Salt Pans of Salin-les-Bains and Arc-et-Senans (World Heritage)

Only part of the Arc-et-Senans complex designed by the architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (1736–1806), originally conceived as an “ideal city”, was realized. This includes a house and the semicircular workshops in the traditional salt production area. The medieval saltworks in Salins-les-Bains has also been a World Heritage Site since 2009.

Salin-les-Bains and Arc-et-Senans salt pans: facts

Official title: Great Salt Pans of Salin-les-Bains and Royal Salt Pans of Arc-et-Senans
Cultural monument: The work of the architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, guided by the idea of ​​the »ideal city«, with the director’s house and semicircularly arranged workshops in the style of early classicism
Continent: Europe
Country: France, Franche-Comte
Location: Arc-et-Senans, near Besançon
Appointment: 1982, 2009 expanded to include the great saltworks of Salins-les-Bains
Meaning: unfinished attempt of an ideal industrial city designed on the drawing board around the royal saltworks

Salt pans of Salin-les-Bains and Arc-et-Senans: history

1736-1806 Claude-Nicolas Ledoux
1772-1837 Charles Fourier, father of utopian socialism in the form of small independent communes and workers’ cooperatives
1775-79 Construction of the Royal Salt Pans during the reign of Louis XVI.
1788 National bankruptcy of the Ancien Régime
1789 Outbreak of the French Revolution
1792-1802 French Revolutionary Wars
December 2, 1804 in the presence of Pope Pius VII. Napoleon Bonaparte is coronated as Emperor of the French

A “temple of work”

The days of the monarchy were numbered when Claude-Nicolas Ledoux created his “ideal city” on the edge of the Chaux forest. True to the motto of the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who promised himself a humane existence by returning to nature, the architect firmly incorporated nature into his planning. In the middle of his exemplary working-class town, he designed the monumental »House of the Director«, which was flanked by two salt works. He planned additional workshops and pavilions on an elliptical floor plan around the industrial heart of the saltworks city.

The slaughterhouses and the cemetery should be laid out as far away from the living area as possible for reasons of hygiene. To prevent city fires, Ledoux planned large spaces between the block-like buildings. As a counterpart to his functional industrial plant, he wanted to equip the workers’ houses with a garden – as it were the anticipation of English garden city architecture, which was popular not only in England, but also in Germany and Austria in the 1920s as a form of “social building” found.

According to dentistrymyth, France’s earliest and most impressive example of the monumental industrial architecture of the Enlightenment period was to remain fragmentary. When the blocks of the core area and the first semicircle were completed after four years of construction, the Ancien Régime, France’s monarchy, struggling to survive, stopped work on what was then a futuristic city.

In the ideal city, symmetrical to the first semicircle, a church, stock exchange, hospital and public baths were also planned. They remained drafts on the drawing board, as did the round residential pavilions for the salt boiler families. A few years before the outbreak of the French Revolution, the architect’s clients, who designed workers’ accommodation barely less sublime than buildings for the upper class, found the social vision of equality to be all too strange. As a representative of pre-revolutionary classicism, Ledoux felt obliged to the ideas of the Enlightenment. Elementary geometric shapes such as spheres, cylinders or cuboids played a key role in his architecture. Because these clear forms obeyed mathematical laws and therefore corresponded to the principle of reason, which was chosen as the basis for a new architectural beginning. When designing the “Director’s House”, Ledoux based himself on ancient models. Like the Italian Andrea Palladio, the most important pioneer of classicism in his modern interpretation of antiquity, he emphasized the sober rigor of the massive ensemble by means of huge columns set with stone blocks. The neat slate roofs, on the other hand, corresponded to the regional architectural style of Franche-Comté in south-east France.

The use of architectural motifs on the smooth walls created a contrast to the three-dimensional geometric shapes that define the picture. The stone grotto reproduced on the gatehouse was created as a symbol of the harmony between nature and human achievement. The central building was to be a “temple of work”, the facade of which was blown up in 1926 and later restored. In the boiling houses, salty water, which flowed through canals into huge vats, was evaporated day and night. The fuel was supplied by the neighboring forest until the salt works closed in 1895. Committed to the principle of functionalism, Ledoux created a gallery to enable salt to be transported from one workshop to another regardless of the weather and production steps to take place quickly.

The fragmentary masterpiece of a French ideal city also influenced other reformers, such as the French social philosopher Charles Fourier from Besançon and his idea of ​​self-sufficient workers’ cooperatives. Sir Ebenezer Howard founded the English Garden City Movement in 1898 and also pursued the social reform objective of creating independent green spaces in the vicinity of overpopulated English cities. The building idea that dominated Arc-et-Senans, which was based on functionality, and the inclusion of nature in the “city design” ultimately gave this man decisive impulses that were reflected in Welwyn Garden City and Letchworth.

Since 2009 the medieval saltworks in Salins-les-Bains has also received the coveted UNESCO award. Because the salt pans of Salins-les-Bains and Arc-et-Senans are inextricably linked through the millennia-old history of salt production in Franche-Comté and form a technical ensemble of mining and production of salt. In Salins-les-Bains, the salty water was pumped up and passed through a 21 km long wooden pipe to Arc-et-Senans, where it was processed. The production of salt in Salins-les-Bains has been documented in writing since the 6th century; regular extraction began in the 12th and 13th. Century. The remains of the production can still be seen today, such as the underground vaults with the hydraulic pump system from the 18th and 19th centuries. Century. In 1962 the saltworks was closed.

Salt Pans of Salin-les-Bains and Arc-et-Senans