Hallstatt-Dachstein / Salzkammergut Cultural Landscape

The Hallstatt-Dachstein/Salzkammergut Alpine region is an outstanding example of a natural landscape of great beauty. It also has great scientific interest because it contains evidence of a fundamental human economic activity, the production of salt.

Human activity in the magnificent natural landscape of the Salzkammergut began in prehistoric times, with the salt deposits being exploited as early as the 2nd millennium BC. The name of the medieval town, derived from the West German hal (salt) and the Old High German stat (settlement), first recorded in a deed of 1305, testifies to its primary function. This resource formed the basis of the area's prosperity until the mid-20th century, a prosperity that is reflected in the fine architecture of the town of Hallstatt.

The town grew up along the narrow strip between the steep mountainside of the Salzberg and the lake, and on the Mühlbach, an artificial promontory out into the lake resulting from the dumping of mining debris over the centuries. Here in the inner market town the houses, largely late Gothic, are ranged round a triangular market square. The typical Hallstatt house is tall and narrow, making maximum use of the restricted space and the steep topography. The lower storeys are constructed in stone with barrel vaulting supporting timber-framed upper storeys, as is customary in the Alpine region. Only a few preserve the original flat saddleback roofs covered with wooden planks or shingles. The southern part of the town, known as In der Lahn, located at the mouth of the Echterntal, is largely of 18th-century date, much of it built after the 1750 fire.

Among the more notable buildings are the St Mary's Roman Catholic Parish Church built in the late 15th century to replace an earlier Romanesque structure, parts of which survive. Having suffered only slight damage during the 1750 fire its only Baroque features are the roof and the multi-tiered spire. It contains a number of outstanding works of art, including a late Gothic altarpiece from the Astl workshop.

The small St Michael Chapel and Charnel House is a Gothic structure in the tiny graveyard immediately north of the parish church. Its basement, viewable at ground level, contains a neatly arranged assemblage of human skulls and long bones, the skulIs being marked with names and other details of the deceased.

The property also includes the Dachstein Mountains, rising to some 3,000 m, which form the highest of the karst massifs in the northern limestone Alps. They are notable for the large number of caves they contain, the longest being the Hillatzhöhle (81 km). Each cave is speleologically different, but the fact that they enjoy single management allows a range of information and experience to be made available in a coherent programme of conservation, accessibility and interpretation. The Dachstein-Rieseneishöhle is the most impressive ice cave in Austria. Some parts of the mine are now accessible to visitors, including areas made safe for displays arising from the continuing programme of archaeological investigation.

The Dachstein massif is exceptional among Alpine karstic areas for retaining its glaciation. Its landscape takes eight distinct forms: each of these zones has its own distinct climate and hence a characteristic flora and fauna.

Historical context

Recent research deep within the Salzberg has demonstrated that systematic salt production was being carried out in the region as early as the Middle Bronze Age (later 2nd millennium BC). Natural brine was captured in deep basins and evaporated in special ceramic vessels. Of great interest in itself in the history of salt extraction, this development is of considerable significance in illuminating the origins of the Iron Age Hallstatt Culture and in emphasizing the importance of the area as a 'scientific reservoir' for further research and increased understanding.

Underground mining for salt began at the end of the Late Bronze Age, using a shaft technique adopted from copper mining. This production was halted for a relatively short time, possibly because political events caused an interruption in trade. It resumed in the 8th century BC, this time using a system of drift mining with horizontal galleries. Evidence of both techniques has been found in the Salzbergtal.

The prehistoric cemetery associated with these industrial operations, discovered in the 1840s, is the type-site for the first phase of the Early Iron Age in Europe, known to archaeologists as the Hallstatt Culture. It was in use in two periods: the 8th and 7th centuries BC and again in the 6th century BC. The rich grave goods, both local products and imported luxury materials, testify to a stratified and highly organized society, trading widely into central Europe, the Baltic, and the Adriatic.

Salt extraction continued in the region well into the Roman period, and a Roman industrial settlement has been identified in the Echterntal. Thereafter there is no evidence of the salt being exploited until the early 14th century. However, the name of the medieval town, derived from the West German hal (salt) and the Old High German stat (settlement), first recorded in a deed of 1305, testifies to its primary function. Title to the salt mines passed from the Trauenkirchen monastery to the Austrian Crown, and the town received the right to hold markets. A unique status was accorded to certain citizens of Hallstatt, known as Salzfertiger, who were responsible for drying, packing, and selling cart-loads of salt, which were assigned to them. Their high status is demonstrated by the quality and special nature of their houses, the Salzfertigerhiiuser, to be found in Hallstatt and Bad Ischl.

Salt production required large quantities of timber, for shoring the mines and fuel for evaporation, and so forestry operations were also regulated by the Crown officials. Until the early 16th century salt-mining licences were generally leased to independent burghers, but these were systematically eliminated and in 1524 mining and forestry operations came under direct Crown management. This resulted in the construction of a number of important engineering features, such as the wooden brine pipeline begun in 1595.

During the Reformation, Protestantism acquired many adherents among the min ers and foresters of the Hallstatt region, but they were not permitted to exercise their faith publicly until the Edict of Toleration of 1781.

A disastrous tire in 1750 destroyed most of the medieval core of Hallstatt. This was followed by massive rebuilding in Late Baroque style, which distinguished the town centre up to the present day. There was a boom in salt production at the beginning of the 19th century, to finance the war against France, but the return of peace saw an abrupt slump. Despite technical innovations, such as the introduction of electric power and the construction of a rail link, which permitted the import of coal (1877), the salterns finally closed down in 1965. Salt production, however, remains as high as ever, though the brine is now piped down the valley to a modern treatment plant at Ebersee; only sorne sixty men are now employed in a very efficient mining operation which has become highly mechanized and computerized. Sorne parts of the mine are now accessible to visitors, including areas made safe for displays arising from the continuing programme of archaeological investigation.

However, the decline of this industrial base coincided with the rise of a new factor, the recognition of the aesthetic, culturaL and natural qualities of the region by writers such as Adalbert Stifter, novelist and fust Conservator for Upper Austria, and the dramatic poet Franz Grillparzer, and most of the leading painters of the Biedermeier school. The first hotel to serve the growing number of tourists was built in 1855, followed by the first public brine baths in the 1860s. Since that time the region has steadily increased its popularity as a major tourist resort.

Justification for being a World Heritage Site

The Committee decided to inscribe this site on the basis of criteria (iii) and (iv), considering that the Hallstatt-Dachstein/Salzkammergut alpine region is an outstanding example of a natural landscape of great beauty and scientific interest which also contains evidence of a fundamental human economic activity, the whole integrated in a harmonious and mutually beneficial manner.