Royal Saltworks in Arc-et-Senans

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Royal Saltworks at Arc-et-Senans and the Great Saltworks at Salins-les-Bains
UNESCO world heritage UNESCO World Heritage Emblem

France arc et senas saline royal main building 1.jpg
House of Directors
National territory: FranceFrance France
Type: Culture
Criteria : (i) (ii) (iv)
Surface: 10.48 hectares
Buffer zone: 797.18 ha
Reference No .: 203bis
UNESCO region : Europe and North America
History of enrollment
Enrollment: 1982  ( session 6 )
Extension: 2009

The Royal Saltworks in Arc-et-Senans in the French department of Doubs is a factory for salt production , which was completed 1779th It was designed by the architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806) on behalf of Louis XV. planned. The foundation stone was laid on April 15, 1775. The work lasted three years. It is one of the most important construction projects of what is known as revolutionary architecture . In later mind games, Ledoux expanded the actually realized saltworks into an ideal city called Chaux - however, this ideal city project was never implemented.

In 1982 the plant was by the UNESCO in the List of World Heritage added. In 2009 the cultural heritage was expanded to include the Great Saltworks of Salins-les-Bains .


Arc-et-Senans is located in the region of Bourgogne Franche-Comte , 35 kilometers southwest of the capital Besançon . There you will find a hilly landscape that merges to the southeast into the partly steeply rising Jura . To the north-west, on the other hand, the flat valley of the Doubs with its tributaries extends . The valley is part of the Rhine-Rhône trench, which stretches from Frankfurt am Main to almost Marseille and has therefore always been an important long-distance route. At a moderate distance there are important trading cities such as Basel , Dijon , Lyon , Lausanne and Geneva around Arc-et-Senans .

In Franche-Comté, the people live from small industrial businesses, wine, fruit and cheese production and tourism . The basis of the numerous spas are salty water sources, which in the past also enabled numerous salt works.

The saltworks


In Franche-Comté there were numerous salt pans for extracting salt from salty springs. Salt has been extracted in Lons-le-Saunier and Salins-les-Bains , for example, since Roman times . These systems were constantly expanded and rebuilt. This created a large structural constriction, as the salt pans were always surrounded by a wall in order to curb salt theft. The result was inadequate hygienic and ventilation conditions, the risk of fire was immense and work processes were made more difficult.

Claude-Nicolas Ledoux was appointed agent for the salt mines in Franche-Comté and Lorraine in 1771.

In this function he went on an inspection tour in 1771. The immense problems of the salt pans did not go unnoticed, and the factory architecture, "a heap of poorly fitting components (...) randomly patched together from miserable materials", did not satisfy him. The unproductivity resulted to a not insignificant extent from the complicated wood supply. All the forests around the Salins saltworks had been cut down, and the raw material had to be brought in over several kilometers. Ledoux therefore proposed the construction of a new salt works 17 kilometers from the brine source , on the edge of the Chaux forest . The salt water should be piped there, because "it is easier to send the water on a journey than to drive a forest piece by piece through the area."

King Louis XV decreed the project as the owner of all salt pans in April 1773, and a year later Ledoux presented his first draft.

First draft

This followed a simple basic pattern: A spacious, square courtyard , which is used for stacking wood, is surrounded by a closed building complex. At the corners and in the center of the sides of the otherwise single-storey wing are two-storey buildings for special functions: the portal with the administration is in the middle of the entrance side . In the corners to the left and right, the chapel and bakery are uniformly located, which was later criticized. The side wings house workshops and blacksmiths ; the actual factory with the brine mills is located opposite the portal. Diagonal, open galleries connect the middle of the wing to create short, weather-independent path connections. In the intermediate buildings there are workers' apartments in the form of individual rooms that are assigned to a common room with a central hearth. Outside the Hofgeviert there are kitchen gardens allocated to the workers to compensate for their low wages.

