The salt roads

Salt was universally consumed, but its production was highly concentrated in just a few localities. Numerous itineraries were thus developed to ensure its transport from regions where salt was produced to those places that had to import it. All routes were used, from the Sahara trail to maritime routes. The demographic impetus of the beginning of the 13th century further accentuated this movement into Europe.


Transport du sel par charettes et bateaux - détail d'une enluminure

-  This illumination shows details in the transportation of salt and other merchandise by cart and boat.  -


By sea

To arrive at their destination, salt convoys travelled the seas and oceans. In the 13th century the Mediterranean thus became a place of intense commerce. The cities of Venice and Genoa were supplied by Spain and North Africa. Progressively, the salt convoys visited central and northern Europe due to the development of fishing on the Baltic Sea.

A new route opened on the Atlantic as of the 16th century.  Many ships left Europe for the Grand Banks off of Newfoundland for the cod fishing trade. The ships had to go via the Atlantic coast to stock up on salt necessary for conservation of the fish.

By river

Inland, salt could also be transported by water.  Boats travelled all river routes, even the most difficult, to distribute salt to interior markets.  The salt was loaded onto long flat-bottomed barges that sometimes reached 20 metres in length. 


By road

Salt was also transported by road, a type of transport widely used until the arrival of the railway.  All roads were used and no one hesitated to cross great natural barriers.  In Africa, a trade route connected the Middle East with the Gulf of Guinea.  In the Alps, a tunnel was built beneath Mt. Viso so as to supply the Piedmont valleys with salt.

Salt was carried either on the backs of animals or in horse-drawn wagons. Thus, an entire population of mule train drivers, teamsters and innkeepers lived along the roads and made their living off of salt.


And today?

Today, only 20% of the world’s production is bought or sold as part of international commerce. Most nations produce their own salt, with the exception of the Scandinavian countries, a few nations of central Europe and countries subject to equatorial rainfall.