On the photo you see a musician with a leathertrouser and a contrabass from behind, in the background you see a lady with a traditional dress dancing (Photo: OOE Tourismus)

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Time –out in the Hallstatt-Dachstein Salzkammergut World Heritage Region

The Hallstatt-Dachstein Salzkammergut has been listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site since December 1997. Ever since, the area around Hallstatt and the Dachstein have received special recognition. The Salzkmammergut area is renowned not just for its unique, outstanding natural features, but also as a region of significant cultural historic, architectural and architectonic significance.

Having read and heard quite a lot about this World Heritage Region in the Salzkammergut, I made an off the cuff decision not to spend my holidays this year down in the south. I decided instead to spend my free time in Hallstatt. After all, the Romans and the Celts had once inhabited Hallstatt, and so I wanted to experience for myself the culture and time-honoured traditions with which this world famous place is associated. As I only had a few days’ holiday I wanted to discover as much as possible about the history of Hallstatt.

The Salt

I duly arrived in Hallstatt, and excited as a young child, I set off for the Haselgebirge mountains and the oldest salt mine in the world. I received a warm welcome from the lady at the cable car terminus. She was proud to be wearing her traditional “salt miner’s” uniform with brightly polished buttons, and I immediately gained the impression that the local people value their historic traditions enormously.

I was transported deep into the side of this magnificent mountain where this edible “white gold” has been mined for the last 7000 years.  This white gold is of course salt, and is still being mined here today. The very thought of how much salt there must have been within this mountain, for mining to have been continued all this time, left me speechless.

After the guided tour I decided I would like to take some time out, and so I took a stroll past the excavations where archaeologists were eagerly working, and enjoyed refreshments at the Rudolfsturm tower. I soon forgot my tiredness as the views towards Lake Hallstatt were utterly sensational. The sun was shining and the water sparkled. There were shadows on the lake shore from the majestic mountains. Feeling refreshed, I followed the oldest pipe-line in the world – the “Saline Pipeline Trail”, down to the valley.

Dirndls and Lederhosen

Along the way back down to Hallstatt I met visitors from around the world, but the nicest people I met were part of a bubbly group of ladies dressed in traditional dirndls. “Griass Di”, they called, almost in chorus. Dirndls and Lederhosen (short leather trousers with braces) are part of Salzkammergut tradition, and the helpful receptionist at my hotel had told me that traditional costume is known in the area as “Gwand” rather than “Tracht” as is more usual in German.  I was eager to learn more about the traditions and customs of the region.  I had thoroughly enjoyed my first day which I rounded off with freshly-caught, fried char from the crystal clear Lake Hallstatt. I also enjoyed a glass of excellent wine whilst relaxing on the balcony of my hotel and admiring the beautiful views.

The mountain air ...

... is so clear, just like the water from the lake, and so in the early hours of the morning, I returned to an exceptionally deep sleep. When I woke up, I eagerly put on my dirndl which I had brought with me from home. Of course this dirndl was nothing like the traditional dress in Hallstatt, but was better than nothing. I was very curious to find out more, and so over breakfast I asked for more details of the history of dirndls and leather trousers in the area. My hosts kindly explained that traditional costume had been fashioned according to salt mining traditions in Hallstatt. In 2008, a local folk group established the “Day of national costume”. This has become an annual event in celebration of the cultural heritage of the region.

The following photo gallery can be navigated with the arrow keys (left, right).

I was spellbound by this little salt mining town. The old houses, packed tightly together on the hillside, look like they are keeping each other warm. As I walked around Hallstatt, I noticed that there was very little space for cars as the alleyways are so narrow. There are a few cars around, but they just stop off briefly to collect or deliver goods.

The locals look happy ...

... and relaxed as they go about their daily work, despite the number of visitors to their little parish. I decided this must be the loveliest lakeside-community in the world!
I climbed a narrow and partly roofed set of steps up to the catholic church which is known as “Maria Himmelfahrt”. The sun was a bit dazzling, but I could see the church towering on the rock. When I reached the top I discovered the so-named “Charnel House”. I was completely fascinated by the funeral rituals of the former inhabitants of Hallstatt.

Due to the extreme shortage of space, the local people had to exhume the bones of the deceased. The skulls and bones were painted in a decorative way and then displayed in the Charnel House. There are, of course, all sorts of wonderful stories and anecdotes surrounding this, as a local tour guide, dressed of course in a pretty dirndl, explained to me. She invited me to join her group, but I replied that I would really like to have some time just to myself. I took the steps back down to the centre of the village, passing along the way the numerous iron and wooden crosses in the grave yard.  I strolled along the footpath and could still feel the old grooves once carved out by the old carts. These have been recently covered over with tar. As I walked through Hallstatt I passed numerous information boards and discovered much more about the area. I gathered information on everything from Geology to salt mining and from customs and traditions to the history of art. As a first time visitor to Hallstatt I found this information not only useful but highly interesting too.

Lake cruise ...

There was a boat moored up by the lake and there were several Asian visitors with small amounts of luggage and big cameras climbing aboard. They looked as excited as I had felt on the first day. I decided that a lake cruise would be just perfect for me too, and so I climbed aboard the boat with the name “Dachstein” painted on the side. A cooling breeze blew in my face as I began taking photographs of this world famous view with my own camera.

I spent the last few days exploring other beautiful places in the area. I spent a whole day in Obertraun. I visited the “Five fingers” on the Krippenstein, the famous Ice Caves and the impressive Mammoth Caves which lived up to their name. In Gosau I enjoyed a very informative tour of the Grindstone Quarries, views of a beautiful mountain range and a sign made from famous Dachstein marble.  By the Lower Gosau Lake I stopped to relax and enjoy the magnificent and frequently photographed view. A more stunning view of the majestic Dachstein would be hard to find. The lovely photograph would be a special souvenir, just for me.

Handcraft ...

Bad Goisern is a paradise for those looking for traditional hand-crafted goods in the Salzkammergut, and is of course home to the world famous musician “Hubert von Goisern”.  I enjoyed an exciting tour of the Goisern Hand.Werk.Haus and found all the local handicrafts and regional food specialities truly fascinating. I chatted with a local dress maker who lovingly makes dirndls and Lederhosen especially to order. She still uses traditional techniques, colours and materials. I was soon measured up, the material was chosen and the cloth cut to style. And so with a heavy heart my extremely enjoyable and relaxing days in this World Heritage Region came to an end, and I had to return home. But one thing was firmly fixed in my mind, I would definitely be coming back again, and not just to collect my tailor-made dirndl.

Die Orte der Welterbe Region Dachstein Salzkammergut



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