What was new about the design concept was the upgrading of the factory building type , which, perceived as a rather inferior building type, is usually implemented with simple means. Ledoux, on the other hand, exuberantly used the column element (140 pieces), which was actually only reserved for sacred and castle buildings, albeit in a decidedly simple, rustic form in the Doric style. But even in this form, this “excess of beauty” violated the recognized rules of luxury and appropriateness, the convenance , so that the king rejected the present draft.

Second draft

Model of the built salt works (view from the west)

In 1774 Ledoux drew his second draft. Only now was the exact construction site fixed and he again dealt in detail with the work processes of a salt works. The discussion about the reconstruction of the Paris hospital, the Hôtel-Dieu , which burned down in 1772, also seems to have had a major influence . A design was required that should be loosened up to reduce the risk of fire and improve ventilation. In 1774 the doctor Antoine Petit published a basic scheme for hospital construction. He designed a circular system with structures that were arranged like wheel spokes around a central pavilion with kitchen and chapel. Petit was against a square shape, which not only was poorly ventilated but also made it difficult to supply.

Description of the plant

The final overall floor plan of the new salt works of Chaux, which was built between the villages of Arc and Senans between 1775 and 1779, shows a semicircular courtyard with a diameter of 225 meters. Ten individual pavilions , no longer united in a closed front, surround it, plus stables and gardens. The entire facility is walled. The only portal building and four other similarly structured buildings follow the circular line in the south, while the production and administration buildings border the courtyard in the north. They flank the director's house, which is the focal point of the whole complex. Essentially, Ledoux shows a factory town that is broken down into its components, which in turn are arranged in a clear geometric form.

The portal building to the salt works

Portal construction: The gatehouse in the south forms the only access to the facility. A dead straight road from the Loue , the nearby river, flows here. All traffic can be controlled here, salt theft is also minimized by the fact that workers are not allowed to leave the salt works. In addition to the guard posts, the building also houses a judges' room, the prison and the fresh water reservoir. The outside portico consists of six footless Doric columns that support a heavy architrave . He remembers by proportion and the median widened Interkolumnium to the contemporary representations of the Propylaea on the Athenian Acropolis , certainly knows the Ledoux. Behind the portico , the passage through the building is designed as an imitation stone grotto, the central section of the building is two-story and covered with a bent pyramid roof, the side wings are single -story and have a hipped roof.

House of the Director: If you follow the road coming from the Loue through the portal further north , the path leads exactly to the portal of the house of the director. It is the geometric center of the facility and is flanked by the actual production buildings. The cubic main body with pyramidal roof and lantern is a portico with heavy rusticated columns presented whose column drums are divided by cubic bays, a famous light and shadow so results. An oculus window in the tympanum , which marks the focal point of the semicircle of the saline, symbolizes the eye of the director, who, as the king's direct representative, oversees all happenings in the courtyard. The idea of ​​the Panopticon , the surveillance tower , is a well-known element that a few years later Jeremy Bentham based a prison design. Behind the portico and the entrance there is a series of ascending stairs that lead into the chapel with its altar installed at the highest point . The visitors of the service have to celebrate the service standing on the steps and looking upwards, the director follows the action behind them on a gallery . To the side of this area are residential and administrative rooms.

House, administration and western salt workshop

The salt control buildings are to the west and east of the director's house, at the intersection of the straight line and the semicircle. Administration rooms and apartments for the foremen and builders were housed here. The entrance facades point towards the center of the complex, the buildings, like all buildings, are partly rusticated masonry. The entrance motif is similar to that of the director's stable: a semi-arch rests on two columns, the recessed passage under the thus accentuated cornice at capital level is wider than the arch width.

Salt workshops: The two salt workshops to the left and right of the director's house are simple, rectangular buildings on a huge floor plan of 81 × 28 meters, high hipped roofs with small dormers span the fireplaces with their salt pans, warehouses and drying rooms. The entrances are again marked by gable porticos. However, they have no pillars, three larger arched openings and two man-high doors form the passages.

