The Fontaines Salées (Salt fountains) is the site of natural salt springs that have been utilised since the neolithic era. In the days of the pre-Roman Gallic tribes the site was expanded to become a sacred area with numerous wells and a circular sanctuary surrounding them for the healing of the sick. The central, main, well at the heart of that circular sanctuary still produces effervescent water, loaded with argon.
In the Roman era, the site was vastly expanded again to include a massive thermal bath complex, which was further altered in the 2nd century to include separate facilities for men and women and a large palaestra or exercise compound, attached to the main Celtic spring sanctuary. This still contains traces of underfloor heating and is well preserved. The Roman complex also included a second sanctuary located to the west of the original circular enclosure.
Following the site’s destruction during the 3rd century invasion of the Alemanni, the site was used as a centre of salt refining. The site once more became a healing centre in the 4th century, and new buildings date from that period. This new site remained in use until the Carolingian era, when it became a private villa.
From the Burgundian (glorious) city of Vezelay, pass southeast through the lovely village of Saint-Pere (which has a museum containing some items from the site) and follow the D598 for less than a mile and look for a sign that leads off down a track through the fields to the left.
The site is in the idyllic French countryside and could not be more picturesque. It is a fabulous place for a picnic and a small kiosk asks for only a modest entry fee. Even at the height of summer it was far from busy, with perhaps four lots of visitors. The remains are well kept and well-presented and quite extensive. Simply, it is a perfect half-day out in the area, and will please most people, let alone the die-hard Roman fans.
Remains: 3/5 Atmosphere: 5/5 Access: 4/5 Overall: 4/5