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European Themeroute | Salt

For thousands of years salt has been a very important material: it was not just used for seasoning, but was needed much more as a preservative. Before ice boxes, fridges and finally freezers were invented, all foods from meat and fish to vegetables and even fruits had to be salted if they were to serve ... more

Icon: SaltWhite Gold. European Theme Route Salt

For thousands of years salt has been a very important material: it was not just used for seasoning, but was needed much more as a preservative. Before ice boxes, fridges and finally freezers were invented, all foods from meat and fish to vegetables and even fruits had to be salted if they were to serve as long lasting provisions. Therefore, the use of salt can be traced as far back as Neolithic times. It was well known in the early civilisations of Mesopotamia and Egypt and in antiquity was already produced on a proto-industrial scale.

Apparently, the people of what is now Hallstatt in Austria were the first to manufacture salt in large amounts. The production of salt, which still continues today, is indicated by the name "Hallstatt", because the german syllable "Hall-" goes back to the greek word salt. In the Hallstatt mine people already chiselled big chunks of rock salt from the walls in the 14th century BC. Between 800 and 400 BC, in the first Celtic era, production virtually went through the roof. Whole families laboured in the wide mining spaces underground. The men, dressed in finely woven, coloured woollen capes, broke large, heart shaped pieces of salt from the walls. The people became rich in the salt trade: archaeologists found such an amount of leftovers from their wealth in the Hallstatt region, they termed the first flourishing period of Celtic culture "Hallstatt-period".
At the same time production hit a first peak in the most important salt producing region of France, the Seille valley in eastern Lorraine. There, salt was manufactured from the saliferous spring water in the area. Workers filled the salty water, called "brine", in big ceramic pans and heated them until the bulk of water had evaporated. Then they placed the concentrated brine on a "briquetage", a ceramic grid over a fire, supported by small pillars. There the brine sizzled until only a cake of pure salt was left.

The Romans were the first to use the third technique of salt production on a large scale: on the Meditarranean coast they gathered seawater in large shallow basins. Due to the intense sun and the wind, over time the water evaporated and in the end workers scraped up pure dried sea salt. These three traditional ways of salt production have already been described by the roman scholar Pliny the elder in his "Natural History".

The beginnings of many famous salt works which flourished for centuries lie in the early Middle Ages: Wielicka in Poland for instance, Lüneburg in Northern Germany, and a number of salines in Worcestershire in England. At that time salt refining became more efficient through the utilisation of large pans made of lead instead of ceramics, but still consumed a lot of energy. The consequences can be witnessed today in the environs of Lüneburg: the famous Lüneburg Heath only came into being because the local forests were ruthlessly exploited for the fires of the salt works. The most influential innovation in medieval salt production was the invention of leaching. Presumably it was used for the first time in Hallein in Austria's Salzkammergut: in the mine a space carved out of the salt rock was filled with fresh water which absorbed the salt from the surrounding walls. Thus an artificial brine was created which later would be boiled on a conventional briquetage. This new process opened up rock with low salt concentrations for exploitation, too.

Since the middle of the 16th century, so-called "graduation houses" or "graduation lanes" came into being. These constructions, which presumably originated in Lombardy, can still be seen in many old salt producing towns. They were basically long thorny hedges of considerable height, which served to increase the salinity of the brine: If saliferous water was run over a blackthorn or juniper hedge, a certain amount of the water would cling to the twigs and thorns of the plants. Afterwards, less time and less firewood was needed to boil the brine. Graduation lanes quickly spread and some were extended almost to the length of a mile. A second, unexpected advantage of the installations emerged in the 19th century, when spa guests where advised to promenade along the graduation lanes and breathe the saliferous air.

Despite such efforts to reduce the necessary amount of firewood, in the middle of the 16th century a wood shortage began to be experienced. Increasingly, salt works had to try out the much detested, stinking coal as a combustible. So in fact it was the production of salt which initiated the rapid expansion of coal mining. Prussia for example, holding a profitable monopoly for the salt trade as many countries did, reorganized the entire mining sector to further increase the profits. Salt works in Great Britain though were quickest to adapt to the new fuel, and the country became the biggest manufacturer and also consumer of salt.