Apartments and workshops: two of the four other buildings in the round are reserved for workshops, two more accommodate twelve apartments each for four people in their single-storey side wings, each of which consists of a single room that is accessed via a central corridor. Ledoux is planning the communal kitchen, which extends over two floors with a gallery and is also intended to heat the entire house, as the actual living space for the workers . Here he realizes his ideal of community life according to the laws of nature. The main entrance of the house is in the higher central wing, here accented with a triangular gable, it faces the director's house and consists only of a round arch portal.

Architectural evaluation

Original plan of the built salt works

Ledoux is not just building a simple factory in Chaux. The demand is higher. In addition to the rational subdivision into individual functions in a relaxed geometry, the upgrading of the building task previously perceived as inferior and the new architecture with its rustic motifs in detail and the large form characterized by simple bodies, the saltworks are also based on social and political ideas. The form of government, the absolutism can be read in the appendix, the house of the director in the center also represents the unrestricted center of power. In a totalitarian way all processes are coordinated and monitored from here, the workers as subjects are not only physically subject to the director as ruler they do not leave the facility, but also on a spiritual level: the service, actually a celebration and hour of confidence, takes place under the supervision of the director, in his house and under spatially degrading conditions. The focus is not on the knowledge of being the salt of the earth, but rather the servant of salt.

The increasingly elaborate design of the portals reveals a hierarchy of the parts of the salt works: director - guard - administration - production - workers.

Ledoux, on the other hand, endeavors to properly honor each level of society . The life of the workers should be upgraded through the experience of the community , this life according to the laws of nature should be made possible by a demanding structural framework of both the apartments and the workplaces. The ideal claim and the inhuman reality, however, gape far apart: For artistic reasons, rooms for four people are only lit and ventilated with tiny urn-shaped windows, for the same reasons Ledoux does without chimneys in the salt boiling rooms, in which the workers have to do their twelve-hour shifts, leading to respiratory disease and early death among them.

The saltworks today

The salt works remained in operation until 1895. With the subsequent fall of the salt monopoly and the salt tax, the saltworks could never achieve its intended importance. In addition, the salt content of the brine used was too low to operate economically successful salt production. Listed as a historical monument in the 1920s , it served as a stud farm, warehouse, barracks and as an internment camp during the Second World War. Finally, it was renovated and the partially destroyed parts reconstructed, so that the Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans is now a World Heritage Site, a Ledoux research center, a museum about salt production and a museum about the works and ideas of the builder Claude-Nicolas Ledoux as well Guest room houses. The two former salt workshops are now used as an event center for exhibitions and the like.

For blind visitors there is a blind card in the entrance hall . The historic saltworks in Salins-les-Bains should definitely be visited.

The ideal city

The French Revolution suddenly put an end to the architectural work of Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, as he was the representative and builder of the Ancien Régime . In 1793 he was imprisoned for one year and escaped murder by the revolutionary tribunals . As a result, his life was financed by patrons, and Ledoux devoted himself entirely to theoretical work and the processing of his entire oeuvre.

"L'Architecture ..."

Before he died in 1806, only the first volume of his four-volume work L'Architecture considerée sous le rapport de l'art, des moeurs et de la législation could be published. It contains the description of an ideal city called Chaux in the form of a travelogue that is full of allusions and quotations from classic authors. As the title suggests, not only the architecture of the city is described, but also the society that lives in it, the customs and morals. Ledoux says of the architect: “Everything falls within his domain - politics, morality, legislation, culture and government”, he is “the rival of the creator”. The city with the saltworks actually built in the center is described as partly existing, partly under construction. In fact, the factory already contains “urbanistic potential” for further expansion, the rest is the utopia of a master builder who is doomed to inactivity and who tries to defend himself and his work in the new state order that has just been established, self-justification extends to ingratiation to the new order.

