Salt and Culture A journey back in time to the origins of salt production

The magnetism which the area around Hallstatt has exerted over people is actually thousands of years old. If you walk through the mystical mine tunnels or experience the untamed beauty of the Hallstatt high valley beneath open skies, you can’t fail to notice: When it comes to that magnetism, to the magic of this place, which stirs something deep within us all, nothing has changed to this very day

People were already living in the upland valley above Hallstatt in around 5000 BC, something impressively documented by a variety of archaeological finds – such as an adze made of deer antler, presumably used in salt mining. In other words, the beginnings of salt mining were about 7,000 years ago. Organized mining activity began later, in the Bronze Age, with prehistoric mining reaching its heyday during the so-called Hallstatt Period during the earlier Iron Age between 800 and ca. 400 BC. Even back then, people were penetrating as deep as 200 meters into the mountain, carving out tunnels by hand, battling meter by meter through the naked rock in order to reach a true treasure: the so-called “white gold”.

Breathing the Past

Inside Hallstatt Salt Mine in the Salzkammergut region, you will experience first-hand the magic of this place with its long and storied history. As you walk through the tunnels during a tour of the mine, perhaps stroking the coarsely hewn-out rock walls with your hand, as you gaze out on the mystical salt lake, or slide down the 64-meters-long wooden slide once used by the miners, you are constantly accompanied by the flavor of those distant times.

The "Man in Salt"

His clothing was still well preserved, it was even possible to make out his skin and hair – as we know, salt is an excellent preservative. No wonder, then, that the three Hallstatt miners who chanced upon the well-preserved body of a prehistoric miner back in 1734 were likely quite taken aback. Today, it is assumed that the man perished in a mine accident some time during the 1st millennium BC. Lying where he fell for hundreds of years, until he was finally discovered in the 18th century. Our mine guides will tell you everything that is currently known about this famous “Man in Salt”. So, pause for a while close to where he was found and listen to stories that will transport you back to the times of “white gold”, wrested from the mountains under exceptionally perilous circumstances.

Testimony to the Distant Past

The Hallstatt High Valley and Hallstatt Salt Mine are Eldorados for researchers. In fact, every summer scientists from the Vienna Museum of Natural History come to Hallstatt. Their mission: In collaboration with the Salt Mine and Salinen Austria AG, to investigate the burial grounds and mines of prehistoric Hallstatt. And even though so many researchers work in Hallstatt, not a year goes by without them finding something new. Whether rich burial offerings in the high valley, historical tools inside the mine, or even organic remains – thanks to the preservative effects of the salt, this compelling testimony of the distant past has survived to this very day. Are you interested in the fascinating searches conducted by researchers? If you happen to visit the mine during July or August, you can actually peek over their shoulders as they go about their work – and who knows, perhaps even be right there the moment they make another astonishing find. Incidentally: A portion of proceeds from every ticket sold for Hallstatt Salt Mine goes to benefit Hallstatt research

Additional Information

Would you like to know more about the work done by archaeologists and the digs they have conducted inside the Salzberg in Hallstatt? If you visit the Blog: "Oldest Wooden Staircase in Europe", you can read the reports which have been posted there by researchers.

Ever heard of a project known as "Sparkling Science"? An initiative of Hallstatt Salt Mine in cooperation with the Vienna Museum of Natural History, its goal is to introduce young people to the fascinating world of science. When you have a chance, stop by and take a look at the Blog "Wood for Salt"!

Mining in Hallstatt: Historical Facts & Figures

5000 BCA Neolithic adze made of deer antler found in 1838 was presumably used for salt mining.
from 1500 BCThe oldest concrete evidence for organized mining activities dates from the Middle Bronze Age.
1344 BCThe oldest, excellently preserved wooden staircase was built.
800 - 400 BCHeyday of prehistoric mining, to a depth of 200 meters, during the so-called Hallstatt Period.
ca. 350 BCA gigantic landslide brings mining activities to a standstill. The entire high valley, including all mine facilities, are covered beneath meters of rock and dirt.
350 BC - 400 ADContinuation of salt mining at a new location.
1284Construction of the so-called Rudolf Tower in order to defend the mine.
1311Queen Elisabeth is chronicled as granting a market charter to Hallstatt which includes certain rights associated with salt production
1511Thomas Seeauer builds the Steeger Klause, a dam allowing the water level in Lake Hallstatt to be raised, so that the salt barges would have the water they needed to sail down the River Traun.
1595 – 1604Construction of a 40-kilometer pipeline to transport brine from Hallstatt to a new salt works in Ebensee. Hallstatt grew rapidly in importance as a vital brine supplier.
1600 – 1960Hallstatt is now the most important mining location in the Salzkammergut, not to be outdone by Altaussee until the 1960s.
1846Start of systematic investigation of the world-famous burial grounds by Johann Ramsauer, a local mine official. The extensive finds eventually led to the earlier Ice Age (800 – 400 BC) becoming known as the "Hallstatt Period".
1909313 employees work in the mine industry.
1965The Hallstatt salt works is closed.
200840 employees produce 605,000 m³ of brine annually, with a salt content of 180,000 tons.