Building like an Emperor
Bad Ischl is the secret capital of the Salzkammergut and something like the birthplace of the Sommerfrische (summer vacation in the countryside).
About 7000 years ago, salt mining began in the Salzburg Lake District. Today, visitors can dive into the world of miners, workmen and water seers in Hallstatt and Altaussee. Welcome to a journey through the world of salt!
At first, you think it will continue like this forever: deeper into the tunnel, deeper into the mountain, step by step, metre by metre. Suddenly, the narrow passage opens into a church-like dome in which the salt on the walls seems to shine in orange hues. The Barbara-Chapel is consecrated to the patron saint of all those working below ground. But the underground chapel is not the only surprise that awaits visitors of the Salzwelten in Altaussee. Who would expect this location to house an exhibition on artworks stolen by the Nazis? Miners slides? A floating theatre stage with a light show? After a while, you feel as if you entered a strange, different world. And until you resurface, you won't realize how much colder it is below ground than outside.
Anyone who saw Monument Men with George Clooney, Bill Murray and Matt Damon knows the story. During the Second World War, the Nazis used the salt mines of Altaussee as gigantic storage space for stolen art. Altogether more than 6.500 valuable paintings were stored below-ground, in addition to statues, unique pieces such as the Ghent Altarpiece, historic weapons and entire libraries. When the Americans approached during the spring of 1945, Hitler wanted the mines destroyed, rather than leaving the art to be found by the allies. It was brave miners from Altaussee who prevented this. We won’t give away how - but you can find out at the exciting exhibition which is accessible for visitors during the guided tour through the Altausseer Bergwelten. It even includes the Monument Men and the world-famous Ghent Altarpiece – as a hologram suspended in the room.
Rome was still a provincial town when Hallstatt was known as an important trade hub, built on the salt of the mountains and the effort of local miners. Hallstatt gained even more importance 500 years ago when people started to ship the white gold over the water. Today, you can take a boat ride across the lake in replicas of the vessels used back then. The salt used to be loaded on and off by “Fasselstössern,” a profession that no longer exists today. Other names that indicate extinct professions are “Bodenbrettersägeknechte,” “Daubenstückknechte” and “Falzdaubensägeknechte,” the latter being a name for those who made the barrels the salt was stored in. “Kipfengraber” worked on the land, in the woods, where they foraged for the perfectly shaped roots used as boat ribs.
This and more is what you’ll learn from the boatsman during a boat ride across Lake Hallstatt. He can tell stories because nowadays, the waters are safe. If it were otherwise, there would be no paying guests on board, but a “Wasserseher” (Water Seer): They were experts who warned the boatmen of potential dangers.
There has never been much space here: The mountain has always been there, as has the lake, and from the start, there was only a small strip of land in between. This is why Hallstatt’s houses have always looked as if a daring builder had stacked them on top of each other, leaning against the steep rock. If there happened to be a little space left somewhere, it was used for a shed or a chapel. And on the lake-side? People built houses on stilts into the lake. Out of necessity, Hallstatt has become the epitome of a unified village landscape.
There is a lot more to see in this tiny village with 750 inhabitants: the salt mines, of course, the Celtic burial grounds, the prehistoric museum and the world’s oldest pipeline, which was used to transport salt brine to the village of Ebensee and consisted of 13,000 hollow tree trunks. And once you are done with all the sights in the village, you need to stroll a hundred metres along the banks to where a small bend affords you the second-best view of the most beautiful group of buildings in the entire Salzkammergut.
It is easy to forget to look down when the sights ahead of you are this amazing. 360 metres above Lake Hallstatt, the skywalk affords views that seem to stretch to the horizon and beyond.
Is this a view of the World Cultural Heritage Region! Is this a Panoramic View! Are these mountains!
The Skywalk is a needle-shaped viewing platform that can be easily reached via a barrier-free panorama bridge. A funicular goes all the way up to the bridge so you don’t have to hike up to reach one of the most spectacular scenic lookouts of the Salzkammergut (all you might have to conquer is a fear of heights). And before we forget as well: Make sure you don’t just look into the distance, as you would miss the best view of Hallstatt, which lies directly below.
The „European Capital of Culture“ has been awarded annually by the European Commission since 1985. The goal of the project is to highlight the incredible diversity of cultures as well as the things they have in common, promoting a better mutual understanding among European citizens.
The concept for the numerous activities planned for 2024 is based on two main elements that define the region: salt and water. They have shaped the region and the lives of its inhabitants for centuries. With this foundation, organizers developed four different programme branches: The Power of Tradition, Strength of Counterculture, Impact of (Hyper)Tourism and Flow for Retreat.
The substantial programme aims to bring together people through culture - and connect the Capital of Culture region with Europe and the world.