Although Ledoux depicts it differently, the designs shown date from the long period from 1774 (saline design) to the 19th century. Contradictions make an overall conception described implausible, the drafts range from what has been implemented to worked through ideas to embellishments that are necessary for literary purposes. Basically, a new town in the Chaux forest seems to have been conceivable before the revolution. Savoy , France, and the autonomous province of Franche-Comté sought to share in the economic success of the city of Geneva and planned counter-cities in the area. Of these projects, however, only the Savoyard project in Carouge was implemented. It is right on the southern border of Geneva, while Chaux is 100 kilometers away.

First variant

Probably the oldest representation of Ledoux von Chaux shows a floor plan that is entered into the real plan of the forest of Chaux without going into the surroundings. The city lies in a circle around the implemented saltworks.

The saltworks is expanded into a complete circle. The five new, mirrored buildings include the town hall and barracks . This district is also surrounded by a wall, making the core of the city inaccessible. Behind a boulevard enclosing the wall follows the ring-shaped residential developments of varying density: in the south there are more closed courtyards with kitchen gardens, in the north there are palais-like floor plans with ornamental gardens. To the east and west are two public squares that accommodate the church and court in the form of longitudinal structures. The entire city is surrounded by a ring-shaped wall, which underlines the character of the border town. The overall design is based more on formal motives than functional.

Second variant

Model of the expansion to the ideal city

The more recent perspective of the city of Chaux initially shows strong similarities with the floor plan. Saltworks and barracks form the walled center. But instead of following the strict belt principle, the city now flows into the landscape ; as will be seen below, it is increasingly becoming a city in the forest . It becomes the physical environment for a virtuous, ideal society. The public buildings present themselves as central buildings, the church is now in the west, a market in the east. The stock exchange , bath and other church-like buildings are added, so that the number of actual residential buildings is dwindling.

Single building

Ledoux shows many of these large public buildings in individual views. Some are in urban structures, others are already completely set in forest and rocky landscapes reminiscent of Arcadia . All of them have the central building motif as an underline of Ledoux's community ideal, which he repeatedly emphasizes in the descriptions of his text. It is noticeable here that the literary description of use and society is becoming more important than consistency in architecture and urban planning .

The representation of the Louebrücke is also the most recent representation of the city. In the background it is asymmetrically and randomly thrown into the landscape, which again is pure fantasy and has little to do with the surroundings of Arc-et-Senans. The area surrounding the projected cannon factory that was supposed to supply the east of France also shows a city in nature . It thus represents another commercial building of Chaux. It is interesting in this context that Ledoux gives the city an industrial basis, i.e. he moves away from traditional reasons for founding cities such as trade promotion or military necessities and anticipates the economic livelihood of the cities of the late 19th century .

Model of the planned "House of the River Guardian"

Countless designs by Ledoux, which represent ideal homes for individual professions, but never urban forms of living, are famous. In the sense of “architecture parlante”, use and residents can be seen on the outside: The charcoal burner's house seems to consist of layered briquettes, the woodcutter's house consists of imitation logs; Ledoux refers here to Laugier'soriginal hut ”. The river keeper's house also physically encloses the river. Ledoux has moved away from the city in the traditional architectural sense, he describes ideal architecture in an ideal society.

His invented building types are to be understood in this sense. Neologisms such as Pacifère (peacemaking court of arbitration) or Panaréthéon (house of perfected virtue) are reminiscent of ancient buildings; their function is to convey virtue, community, fraternity. Ledoux envisions the ideals of Freemasonry , and he believes that architecture can influence the individual. Knowledge transfer is another basis of his society, so many of his buildings have inscriptions and images on a wide variety of topics.


How Ledoux decided to move away from urban living and idealized rural life is shown by the design of the cenobies, a monastery-like building for communities in the forest. In this city under one roof there is a return to primitive society: “By dealing with the people around us, we can either become virtuous or vicious, like the rough or the smooth pebble: Happiness and well-being can be found in the pleasant feeling find common pleasure. Hence those cenobies, built in the shade of quiet forests, where wise men live together according to the simple laws of nature and seek to realize the desirable happiness of the fabulous times of the Golden Age. "

The community idea in the cenobies and the other public building projects are made clear by central buildings or systems with their clear center, as indicated by the workers' houses in the saltworks.

