France: Arc-et-Senans

After so many Roman amphitheatres, this is a refreshing change. Just have a look at this.

Near the ancient city of Besançon, the Saline Royale or Royal Saltworks – commissioned by Louis XV and built between 1775 and 1779, little more than a decade before the start of the French Revolution – represents an as-yet unrealised idealistic vision of the future and stands as something of a memorial to a utopian community, an ideal society where people would be happy and in harmony with nature.

Near France’s second largest natural forest, it is the creation of Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, the most prolific and original architect of late eighteenth-century France. An advocate of improving society through better urban planning and in finding architectural solutions for social problems, the saltworks were to be the first phase of a new ideal city named after the forest which provided the wood to feed its fires: Chaux.

Acting on the theory that man is a creature of his surroundings, and in order to both facilitate economic production by ensuring the healthiest conditions for the workers, its employees lived around a circular arc reminiscent of a sundial, alongside stables, workshops and office buildings, all centred around the Director’s House. As Ledoux wrote rather beautifully in 1804, two years before his death: ‘The shape is pure, like the curve described by the sun in its course. All is sheltered from the sleep of forgetfulness.’

Although the radical project was never completed, it would inspire other nineteenth-century Utopian socialists to experiment with town planning in order to improve workers’ conditions.

Sadly, few of the constructions Ledoux designed remain. This one is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has been since 1982. Saved from ruin, it now welcomes visitors all year round – some 120,000 annually.

Perhaps you are staying at its hotel, will be dining at its restaurant, or just enjoying its many beautiful and ever-changing gardens. It appears to be another graceful and intriguing place to visit. Enjoy it.

Lastly, hats off to Gérard Drouot Productions, who have provided so much clear and helpful information for all the concerts in France. Here are their latest maps showing where you enter and where you can park.