Salies de Béarn is a picturesque village which has managed to preserve its unique character. Exploring its little old streets and passageways is a pleasure.
The historic heart of Salies de Béarn is the the Place du Bayaà. This is the site of the Salt Fountain, once open air but later remodelled as a crypt and paved over, to form today’s Place du Bayaà.
Harvesting salt from the fountain
Two men known as tiradous stood in the pool to fill up the the sameau, which was then hitched to a bar and carried to the man who would work the salt.
The salt Fountain and the Parts-prenantsExploiting the salt fountain was regulated in 1587 with a charter which created the “Corporation des Voisins”(Communauté des Béziis) or “Parts-prenants”. The regulations are still in place and apply to the thermal spa in Salies, les Thermes de la Mude. Today, the corporation is run by the descendants of the original founders.
If you’re the son of a “voisin” (neighbour), then you are a voisin. The same goes if you’re an outsider who marries the daughter who has inherited voisin rights.
You must swear an oath to the voisinage and own a house in the village.
There are two kinds of Part-prenant. One is the “head of a household”, an heir who is married or unmarried, with or without children: he is entitled to a share of the salt water. The second is the “tenant” and married younger son, who receives a salt tally only after his seniors in the corporation.
The legend of the boar, the symbol of a Salies de Béarn
Legend has it that around the year 1000, a boar wounded in a hunt lay down to die in the marsh. When the huntsmen eventually found the animal, it was covered in salt crystals.
The discovery of this abundance probably led to the founding of Salies de Béarn. The owners of the forest built a house at the corner of the salt pool, carved with an inscription in Béarnaise, “Si you nou eri mourt, arres n’y bibéré” – “If I hadn’t died, no one would be living here”.
In 1927, the town erected a fountain with a boar’s head at the spot. Beneath it, you can see sculpture of the boar, its body encrusted with salt.
The salt museum
This museum, in a 17th century building down a little lane, tells you everything you need to know about Salies’ unique salt history. You can even see a reconstruction of a salt worker’s atelier, like the ones that many homes once had. Videos, photos and artefacts make it easy to imagine how Salisians lived and worked.
La fête du sel
Tous les ans en septembre a lieu le grand rendez-vous annuel de Salies, la fameuse « hesta de la sau » (Fête du sel) où plus de 10 000 personnes se rendent. Les salisiens rendent hommage à ce qui a fait la renommée de la ville. Au programme de ces 2 jours : courses des porteurs de sameaux et des porteuses de herrades (récipient en bois réservé aux femmes et porté sur la tête), marché artisanal, défilé de char, marche des confréries, spectacles, chants et danses traditionnels et banquets.