30 May 2011

jura bike trip: saline royale d'arc et senans

No way we could have done our Jura Bike Trip without our friend J. A caviste / wine director with heaps of experience leading bike tours in Burgundy, he was indispensable for route-mapping, bike-fixing, and domaine-contacting. So none of us, not me not my friends E or D, voiced a peep of protest when J enthusiastically proposed, as our first destination in the Jura, the Saline Royale d'Arc et Senans.

Royal Salt Mines, eh? Defunct, eh? Chiefly of architectural interest, you say? Count me in!

Actually, to my knowledge, I was the only one who was bored to within moments of asphyxiation. E and D seemed pretty curious about Claude Nicolas Ledoux, the legendary architect behind the neoclassical structures of the Saline Royal. It's not that I can't appreciate good architecture, or not entirely that. It's that, in what I suspect is a problem endemic to isolated points of architectural interest, the curators of the Saline Royal have come up with practically nothing to fill it with.

There is the Claude Nicolas Ledoux museum, a veritable city of the dead of clean white maquettes, mostly depicting structures that either went unrealised or have since been destroyed. That takes up one structure, of ten (?) total. The rest were either empty, or off limits, or, even worse, filled with enormous, well-funded expositions on the history of salt, which is something of a niche subject, and one that I presume fails to interest even the questing architecture students who make the three hour journey from Paris with the sole aim of visiting the Saline Royale.

One such student, we think, was our only fellow traveler on the extremely clean local train we took from Besançon. She was a hapless looking Asian girl in overalls who, along with us, missed the microsecond train stop at Arc et Senans, and instead disembarked one stop after, at Mouchard. We ran into her again, sometime later, at the Salt Mines. She told us she'd waited an hour for the next train. She seemed to be getting a lot more out of the experience than I was.

The absolute low, for me, was a numbingly self-referential exposition on expositions at the Salines Royales throughout the 20th century. An equal amount of space was devoted to the 1940's, when armies were stationed there, as to the 1990's, when, as today, a gift shop and an exposition on salt were stationed there. I found myself considering the limits of human culture and commerce, which evidently can extend just so far outside major cities before museums become hollow and monuments are abandoned.

On the plus side, I read that the Saline Royale is one of very few UNESCO World Heritage sites at which it is possible to stay overnight, at their built-in chambre d'hôte, from which base of operations I imagine one could greet the dawn with a croissant and a coffee, and then scram to go do more interesting things.

Related Links:

Jura Bike Trip: Excuses

More architectural griping: Château de Chambord

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