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01The salt of life

The industrial activity involving the salt spring constituted, over the centuries, "the salt of life" for Léinz. It led to its foundation and even contributed its name.

Given the town's cold and humid climate, salt could not be produced using solar evaporation systems, a feature that made it different from many other salt producing villages; it had to heat the water using log fires.

The so-called "white gold" has been a valued economic asset as it features essential nutritional properties for humans and animals, as well as its use in preserving food. Today, salt is applied, either directly or indirectly, in 14,000 different processes.

The history of the evolution of its exploitation has been recreated in this space; which has been renovated to show the different methods used since the Iron Age until 1972, when the salt works closed due to the strong competition from sea salt producers.

02The technology

The salt water was drawn from the well using wooden buckets (strengthened with iron fittings) and distributed via channels to each one of the 8 "dorias", where it was kept in containers next to the metal boiler. Then the water was boiled for 4 hours per load over a log fire by day and by night, except Sundays and festivities.'2'.

Once the water had evaporated, the salt remained on the bottom of the container and was collected in baskets that were hung over the hearth to drain, obtaining a very high-quality product.

This salt was bought by "traxineros" or mule drivers who, together with women driving donkeys and men pushing carts, would sell it in the surrounding area.

The consumption in Guipuzkoa was very high given the large quantities needed by the ships that sailed to Newfoundland to fish for cod.

Production levels were limited by the availability of wood because, as the climate was very damp, it could not be dried in the sun, which meant it had to be dried near a fire.

Decrees dating form 1543 regulated the use of the water and of wood, both very limited resources, in order to make the best possible use of these assets. The rules provided that, if the person whose turn it was to work, was unable to do so because his wood was not ready "due to a storm or other accident, whoever was in a situation to work could do so".

In 1548, due to the fact that some individuals were trying to control most of the "dorias", an agreement was reached that stated that "the dorias used to make salt are the most important assets in this town" and "as, until now, the dorias had always been shared among many neighbours who made a living with them", a by-law was passed that stated that those who had more than one doria could no longer collect wood from the communal hills, which forced them to sell "their excess participation" (3). This ensure the shared ownership of the dorias until the beginning of this century.

(2) Ayerbe Irizar, María Rosa. La Industria de la Sal en Salinas de Léniz y Gaviria.
(3) Bergareche, Domingo. Apuntes Históricos de Salinas de Leniz. 1.952.

03Saltworkers

 

Work on the Leintz-Gataga saltworks was mainly performed by women, according to documents from various periods. Women collected and transported the wood, looked after the "dorias" and collected the finished product, among other tasks, in spite of the difficulty and poor working conditions due to the need to work in a saline environment.

In 1548, six thousand "fanegas" of salt were produced (1 fanega = 55 litres), consuming from 5,500 to 6,000 loads of wood. The system and the labour organisation did not vary much over 250 years as, in 1802, a document describes the same procedures, indicating that 8,512 "fanegas" of salt was obtained and that "each doria was only in operation 24 half-weeks per year" (4). Production reached 1,880 tons in 1887.

Over time, the water level in the well must have fallen, which led to several excavation projects to increase the capacity. Last century, a water-wheel from the nearby stream drew the salt water from the well and poured it into the 8 channels.

(4) Diccionario Geográfico Histórico de España, por la Real Academia de Historia. Salinas de Leniz. Madrid 1802. Reedición de la Gran Enciclopedia Vasca.

04Decline

Towards the beginning of the current century, the work was performed by a few people who introduced significant changes to the salt production process. In 1907, production reached 700 tons with 5 workers, and in 1950, the total reached 3,000 tons with 18 workers on 3 shifts. In order to obtain these figures, 1,500 kg of coal was used in stead of wood.

Furthermore, in 1920, the pump used to draw water from the well, the stirrer and the salt mill were adapted to use electricity and, in 1950, an industrial building was built to house two large boilers used to boil the water until it evaporated. The salt obtained continued to be drained in backets hanging from the ceiling and was sold under the "Leinz" brand, which was highly appreciated and for which there was a great demand.

In spite of this, as the costs incurred in producing salt were greater than those required by new methods that were becoming widespread, production ceased in 1954, ending a 600 years of salt-making tradition.