Wood, clay and stones - out of this, the salt workers of Salinas de Añana have created a unique man-made environment, looking like an abstract work of art from above. Everything is encrusted with salt, especially the terraced wooden structures that support the salt pans on the slopes of the narrow valley. The quality of the salt, extracted here over thousands of years, is globally unprecedented, and with tradition having always been a priority, the facilities are surprisingly well preserved. Visitors admire the ingenious system of hollowed pine trunks used to distribute the brine equally over the abundant number of salt pans. A salt workshop teaches them how to use the scoop of salt and how to collect the filtered salt in baskets. Those who wish to do so can walk up the valley to the Santa Engracia main spring to learn how nature has adapted to the specific geological conditions. Between April and October, visitors aware of their health can bathe their hands and feet in the brine in an outdoor spa, and of course there is also a chance to taste the "white gold" at the end of the tour.
The fact that the Añana saltworks still exist has a lot to do with the collaborative spirit and commitment involved. Archaeological evidence suggests that salt extraction in this part of the Basque Country dates back 7,000 years. Originally, local salt workers used log fires to cook the brine. It was only the Romans, in the 1st century B.C., who introduced the construction of large pans to extract salt by natural evaporation, thereby increasing the scale of production considerably. In the early Middle Ages, the salt works experienced a further boom. At that time, the Spanish kings declared salt production a royal privilege. They entrusted the Añana facilities to the joint administration of a large number of owners operating the salt pans, including some powerful monasteries. Two annually elected appointees - one representing the clerical and one the secular sector - were in charge of maintaining and enhancing the shared water system. This network, totalling four kilometres in length, consisted of hollowed trunks supported by wooden poles up to 10 metres high, carrying the brine from the valley's four main sources and eventually distributing it to some 4,000 salt pans by means of central reservoirs and hundreds of small storage tanks. Filling them was the main cause of disputes between the salt workers because the output of the springs was limited and an increasing number of owners built new salt pans over the centuries, thus adding to the wooden terraces that characterize the valley today. This was further aggravated by the growing competition from salt mines and coastal salt marshes since the late 19th century. Around 1960, Añana salt production turned so unprofitable that many salt workers abandoned their activities. In order to stop the decline of the site, the Gatzagak Salt Workers Association (GIS) was founded in 1998-99. Meanwhile more than 2,000 historic salt pans have been restored, making more than half of the total number, and a foundation takes care of their operation as well as their exploitation for tourism purposes.
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daily 10am-2.30, 3.45-7pm