The Farnese salt pans of Salsominore
The only remaining seventeenth-century plant
An imposing and unusual industrial building, the site of the Farnese Salt Pans in Salsominore is the only seventeenth-century plant left in a larger system of production sites. At the time of the Farnese domination, this was made up of at least three factories: the one here, another along the road to Tabiano in the locality of Centopozzi, and the largest one in the centre of Salsomaggiore, where the Institute of Chemistry now stands at the Berzieri Spa. The history of the area is closely linked to that of the Salt Pans, since the extraction of water, its use to obtain salt and then for thermal tourism, has had a profound effect on the transformation of the landscape over time.
The fossil deposits of salso-bromo-iodine water trapped underground are the legacy of the sea water that occupied and transformed this part of the Po Valley in remote geological eras. Chronicles date the first uses of the “salty” waters to the Iron Age, linking them to traces of Celtic, Ligurian and Roman settlements which, along the road between Salsomaggiore and Fidenza, began extracting water to obtain salt, a precious mineral for preserving food.
However, most of the ancient wells were destroyed in an earthquake and floods that hit the area in 589. After about two centuries, many wells were rediscovered and put back into use. It was Charlemagne himself, in 801, who organised the mining activity and gave the main salt villages the names of Salsominore and Salsomaggiore.
From the year 1000, salt became one of the major sources of wealth for the feudal state of the Pallavicino family, who built fortresses and castles here to control both water extraction and forestry activities, which were necessary for the firewood for the salt production process.
The Pallavicino domination organised the balance and wealth of the territory in a stable manner, thanks to the proceeds of the salt trade, establishing a network of roads, control and exchange points, around Scipione Castle. The subsequent Farnese domination, on the other hand, gave rise to a proto-industrial conception of production, with the construction of the salt pans and images that testify to rather curious inventions: for example, a well-equipped mill with an enormous wheel for extracting water, which was driven by prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment.
In the Farnese salt works, salt was obtained by evaporation: the water was placed in iron basins, under which wood from the surrounding trees was burned, according to a very complex plan of planting and cutting. The structures consisted of buildings for evaporation, warehouses, residences for the workers and neighbouring wells. This production system was abandoned in the first half of the 19th century, when the area was converted to agriculture. Today, salt is still extracted from the water for use in food: it comes from the chemical industry that developed at the beginning of the 20th century.
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