From the middle of the 18th century on, this process was further accelerated by the industrialisation in the UK, because salt now was increasingly sought for as a commodity for chemical industries. Particularly it was needed to produce soda, a bleaching agent in the booming cotton business. Originally, soda had been made from plants, but corresponding to an invention of the French chemist Nicolas Leblanc, it was synthesized now on a large industrial scale from sulphuric acid, coal, calcium carbonate and salt. The process reduced the cost of cotton products drastically, but was extremely hazardous to health and environment. Since it was rather expensive, too, it was replaced by a new procedure by the middle of the 19th century. Developed by Ernest Solvay from Belgium, this was based on natriumchloride, carbondioxide and ammonium. Because soda also served as a basic material in the manufacturing of glass and soap, Solvay's company grew to a potent chemical enterprise which still is in business worldwide today. Also the British company ICI earned its once leading position by producing soda.

Since the end of the 19th century, chemical industries have an increasing demand for potassium salts. Because potassium is a major nutrient for plants, potassium salts are particularly needed to synthesize fertilizers, but also for soap-, textile- and paper-production. The world's largest resources of pure potassium salt are to be found in a long stretch from east to west across Germany. The salt mines there can be recognized from far away by their whitish-grey mountain-like spoil heaps, which still pose a threat to the environment, since rains wash out the remaining salt.

In the 20th century salt has become a cheap everyday product, because new deposits have been opened up and production has been thoroughly economized. The techniques though are basically still the same as in centuries before. A striking example is "solution mining": in this highly efficient technique to extract rock salt, the medieval leaching process has been optimized by drilling holes into the rock and installing two pipes in each of them, one for injecting fresh water, which dissolves the salt from the rock, the other to extract the saturated brine. Later the brine is boiled as it traditionally was, only now in a more energy efficient, highly automated process.


ERIH Anchor Points

All of the sudden, a world of salt deep underground surrounds the visitor. Miles of galleries, winding stairs, towering halls, groups of sculptures and reliefs carved out of salt in the chandelier light of underground chapels, the world's largest wooden mining machine, a luxurious 19th-century ...

Cracow Salt-Works Museum in Wieliczka World Heritage Site
Muzeum Żup Krakowskich Wieliczka
Daniłowicza 10
32-020 Wieliczka, Poland

Salinas de Añana | Spain
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 ...

Añana Salt Valley
Valle Salado de Añana
Calle Real 42
01426 Salinas de Añana, Spain

Member Sites ERIH Association

The director of the Electoral State of Saxony Saline Baths in Dürrenberg, Johann Gottfried Borlach, was a stubborn man. He had people drilling for saline sources for 19 years. Finally, on 15th September 1763, he struck lucky at a depth of 223 metres. The discovery turned a hitherto obscure place ...

The Graduation Tower and the Borlach Museum
Borlachplatz 1
06231 Bad Dürrenberg, Germany

Bad Sassendorf | Germany
The Museum “Westphalian Salt Experience” traces 5.000 years of history that salt and brine made along the ancient trade route of the Hellweg and it sheds light on various aspects of salt that are less known. Brine, salty water which washes out subterranean deposits of rock salt, surfaced along the ...

Westphalian Salt Experience
An der Rosenau 2
59505 Bad Sassendorf, Germany

For many centuries Halle was one of the principal salt-producing cities in Germany. The city’s name is an ancient Indo-Germanic word for salt, and the first documentary reference to the brine springs in the vicinity dates from 961 ad. In the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries salt was produced by ...

Technical Museum of the Saltworks and Saltworkers
Mansfelder Strasse 52
06108 Halle, Germany

Heringen (Werra) | Germany
The discovery of potassic salts in the valley of the river Werra, about 70 kilometers southeast of Kassel at the border of Hesse and Thuringia, in 1893 promoted the emergence of a still operating mining area with occasionally up to 30 pits and various potash plants processing the raw material to ...

Werra Potash Mining Museum
Dickesstraße 1
36366 Heringen (Werra), Germany

Lüneburg | Germany
Lüneburg is an old hanseatic city at the edge of Lüneburg Heath, which is located between Hamburg and Hannover. Local salt extraction has a 1,000-year history here. The fires under the boiling pans were extinguished in 1980, thereby closing a 1,000-year chapter on a salt works whose historical ...

German Salt Museum
Sülfmeisterstrasse 1
21335 Lüneburg, Germany

Northwich | United Kingdom
What a back-breaking job! Standing bent over a huge steaming saltpan the whole day, regulating the flow of brine and the temperature of the furnaces, raking the salt, filling the tubs and baking it dry. Working in a traditional salt-works was anything but a push-over! Salt-making was not only ...

Lion Salt Works
Ollershaw Lane
CW9 6ES Northwich, United Kingdom


Bad Dürrnberg | Austria
Salt has been mined around Hallein on the west bank of the River Salzach, 18 km south of Salzburg, for more than 7,000 years. The area is best known for the artefacts of the Celtic civilisation that flourished about 2,500 years ago that are displayed in the Keltenmuseum (Celtic Museum) which ...

