The Saline Royale (Royal Saltworks) at Arc-et-Senans was an Enlightenment project of the architectural genius Claude-Nicolas Ledoux. At a time when salt was an ultra-precious commodity and a source of enormous income for the French crown, Louis XV signed an edict in 1773, authorizing the construction of a salt production center on the edge of the Forest of Chaux. There, wood abounded to fire the evaporation pans, and brine could be piped from the underground salt springs about a few kilometers away.
Production at the site continued through the French Revolution, until 1895. After that, the buildings fell victim to lightning, decay, and even dynamite. By the 1930’s, however, efforts were afoot to restore and preserve them. In 1982, UNESCO listed them as a World Heritage site.
The Saline Royale that began as a ideal in Ledoux’s mind became a kind of hell for the workers who toiled there, and finally now exists as the serene and marvelous place their creator dreamt it would be.