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The white gold of the Jura

Royal Saltworks, Arc-en-Senans

In the 18th century, salt was extensively used for food preservation. In fact, it was such an essential and valuable commodity that it was a mandatory requirement for anyone over the age of 8 to yearly purchase a quantity sold at a government-fixed price. It became known as White Gold. A very unpopular tax on its consumption (La Gabelle) was partly responsible for the Revolution and theft of salt resulted in the death penalty! The Jura and surrounding areas were well endowed with salt springs and a number of saltworks were built close to woodlands to extract it by boiling the water over vast wood fires.

The Royal Saltworks at Arc-en-Senans was built near the immense Chaux Forest to ensure its supply of wood for fuel and was active for at least 1200 years until 1962. The nearby Saltworks of Salins shelters an underground gallery from the 13th century including a working hydraulic pump from the 19th century. Today, the site is bustling with visitors and the Tour de France used it as one of its starting points.