The Salt of the Earth
Hunter-gatherers first discovered salty mountain springs, and underground salt mining in this region dates back to the Celts. Salt enabled people to preserve food and give it flavour. Centuries later the archbishops, rulers of Salzburg, took over the lucrative salt trade and with the profits developed it into an opulent, baroque residence.
Since 1994 the historic salt mines in Hallein have been open only as a show mine. Austria’s salt supply still comes from these mountains, but from Altaussee, where the source from an ancient sea has lasted for more than 250 million years.
Your journey into the history of Hallein’s salt mines begins with a comfortable train ride into the mountain, where experienced miners guide you and explain the mining process. You will also enjoy a raft ride across an underground lake and an exciting descent on two mining slides.
The tunnel system is maintained to prevent the mountain from sinking. Of the original 65 kilometres of mining tunnels, which pass through 21 horizons, as the underground levels are known, some twelve kilometres and nine horizons can still be accessed.
The pride of the miners of Dürrnberg and their close links to life underground are much in evidence when they perform their Sword Dance. Hallein’s miners perform this dance, which dates back to 1586, in uniform with boots and carrying a sword, which was a privilege bestowed on them by law in 1405. The dance, which is performed by more than 80 miners, lasts about an hour and symbolises various working practices underground. It is performed at night by the light of torches and to the music of the miners’ brass band.
Hallein Salt World
As well as the guided tours described above, there is an exciting activity programme for children and treasure hunts in the mountain. The Celtic Village near the salt mines is a reconstruction of an ancient Celtic settlement and buildings from the Middle Ages. The exhibits show the working and living conditions of miners and their families from Celtic to medieval times.
Hallein Celtic Museum
It was probably the owners of Hallstatt, the oldest documented salt mine, who after a series of mining accidents began salt mining in Dürrnberg. Hallein became a major trading centre for salt; this “white gold” was transported from Hallein along the Salzach River. The spoils of this lucrative trade are exhibited – in fragments and 2,500 years later – in the town’s Celtic Museum.
The chieftain’s graves are particularly impressive – items found in burial mounds give an insight into the high level of culture enjoyed by the Celts: There is a bowl from Athens and a bronze flask with traces of spiced wine from southern Europe, as well as an iron helmet, the prototype for the headgear worn by cartoon figure Asterix the Gaul (“These Romans are crazy!”), as well as a chariot, which served as a status symbol for the chieftains (it never saw action in the terrain around Hallein). The museum’s star exhibit– because of its brilliant quality – is a Celtic flagon made of bronze.