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La Saline Royale, Arc-et-Senans, Franche-Comté

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Saline Royale Arc-et-Senans, photo salineroyale.comAnyone interested in architecture and social history will find La Saline Royale Arc-et-Senans fascinating. This was more than a factory, it was an innovative social experiment on a grand scale. Designed by Claude Ledoux, Louis XV's architect in the 18thC, the salt works was seen as a model town, built in a semi-circle in the grand neoclassical style. The individual buildings housed the factory, the workers living quarters, each with bathroom and veggie patch, the foundry, stables, chapel and administration, the butcher and baker...  This was a utopian dream, certainly. Ledoux can be considered a visionary, he has been described as 'the father of modern architecture' and was a future inspiration for Le Corbusier.

Arc-et-Senans is now a cultural centre with an excellent museum dedicated to Ledoux showing 60 conceptual architectural models many of which never made it off the drawing board. The story of salt mining is really secondary and before visiting we recommend that you first make a trip to Salins-les-Bains to the mines and then continue to Arc-et-Senans to get the full story. Arc-et-Senans was made a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1982.

Salt of the earth

Salt was a valuable commodity in the 18thC providing the king with a much needed source of income through the tax known as the gabelle. Salt water was extracted from the saline wells in Salins-les-Bains and then evaporated in wood-fuelled furnaces. To do this. the quantity of wood used was enormous and Ledoux decided to take the brine by a canal system underground to the source of the wood, the Chaux forest - this being a more cost effective alternative to transporting the heavy wood 20 kms to the mine. 'This idea of settlement right next to the main production factor is really astonishing, especially because Ledoux does it exactly as it would be done in an industrial area nowadays: he chooses a flat, empty and clear field, where he will be able to let his imagination free' writes Professor Luc Gruson from Besançon University. With a clean canvas, he was able to design a factory and living quarters, an early version of his ideal city.

The factory

La Saline Royale Arc-et-Senans, Franche-Comte, photo burgundytoday.com La Saline Royale Arc-et-Senans, Franche-Comte, photo burgundytoday.com

The construction took place between 1775-1779. This is a factory like no other. You enter through the facade with its doric columns and artificial grotto (left) into a barrack-like space, now a lawn. The director's house is straight ahead, the factory buildings line up on each side (right), and the accommodation for the workers, the forge, mill and stables form the semi-circle. Despite the amount of heat and steam from the processing of the salt, note there are no chimneys in sight, the windows in the roof provided the ventilation. In the early plans, the buildings were to be placed in a complete circle but the king made changes and scaled down Ledoux's ambitious project.

Claude Nicolas Ledoux 1736-1806

Ledoux was a fashionable architect, much favoured by the aristocracy and King Louis XV. He was made inspector of salt mines in Franche-Comté and recommended to the monarch that a more modern, safe and efficient factory building was constructed, choosing the site at Arc-et-Senans.

The French Revolution was approaching. When the crunch came, the architect was lucky to avoid the guillotine, he did go to prison and all his affluent clients were lost.

Claude Ledoux's design for the keeper's house at the Source of the Loue, Franche-Comte Claude Ledoux's design for the Farmer's Guard

In later life, he worked obsessively on his vision of the future producing a treaty of architecture entitled ' Architecture considered in relation to art, morals and legislation'. Modernistic designs flowed from his imagination, there's for instance an egg shaped building, a very elaborate keeper's house at the Source of the Loue (left), the house of the farm guard, (right),and something called 'the oikema, a temple in the shape of a phallus, which is not an ideal “brothel”, but a temple of passions’

Arc-et-Senans is one of the last remaining Ledoux buildings - many went out of fashion in the 19thC.and were destroyed. The facade of the theatre in Besançon, which was innovative in its day still survives.

Visiting and staying at Arc-et-Senans

Ledoux Museum Arc-et-Senans, France-Comte Scale model at Ledoux Museum Arc-et-Senans, France-Comte

The Ledoux museum which contains 60 scale-models representing works accomplished or imagined by Ledoux, was designed by Anthony Vidler.

For individual visitors, audio guides are available at the price of 2.20 euros. It is not necessary to book in advance. There is also a booklet to accompany the visit in English at the same price. 

For groups, visits can be arranged with an English speaking guide.It is necessary to book with the museum team: visites@salineroyale.com or delphinefaivre@salineroyale.com tel: 00 33 (0)381 54 45 45 or 00 33 (0)381 54 45 33.

To stay in this historic monument, one of the buildings has been turned into a 31 hotel designed and decorated in the spirit of Ledoux. Conferences and seminars are welcome and there is a cafe on site. Book online.

For the cultural events, see La Saline website, link below.

La Saline Arc-et-Senans is open every day of the year except December 25 and January 1.
Closed for lunch (12.00-14.00) October to April. Open without interuption May weekends and May bank holidays and from June to September.

La Saline Royale
Grande Rue
25610 Arc-et-Senans

For more information

La Saline Royale Arc-et-Senans

Professor Luc Gruson's lecture: Visionary Architecture and Social Utopia


You Tube 30 min video in English.

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