Despite the fact that traces of cavemen have been found here, it would appear that the area around Bex was only inhabited with any regularity very late. For a long time, the big plain on which Bex would later be situated was a huge swamp, bisected by arms of the Rhône that changed course depending on the currents.
It was only in 574 that Bex was mentioned for the first time in history, on the occasion of an important battle between the Francs who inhabited Bex, and the Lombards who had invaded what is Valais today. Bex was then a border region and the entire later Middle Ages must have been particularly troubled. While the village belonged to the Count of Savoy, a château was built on Chiètres Hill in 1150, which overlooked the entrance to the valley of the lower Rhône. Built by Girold of Bex, lord of the region, it was soon accompanied by two other buildings which completed this defence network. A tower surrounded by ramparts was soon erected to overlook the exit of the Avançon Valley and protected access to the village of Belmont which today has completely disappeared. It also appears that at this time Belmont was bigger than Bex, because the inhabitants had sought the peace of the hills due to the battles raging in the more accessible areas. Finally, the last tower located above the meeting of the Avançons of Anzeindaz and Nant, at the end of the valley, served to shoot back at invaders coming from Pas de Cheville pass.
An important route from France to Italy crossed the region and had important traffic at the time, which brought both advantages as well as unfortunately the disadvantages of the problems of war and pillaging.
Due to its location, the region served as a border and was of considerable importance for the Count of Savoy, justifying the defences that he built there.
Later, Bex became an integral part of the Republic of Bern. All this began with a punitive expedition by Bern on the village in 1464. A group of Bernese soldiers hurtled down the mountain, stripped an abandoned property and left with their loot. Twelve years later, the Republic of Bern took the entire Chablais Vaudois region (including Bern) and took command under the name of the Aigle Government. Bern reformed both the religion and the life of the citizens, improving the culture and developing salt mining to the great benefit of the community’s economy. The Rhône was then dammed, thus improving the cultivation surfaces.
The arrival of tourism resulted in a giant step forward on the economic front. The reconversion turned out to be extremely hard and could only take place thanks to industries which since the beginning of the century had begun to spring up. Bex’s luck at the time lay underground and stemmed from salt mining, from its gypsum or plaster and its water which powered its electrical plants. Industrious Bex continued its trajectory and recent years have seen new activities develop, without in any way neglecting the fundamental assets provided by its natural environment, cultures and vineyards, the fame of which has grown exponentially
The Salt Mines
In ancient times, in the Middle Ages and up until quite recently, salt was a product that was both indispensable and an important source of revenue. The discovery of salt deposits in Vaud goes back to the 15th century. According to the legend, a shepherd taking his goats to graze in Panex, above Ollon, and to Fondement near Bex, noticed that his goats demonstrated a preference for the water from two sources. Having tasted it, he found it salty – which was confirmed after he boiled it after which he noticed that when it evaporated it left a fine salt deposit at the bottom of the pot. The salt mines are a vast network of galleries and shafts, staircases and rooms stretching for more than 50km with a constant temperature of 17 degrees, and access through the gate at Bouillet, above Les Dévens hamlet.