The Historical Salt Routes


For centuries the relationships between the Franche-Comté region and the Swiss cantons were sprinkled with salt. The saltworks of Salins-les-Bains, Lons-le-Saunier and Arc-et-Senans played a significant role in supplying salt to the regions on the other side of the Jura mountains, which for a long time had no access to this indispensable mineral that is so important for the human body and for the preservation of food. Since very early times, the abbeys of Saint-Maurice d’Agaune and of Romainmôtier had rights over the Jura saltworks and received income from their yields. As salt trade developed, roads were built throughout the Jura region. They joined the road known as the “Via Francigena”, an ancient Roman route that connected Pontarlier in France to Orbe in Switzerland via the Jougne pass and that was also used by pilgrims travelling to Rome. The city of Yverdon-les-Bains, located on the outlet of the Jura passes and with a harbour on the Neuchâtel lake, soon became a centre for strategic salt trade with Bern and the Swiss cantons. From 1554 onwards, the saline springs discovered near Bex in the Chablais region are also exploited. Because its production is limited, however, this salt from the Alps cannot compete with that brought in from the French Jura region. In 1837 the saltworks of Schweizerhalle, near Basel, are opened and this does lead to a gradual decline of the salt trade between the Franche-Comté region and the Swiss cantons. The Terra Salina highlights the heritage still to be found along these historical itineraries on both sides of the border. They tell the story of salt worked to bring unity between the French and Swiss border territories. 


chemin Terra Salina
photographie roue à eau
colonne Claude Nicolas Ledoux

The historical salt route “Via Salina” was a vital artery for the Republic of Bern. For centuries, it was used to import precious salt from Arc-et-Senans and Salins-les-Bains. Pack animals, wagons and boats were used for its transportation on a rather well-developed road and waterway infrastructure. Even today traces of history can be observed along the “Via Salina”. Examples of this are the salt transportation tracks, salt warehouses, and of course the two salt factories of Salins-les-Bains and Arc-et-Senans. Bern purchased the majority of its salt in the Franche-Comté region. Deliveries from France were stored partially in Grandson but in particular in “Iferten”, nowadays called Yverdon-les-Bains. From Yverdon-les-Bains, the salt was transported by boat to Morat, after which teams of horses brought it to Bern. It was not until 1836, when salt reserves were discovered along the river Rhine, that the Confederation no longer needed to import salt from the Franche-Comté. 

Source : «Guide de voyage, Via Salina – Sur les traces de l’or blanc » – Via Storia – Centre pour l’histoire du trafic, Sabine Bolliger & Guy Schneider (in French).