The history of Guérande salt

Guérande salt’s roots go far back in history.

It has been harvested on the peninsula since the Iron Age. The first salt works to use the storage capacity of the lagoon goes back to the 3rd Century, shortly after the Roman conquest.

The poet Fortunat, in his “Vie de Saint Aubin, le blanc”, spoke of rocks “on which the waves broke to deposit salt”.

But the real inspiration behind the salt marshes were the monks from Landévennec Abbey, who, in 945, founded Batz Priory and carved them out. By studying the tides, wind and sun, the monks mapped out a plan of the salt works, which is the one we see today. A titanic project, this open-air factory brought prosperity to Guérande for many centuries and opened up the first trading routes in Europe: it was the Eldorado of Brittany.

The current exploitation technique goes back to before the 9th Century. At least five salt works from the Carolingian period are still in operation on the marshes. This tradition of the salt worker’s profession and the preservation of his skills have allowed the Guérande marshes to survive through to modern times.

The "gabelle"

“Gabelle” comes from a word of Arab origin, “KABALA”, meaning “tax”. In France, the word is used only for salt.

The development of the salt trade aroused the interest of the men in power and, in 1343, salt became a State monopoly by order of king Philippe VI de Valois, who instituted the “gabelle”, the tax on salt.

The introduction of the tax led to the arrival of contraband salt merchants, who, for example, in Brittany, travelled to the other bank of the Vilaine to buy salt that they then sold in Maine, having transported it fraudulently without paying the “gabelle”. They risked being condemned to the galleys if they worked without arms, and the death penalty if they bore arms.

After a number of popular uprisings, the “gabelle” was finally abolished by the National Constituent Assembly on 1st December 1790.

Salt expressions

Certain expressions are well known to everyone in France …

  • Mettre un peu de sel dans sa vie (adding a bit of salt to your life)
  • ​Ajouter son grain de sel (Add your grain of salt)
  • Une plaisanterie pleine de sel… (A joke full of salt…)

But did you know these?

  • Table sans sel, bouche sans salive (A table without salt is like a mouth without saliva).
  • La bouderie en amour est comme le sel ; il n’en faut pas trop (Proverbe Sanskrit) (Sulking in love is like salt; you don’t need too much of it: Sanskrit proverb).
  • Qui prend femme pour s’enrichir, mange du sel pour se désaltérer. (Taking a wife in order to get rich is like eating salt to quench your thirst).
  • Pour bien se connaître il faut manger sept sacs de sel ensemble (Proverbe Breton) (To know each other well, you need to eat seven sacks of salt together: Breton proverb).
  • According to an old superstition, it’s bad luck to knock over a salt pot. But if you do, throw a pinch of salt over your left shoulder to keep away bad luck!
  • Salt forms part of many religious ceremonies and is a sign of hospitality when it is placed on the table.
  • If the meat already smells bad, it is too late to add salt.
  • Salt and advice are two things that are only given to those who ask.
  •  In the Middle Ages, salt was the symbol of brotherhood bonds. "Amicitia pactum salis", translated as "Friendship is a salt bond".