The salt from île de Ré: Palissy the explorer, gabelle and gathering

The salt from Ré islandThe salt from Ré island | © / CC-BY-NC-SA

What’s this?

Don’t forget to bring salt from Ré island: salt marshes are everywhere, especially near Loix village.

We can find several kind of salt:

• the coarse salt, grey-coloured, used for court-bouillon.

• the sea salt, the white-coloured fleur de sel, picks up on the water’s surface.

The little history

Palissy and the salt marshes

Do you know a man called Bernard de Palissy made the first survey of the area marshes, in the 16th century? The famous Bernard was a potter and an enamel maker.

But do you know he was also a scientist and a geometer? People put in charge of the establishment of the gabelle, the salt tax, asked him to draw the salt marshes map in Oléron and Ré islands, in 1543... A Titan job!

The salt history

From the 11th century to the middle of the 19th century, Saintonge and Aunis areas (current Charente-Maritime) were the main places for salt production, in France.

The first mention of salt marshes in La Rochelle's area dates back to the end of the 9th century.

The salt trade was a pretty lucrative business in the Middle Ages: did you know even monasteries had their own marshes?

Powerful lords as Lusignan also made salt, and raised a salty harbour in Cognac. Salt trade became very prosperous, so king Philip VI decided to tax it, in 1331 and 1343: Saintonge and Aunis area didn’t pay taxes, but they had to give money to the king.

The temptation was too strong, although: just imagine all the money the king could make with salt! So he created new taxes in Saintonge. Immediately, a rebellion started, quickly calmed down by constable de Montmorency, in 1548...

In the 19th century, they produced 30 000 annual tons of salt, gathered on 1 500 hectares of marshes (20% of the island's surface). But in the middle of the 19th century, the salt trade collapsed: prices fell down and other countries competed with.

The small Ré island didn’t make up the weight... But in 1942, Ré salt-producers created their cooperative: nowadays, they exploit 460 hectares of marshes and gather 2 500 tons per year!