1200 years of history

The "Grande Saline" : a unique history...

Next to the Jura vineyard and 10 kilometers away from Arbois remains one of the jewels of the Franche-Comté's heritage. The « Grande Saline » of Salins-les-Bains is a very important witness of an unexpected industrial business in this area : the salt production ! Indeed, without salt, no “comté”, no famous saltings - in short, nothing that makes the gastronomic diversity of our region. And without salt in Salins, no city, no fortifications, no thermalism, no casino…

In many ways, the saltwork’s history is a model. An industrial model, by the evolution of its techniques and by its extraordinary longevity (1200 years of continuous production !): it is actually one of the oldest French factories. It is also an economic model, that show a rigorous organization and management of resources since the Middle-Ages. A social model, too, that created a system of social welfares for workers in the fourteenth century. Last but not least, an architectural model whose oldest elements are revealed nowadays during the tours and always arouse wonder. The history of the “Grande Saline” is also the moving and unique story of men and women who worked for the salt production during 1200 years…



... and some priceless treasures !

The "Grande Saline" preserves today notable technical and architectural elements. Once in the underground gallery, the invisible and extraordinary skills of men from every eras are revealed. Suddenly, 165 meters of wonderful vaulted gallery from the 11th century appear. Far from feeling cramped, the gallery amazes and charms the eyes by its dimensions: it is a real underground cathedral. Its ancestral stones were protecting and watching over the salt water springs for eight centuries. In this timeless and unique space, one could see a simple pile and layering of stones, but the saline is always unexpected. A sound of water echoes in the depths ... At the end of the corridor appears the living strenght of the site: the waterwheel from the 19th century, still working thanks to the river crossing Salins-les-Bains, the "Furieuse". The wheel powers, in a very silent and relaxing movement, a 32 meters long balancing system and a pump which drew the salty water. This is the beating heart of the saltwork, the patrimonial pulse of the city. On the surface, we discover an other universe and the feelings of the evaporation room where the saltworkers worked day after day to gather the salt. Another place, another emotion: here, it's the memory of workers that talks, the memories of men and women who worked around the pans during 1200 years. The saltwork's strenght is to have been able to preserve one pan, the last in France, and the workers' tools, making the memory of their labor even stronger.

At the Grande Saline, more than a simple visit, we listen and we live a story. We are telling this extraordinary story with passion and honesty every day to keep the saline and the memories of its workers alive.


The origins of salt

The presence of natural salty waters in Salins-les-Bains has a geological explanation. 210 millions years ago, a sea covered the East of France, including Jura. Once it evaporated, it left a layer of salt buried nowadays at 250 meters depth. The rainwater reaches this layer of salt, dissolves it and then comes back up to create salted springs.

In Salins-les-Bains, these natural salty springs have been used since the Neolithic era, which means 7000 years ago. Salt has influenced human behaviors and partly caused their sedentarization : indeed, in Salins, the archeology has shown that there were princely houses and extremely rich human groups settled since the Protohistory.


Produce and protect !

In Salins-les-Bains, and in the whole Franche-Comté, the salt was made by artificial evaporation, different from the salt marshes : it's called the igniferous (from the latin "ignis", fire) production of salt. For several centuries, the wood was used to heat the salty water, but for economic reasons, the coal was chosen at the beginning of the 19th century.

The "Grande Saline" 's production was the most important in Franche-Comté. In the 17th century, the saltwork produced 14 000 tons of salt a year and fed the Burgundy, a part of Switzerland and the Flanders. The salt, called the white gold, has had a strong impact on the development of Salins-les-Bains, which became the economic center of the région. It was the second largest town behind Besançon, the administrative and politic capital of Franche-Comté. Imagine : the "Grande Saline" generated half of the region's income !

Salt is at the heart of political and strategic issues; its production is managed by the (changing) sovereigns of Franche-Comté : the counts of Burgundy, the kings of Spain, the kingdom of France, etc. Salt is so precious that it must be protected: from the Middle Ages, Salins-les-Bains acquired an impressive defensive system. Nowadays, what remains from this system are the two fortresses standing on both sides of the valley: the Fort Belin and the Fort Saint-André. 

The saltwork itself was fortified. An outer wall was built around the industrial buildings to protect the salt. Back then, the saltwork looked like a real fortress, a city within the city. It had an unique autarkic functioning: everything that was necessary to produce salt and live everyday life was inside these walls, such as the production buildings, several workshops, a tavern, a chapel, some prisons, etc. In the Middle Ages, the Grande Saline employed 820 workers, men and women, out of the 8,000 inhabitants living then in Salins-les-Bains.


The evolution of techniques, the lack of modernization, the new cold storage and the competition with the salt marshes made the "Grande Saline" close in 1962.

In 1966, the "Grande Saline" was bought by the city of Salins-les-Bains and became a museum in 1968.

With its 1200 years of history and techniques, the "Grande Saline" is an exceptional and unique heritage in Europe and one of the region's heritage and industrial jewels.


Our shop