14 rue des Puits Salants, 64270 Salies-de-Béarn.
A64 exit 7 Salies-de-Béarn, D430, at roundabout towards city center. There is no parking at the museum, but there are five pfree parking lot in the vicinity.
08-JAN to 17-FEB Tue-Fri 14-17:30.
18-FEB to 29-JUN Tue-Sat 14-19.
JUL to SEP Mon, Wed, Sat 13:30-19, Tue, Thu, Fri 10:30-12:30, 13:30-19.
30-SEP to 12-OCT Tue-Sat 14-19.
14-OCT to 20-DEC Tue-Fri 14-17:30.
Adults EUR 6, Children (7-12) EUR 2, Children (0-6) free, Students EUR 5, Unemployed EUR 5, Disabled EUR 5.
Groups (10+): Adults EUR 5.
|Incandescent Electric Light System
|self guided, D=1 h.
|only ground floor
|Musée du Sel et des Traditions Béarnaises, Association des Amis du Vieux Salies, 14 rue des Puits Salants, 64270 Salies-de-Béarn, Tel: +33-559-65-84-98. E-mail:
|As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.
|thermal spa opened.
|first salt museum opened on Place du Bayaà.
|museum reopened after renovation.
At the end of the Triassic (200 Ma) the supercontinent Pangaea started to break apart. The caused the opening of a marine Gulf, between the Iberian plate and the European plate. The Aquitain Basin was below sea level, but not continually connected to the sea. Seawater flooded the basin several times, and in an arid climate the water slowly evaporated. It deposited layers of rock salt, but also limestone, gypsum, and other salts.
Those soluble rocks were covered subsequently by other sedimentary rocks, during the Jurassic (200 to 145 Ma) and the Cretaceous (145 to 65 Ma). The limestones, sandstones and marls cover the salt, and so it is under pressure. The orogeny of the Pyrenees created immense faults in the overlying rocks, and the salt, which is able to flow very slowly under high pressure, started to flow into those cracks. The pressure allows the salt to flow, the fact that salt is much lighter than rock, makes it ascend. That's called buoyancy.
The final part is the groundwater. The rocks have cracks and pores, and some rocks are permeable. The water which fills those pores is meteoric water from the surface, and when it is underground it is called groundwater. When the salt reaches the groundwater during its ascent, it is dissolved, and the water becomes salt water or brine. It often has a salt content of 33 % which is the maximum for water.
Musée du Sel et des Traditions Béarnaises (Museum of Salt and Béarnese Traditions) is located in the town Salies-de-Béarn between Biarritz and Lourdes. We were not sure if we should list it, becaus showcaves.com is dedicated to underground sites. Salt "mining" actually does not involve underground mining though. If you want to see an underground site, we recommend the Crypt of Bayaà, which is only 50 m away. It is quite common that salt is dissolved by water, and then the water is evaporated to get the salt. This is actually the typical way to mine salt, but it also happens naturally when the salt is in the region of the groundwater body. Natural salt water springs were used by animals and prehistoric man. Since Roman times they are used for spas, and the evaporation of the salt with the help of fire started.
The museum say that the use of the salt has 4,000 years of history. There are actually archaeological remains which make it likely that our anchestors used the salt. On the other side, it is unlikely that the painters of nearby Dordogne river 15,000 years earlier ignored the springs. Most likely, there is just no archaeological evidence. The exhibition concentrates on the exploitation of salt in the Bronze Age and the Gallo-Roman era. This is actually the time when the town was founded and developed, and there are a lot of findings. The archeology section was created by Marcel Saule, honorary president of the association of Friends of Vieux Salies.
The Salt of Salies-de-Béarn owes its discovery to a wild boar hunting trip.
The injured boar took refuge in a muddy swamp and was found there covered in salt crystals.
Before dying, the said these last words, in Béarnais: “Se you nou eri mourt, ares n'y bibere” (If I hadn't died there, no one would live here).
The town of Salies-de-Béarn then developed around this salt spring, which over time became the Crypt of Bayaà.
17th century legend.
The exhibition shows a broad range of machinery and tools which were used for the evaporation of the salt. The medieval toos are typically made of wood. This exhibition is called salt maker's workshop. There are scrapers which were used to stir the water, to help with the evaporating and keep the salt mobile. During the Middle Ages the salt-making was done by numerous citizens at their home, unlike at other salt towns there were many family businesses instead of a saline.
In the 19th century the medical uses of the salt water were discovered. A spa for hydrotherapy was opened in the town. The museum explains the history of the spa as well as the medical uses for salt water. The spa exists until today, it is only 50 m from the museum.
Also there is still salt production, in 2015 1760 tonnes of coarse salt were produced. The name “Sel de Salies-de-Béarn” is registered as a protected geographical indication (PGI).
Many aspects of the museum are more about local history, which is not unusual as the salt extraction was the economic backbone for millennia. The museum is located in the center of the town in a typical Béarnaise house named la maison Darremoundine. The museum used three levels of this building. The exhibitions on the ground floor are the corridor of time, the maker's workshop, the history of the participants and the animated model. The first floor is dedicated to the 19th and early 20th century, especially the thermal bath and its anecdotes. The second floor is devoted to geology.