The cemetery

The circle is the ideal shape for the central building idea. The circle also plays a major role in the idealization of nature: “Everything is circular in nature. The stone that falls into the water spreads indefinite circles, gravity is continually opposed by the rotational movement; the air, the sea, they move in constant circles; the magnet has its swirling magnetic fields; the earth its poles (...); the satellites of Saturn and Jupiter revolve around them; after all, the planets orbit in their immense orbit. "

Ledoux's most radical design, the cemetery , even shows a sphere at its core . Half of it is sunk into the ground and surrounded by concentric catacombs. As the center of the “city of the dead” it cannot be entered, the sphere is the center of the community of the dead, for Ledoux it is now also the image of nature, indeed of the universe.


The Chaux ideal city project, like most ideal city designs, is the idea of a single person, here Claude-Nicolas Ledoux. The image of society on which the design is based, however, is not uniform and is characterized by contradictions. Ledoux was not a Republican, he was a supporter of the monarchy and the Enlightenment . Instead of equalizing all people, he first wanted to pay tribute to every step of the social ladder. There are huge differences between the sometimes naive-looking architectural benefits and their use in reality. In his later writings, a reformed society emerges based on principles of virtue , wisdom, reason, and knowledge. Ledoux's individual architectures were characterized by making the community of people tangible. However, the center as a design principle does not exist in the city plans, so they can be recognized as older ideas. Cityscapes therefore no longer appear in more recent versions.

For Ledoux, every element of society and architecture was independent, but integrated into the context. This recognition of Rousseau's social contract prompted the architect to individually design each building in a free-standing form, which for Emil Kaufmann (1935) made him the founder of autonomous architecture and thus of modern architecture. Nonetheless, Ledoux also made use of baroque elements: the semicircular square, which served as a stage for the performance of the social order, is oriented towards an absolute center.


  • Anne Sefrioni: The royal salt works of Arc-et-Senans. Editions Scala u. a., Paris 2004, ISBN 2-86656-274-7 .
  • Ruth Eaton: The ideal city. From antiquity to the present. Nicolai, Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-87584-100-X .
  • Michel Gallet: Claude-Nicolas Ledoux. Life and work of the French "revolutionary architect". Translated from the French by Bettina Witsch-Aldor. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart 1980, ISBN 3-421-02800-1 .
  • Johannes Langner: Chaux - The rule of nature. In: Michael Maaß, Klaus W. Berger (Red.): Clear and full of light like a rule. Planned cities of the modern age. Braun, Karlsruhe 1990, ISBN 3-7650-9026-3 .
  • Claude-Nicolas Ledoux: L'Architecture considerée sous le rapport de l'art, des moeurs et de la législation. A. Uhl, Nördlingen 1981, ISBN 3-921503-60-4 . ( Facsimile from 1804)
  • Winfried Nerdinger (ed.): Revolutionary architecture. An aspect of European architecture around 1800. Accompanying volume for the exhibition of the German Architecture Museum 1990. Hirmer, Munich 1990, ISBN 3-7774-5200-9 .
  • Anthony Vidler: Claude-Nicolas Ledoux. Birkhäuser, Basel 1988, ISBN 3-7643-2201-2 .


  • Claude-Nicolas Ledoux: The Arc-et-Senans saltworks. Documentary, France, 2004, 26 min., Script and director: Stan Neumann, production: arte France, Baukunst series , first broadcast: September 1, 2008, summary by arte.

Web links

Commons : Royal Saltworks at Arc-et-Senans  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Coordinates: 47 ° 1 ′ 58 ″  N , 5 ° 46 ′ 40 ″  E

This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on July 22, 2005 .