One mineral shaped up the history of the region around the lakeside town Hallstatt in the Upper Austrian Salzkammergut like nothing else. This mineral is salt, a highly precious commodity thorough the history, sometimes having the same value as the gold. Therefore, salt rich mountains of Salzkammergut and the upland valley above Hallstatt were inhabited since prehistoric times, although the region is characterised by inhospitable mountain terrain. In general, salt was valued because it was praised for its ability to store the food, additionally the salt mines were few and successful extraction was difficult. In Hallstatt organised salt mining was recorded already in the Bronze Age around 1500 BC. The salt mine located in the mountains above the town still witness the history of the salt in the region and is believed to be the oldest known salt mine in the world. Over the first millennia of excavation by hand, a tunnel system of about 4000 meters in length was created.
In the 19th century high in the mountains above the town necropolis from the Bronze Age was discovered with some 1,300 burials including around 2,000 individuals, many of them with fine artefacts containing even amber and ivory, suggesting a life well above subsistence level. Ultimately, these finds would give their name to an entire epoch of human history: Around the world, the years of the Late Iron Age between around 800 and 400 BC would become known as the “Hallstatt Period”. However, no settlement belonging to this so-called Hallstatt culture was ever discovered. It is believed that this culture boomed and thrived thanks to the exploitation of the salt mines.
Today it is possible to visit and take tours of the salt mines branded as Salzwelten, walk through the tunnels and even take a slide down the 64-meters-long wooden slide once used by the miners. Out of existing 65 km of tunnels, 22,5 km are walkable. In Salzwelten you can also see an underground salt lake, visit a magnificent underground cinema, as well as the oldest wooden staircase in Europe. One more curiosity of the mine is the “Man in Salt” a well-preserved body of a prehistoric miner discovered back in the 18th century. It is believed that the man disappeared in an accident in the 1st millennium BC. In 2013 viewing platform 360 meters above the rooftops of Hallstatt was opened. The views over the most picturesque town of Austria, the Hallstätter lake and Dachstein massif are breath-taking.
The best way to visit the salt mine Salzwelten is to take funicular directly from the town or if you are up for hiking it takes around 1,5 hours. Hiking is also possible on one of the most beautiful hiking trails in Austria that leads alongside the Hallstätter See and the river Traun between mountains and villages through the Inner Salzkammergut. This trail goes alongside the route of the oldest industrial pipeline in world still in use, the old brine pipeline.
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