrived. An essential part of the process, its function was to separate the salt from the water by evaporation through natural ventilation of the building. When the salt concentration of the brine was high enough (24 degrees), it was poured into a huge basin where it was stored.
The bernier, civil servant and salt tax buildings
Each building had a specific function, and was organized around a well-definied structural space. The inside of the berniers’ buildings was identical, consisting of a dozen four-bed rooms, arranged on either side of common rooms that included a fireplace in the center, a kitchen and a dining room. At the rear were gardens, courtyards and latrines.
They housed the workers (the “berniers”) and their families. The berniers were in charge of maintaining the boilers (or stoves). These buildings also housed the salt workers, responsible for making salt blocks, the coopers and the blacksmiths.
The civil servants’ building was used for housing the staff responsible for the operation and monitoring of the brine. It was composed of two kitchens and two bedrooms for the foremen and accountants.
The salt tax building was intended for tax administration. All the salt that came out of the brine convoy was controlled in order to prevent fraud. It consisted of two bedrooms and two kitchens.
The bernes were used for heating the brine. It took between 24 and 72 hours to produce a block of salt. Today, concerts are held in the western berne.
The blacksmiths’ building
This building housed three forges in the center. A warehouse was located on the sides and 8 rooms were reserved for blacksmiths. It is now a restaurant.
The Cooperage – Musée Claude Nicolas Ledoux
The Cooperage hosted the coopers’ workshops and wood reserves. Upstairs there was a kitchen in the center, and rooms dedicated to coopers on the sides.
The museum that the building houses today is dedicated to the overall work of Claude Nicolas Ledoux. His accomplishments are reproduced through 60 small-scale models. Whether theaters, mansions or more utopian plans, the projects and achievements of this architect-planner are extensive and highlight his genius and sometimes avant-garde vision of architecture.
To see and to do
The Garden Festival is held from June to September in the spaces around buildings. Fifteen gardens, all arranged differently, fascinate visitors with their shapes and bright colors. Over the years this festival has become one of the most renowned in Europe. The theme changes annually.
Hot air balloon rides
Vents du Futur (hot air balloon)
Parc de la Mairie, 25610 Arc et Senans
Website - tel : 06 89 97 75 59.
The association Vents du Futur offers rides in a hot air balloon.
La Belle Huguette
Rue du pin, 25610 Arc et Senans
Website - tel : 06 87 61 66 35.
Carriage rides in Arc et Senans, by the hour or for the day.
Sentier des Gabelous
The Gabelous Trail, named after the guards that monitored the brine pipeline, links the towns of Salins-les-Bains and Arc et Senans. At 29 kilometers long, it runs along the historic route of the pipeline. Documentation available at the Tourist Office of Arc et Senans. To do on foot or on mountain bike. 15 explanatory signs dot the trail.
Sentier des Vieux Fays (for whole family)
This 1.5-kilometer footpath allows visitors to discover the Arc et Senans forest. Brochure available at the Tourist Office of Arc et Senans.