Hallein Salt Mine
Salzwelten Hallein
Ramsaustrasse 3
5422 Bad Dürrnberg, Austria

Bad Gastein | Austria
Böckstein which lies south of Bad Gastein and north of the Tauern Tunnel has been important for the mining of gold and silver and for salt extraction since the middle ages. As in other mining enterprises in Austria, the Fugger family, bankers of Augsburg, were heavily involved in the area in the ...

Altböckstein Montanmuseum
Schareckstraße 7
5640 Bad Gastein, Austria

Hallstatt | Austria
Hallstatt is a village where salt has been worked for seven millennia on the shore of the Halstatter-See that gives its name to an early European Iron Age culture of 1000 – 500 b.c. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The museum, in a former Roman Catholic presbytery in the ...

World Heritage Museum
Seestrasse 56
4830 Hallstatt, Austria

Tuzla | Bosnia and Hercegovina
Solana’s Museum tells the story of salt making, from the Neolithic period to the present. Salt is an essential material for preserving food and for many industrial processes. It was produced from brine springs at Tuzla in prehistoric, Roman and medieval times. In 1884 a large new salt works was ...

Solana’s Museum
Muzej Solane
Ulica Soli br. 3
75000 Tuzla, Bosnia and Hercegovina

Pomorie | Bulgaria
The town of Pomorie stands on a rocky peninsula in south-east Bulgaria near the ultrasaline lagoon Lake Pomorie, which has for centuries been a mud spa. Pomorie was part of the Ottoman empire until 1878, then of Eastern Rumelia until the unification of Bulgaria in 1886, and was known by the Greek ...

Pomorie Salt Museum
Muzey na Solta
Yavorov Boulevard 40A
8200 Pomorie, Bulgaria

Læsø | Denmark
Laeso is a small island of some 116 sq km with a population of 2500 in the Kattegat, where sandy soils have been inundated with seawater over the centuries to such an extent that brine from pits dug into the sands has a strength of between 12 % and 16 % of salt. In the middle ages salt was worked ...

Laeso Saltsyderi
Hornfiskrønvej 3
9940 Laeso, Denmark

Arc-et-Senans | France
The saltworks at Arc-et-Senans is one of the most spectacular industrial monuments in Europe. It was built between 1775 and 1779 on the fringe of the forest of Chaux, since supplies of wood for fuel were becoming scarce near to the existing works at Salins, from where brine was pumped through a ...

La Saline royale d’Arc-et-Senans
Institut Claude-Nicolas Ledoux
Saline royale
F 25610 Arc-et-Senans, France

Loix en Ré | France
The island of Ré lies off the Atlantic coast of France, and is linked with the mainland near La Rochelle by a 3 km. long bridge. On the island are ten villages of whitewashed houses, at one of which, Loix en Ré is the centre of the ecomuseum devoted to the manufacture of sea salt. The large scale ...

Ecomuseum of the Salt Marshes
L’Écomusée du Marias Salant
D 102
17111 Loix en Ré, France

Marsal | France
Marsal’s existence is built on salt. The village in Saulnois, (German: Salzgau) on the tiny River Seille was created on top of a pile of broken clay. Around 1000 BC brine from salt ponds was dried in clay pots; the resulting cakes of salt were knocked out of the pots, the remains of which were ...

Marsal Salt Museum
Musée département du Sel
Porte de France
57630 Marsal, France

Salins-les-Bains | France
Salt was produced at Salin at least from the 6th century AD, but the works that closed in 1962 and is now displayed as a museum dates principally from the mid-18th century. One of its largest underground chambers accommodates a spectacular water-powered pumping system, which has scarcely changed ...

Salines de Salins-les-Bains
Place des Salines
39110 Salins-les-Bains, France

Bad Friedrichshall-Kochendorf | Germany
Bad Friedrichshall, die Salzstadt an Neckar (the salt town on the Neckar) is a small town, incorporating several communities brought together in the 1930s. It is situated on the River Neckar, upstream from Heilbronn, and is now in the land of Baden-Württemburg. Large-scale extraction of salt began ...

Bergat-Bilfinger-Strasse 1
74177 Bad Friedrichshall, Germany

Bad Reichenhall | Germany
The largest saltworks in Germany is located in Bavaria, at Bad Reichenhall on the Austrian border, 16 km south-west of Salzburg. The record of working salt in the area goes back to the year 682 ad, and a water-powered bucket elevator was raising brine to the surface by the mid-fifteenth century.  ...

Old Saltworks
83435 Bad Reichenhall, Germany