The natural meadows and oyster ponds that border the banks of the Seudre are, for the most part, old salt marshes over a thousand years old. They are the vestiges of an intense economic activity which flourished in the region until the XNUMXth century. The latter shaped its landscape for a long time before the salt gave way to oysters.

The clears of the seudre estuary

Strong image of Charente-Maritime, the Seudre marshes make up a 10 hectare wetland. They unfold along the estuary, from the Pertuis de Maumusson (facing the Ile d'Oléron) to Saujon. Seen from the sky, this course of almost 000 kilometers draws a superb pavement of geometric shapes. Between land and sea, a succession of marshes, channels, meadows and clearings used for refining wine is revealed.Marennes-Oléron oyster. 

All of this oyster ponds carry the heritage of a long history whose prologue is much earlier than the breeding of molluscs, which has now become the preponderant activity of the Val de Seudre. These are old marshes where the production of oysters replaced the salt cultivation. This other seafood product also made the reputation of the former province of Saintonge for a very long time.

The salt trade present since the Gallo-Roman era

The Santons (XNUMXth – XNUMXnd century BC), a Celtic people from whom Saintonge takes its name, were already dry brine in clay pots. Moreover, archaeologists have found traces of utensils used to make salt in Shoulders et Chaillevette (cylindrical vases where the crystallization of salt took place). At that time, the sea submerged part of today's valley.

The arrival of the Romans in the region (XNUMXst century BC) gave impetus to this activity. It is now practiced in saltworks, a technique no doubt developed by the Gauls themselves, before the conquest of Julius Caesar. Under the aegis of the new occupants, the salt harvested is the subject of fruitful exchanges. It is transported from the waterways inland, towards Périgord and Limousin via Angoulême. THE remains of salt cellars, identified along the Charente, attest to the dynamism of this lucrative trade. 

The fall of Rome, indirectly caused by the Germanic invasions from the XNUMXth century, began a first decline. The main active salt marshes are then located around Marennes. A little later, a famous Frankish king, Dagobert (XNUMXth century) confiscated the property from the local aristocracy for the benefit of the Abbey of Saint-Denis in Paris.

The year XNUMX marks the rebirth of salt in Saintonge

Saintonge Maritime was truly reborn after the turn of the first millennium thanks to a temporary lull. The end of the Scandinavian raids coincides with the installation of the feudal system, synonymous with a certain return to order. THE Nordic peoples, Danes and Swedes, who were then experiencing an economic boom, were at the origin of a sharp increase in the demand for salt. These civilizations, established on the coasts of the Baltic Sea (but also in Normandy where the Vikings have been officially installed since 911) need this preservative agent to store their food (meat, fish) and preserve their fodder from moisture in winter.  

Mornac sur Seudre salt marsh

The Charente region, renowned for its "Blanc de Liman", a quality salt grown between L'Éguille and Mornac-sur-Seudre, is benefiting from this recovery. Its coastline is gradually being covered with salt marshes. First exploited by aristocrats, they are then by monks who put their hands in the dough.

An increasingly taxed salt

The public authorities are not mistaken and are introducing taxation intended to levy a contribution on this activity lucrative. The lord of the castellany of Royan introduces a tax "of 5 deniers for a ''cent'' of salt" on the cargo of boats coming from Marennes,Inherited or La Tremblade stationed off the fortress, waiting for favorable winds and currents. Later, in 1548, the monarch Henri II extended to Saintonge the royal tax on salt: the famous “Gabelle”. Decision that provokes a revolt in the province.

Aunis and Saintonge are then two of the largest salt-producing regions within the kingdom of France. Their annual volume reaches some 150 tons. The improvement, noticeable for more than half a millennium, will however gradually run out of steam. On the one hand, the tax burden is increasingly strong. On the other hand, state protectionism deprived the salt workers of their English and Dutch outlets. 

Another aggravating circumstance: many of these producers, of Protestant faith, were forced into exile after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. La Tremblade alone lost almost half of its population. Finally, the development of the railway under the Second Empire (1851-1870) dealt a severe blow to Saintonge salt by facilitating the transport of salt from the Mediterranean, cheaper.

From salt to oysters

The increasingly high cost devoted to the maintenance of marshes sometimes leads to their abandonment. They are then transformed into "gâts" (empty marshes) and will mostly become grazing areas in the 1800th century. In 5, the area of ​​the saltworks in the Seudre basin reached 000 hectares, twice less than in 1600.

thierry avan

The clear ones

Reconversion of salt marshes into “les claires” oyster ponds for refining oysters

A void that the oyster will gradually fill. There conversion of salt marshes into “claires” is a trend that has imposed itself with the enthusiasm of health tourism, associated with the tasting of seafood, very fashionable at the end of the XNUMXth century. Bordeaux elites vacationing in Royan take part in special excursions organized to oyster farmers

However, the refining of molluscs in disused salt marshes goes back a long way. From 1738, while this historical sector is already suffering from the crisis, more than 7 clear are exploited only on the left bank of the Seudre, from the tip of Mus-de-Loup at its mouth to the Éguille. A municipal tax on these products will also allow the mayor of Royan to finance the paving of his town, between 1820 and 1830.

Today, the Mornac-sur-Seudre salt marsh is used again. It is possible to take a guided tour with the salt worker. A large number of oyster farmers have huts along the banks of the Seudre. They offer the sale of oysters and other seafood directly from the producer to the consumer.

Was this content useful to you?


Share this content