The term and its historical background
The term ‘Salzkammergut’ contains three more or less self-explaining words: ‘salt’, ‘chamber’ and ‘demesne’.
On the one hand, the term derives from
the omnipresent existence of salt. To this day, salt is mined at the
towns of Altaussee, Hallstatt and Bad Ischl.
On the other hand, ‚Kammergut’ relates to sovereign-claimed property. Comparable to the former British Crown lands, a ‘Kammergut’ encompassed a small-sized manageable terrain rich in important resources. It was an equivalent of an entailed estate that passed with the sovereignty and could not be alienated from it. The term ‘Salzkammergut’ could approximately be translated with ‘chamber demesne of salt’ and the court chamber in Vienna was the management tool to administrate the property portfolio associated with the sovereign.
From the late 13th century, the Habsburgs were the sovereigns of the Austrian lands. They seized and retained the territory around Hallstatt drawing upon the revenue resulting from the rich salt resources. In the course of the following centuries the Salzkammergut evolved into a sort of state-run company (even if the term ’state-run’ should not be applied until the 20th century) where all aspects and dimensions of everyday life depended on the sovereign.
A remarkable system of privileges and rights was then established in order to maintain social peace as to consequently assure salt production. As a result, as early as in the 15th and 16th century, local workers benefited from tax exemption, early forms of health care and pension and from remuneration in kind.
Whereas initially the term encompassed only the zone around Hallstatt, in the course of the centuries the geographical dimension was extended to Ischl and later on to Ebensee (17th century). The revenue from Salzkammergut salt and timber served for financing wars and for maintaining the private life style of the ‘House of Habsburg’. Rumours have it that even the representative and monumental buildings of the 19th century Viennese Ringstraße-boulevard owe their existence to Salzkammergut salt.
The century-long more or less ‘close relationship’
between the Salzkammergut and the Habsburgs has left its traces
everywhere and this is why Habsburg presence is still perceptible and
Until the 19th century, partly even until the 20th century, a majority of the Salzkammergut inhabitants worked as miners, woodcutters or boatyards for the salt works which has all times been the company running and managing local mining.
In the early 20th century, being an ‘Imperial worker’ (working for the salt works meant working for the crown) was still associated with a certain prestige as crown-related jobs implied a sort of security in terms of job and provision.
The know-how of the highly specialized skilled workers (transmission of know-how from father to son) was in great demand and ‘exported’ all over the monarchy. As a result, Counter Reformation was implemented in a relatively modest form in terms of persecution of Protestants as the salt production eventually was considered to be more important than religious conviction.
The term Salzkammergut did not evolve into a geographical toponym until the 19th century.
H.J.Urstöger, Hallstatt-Chronik, Hallstatt 2000;
Dr. Kern, Anton, Vortrag Welterbeseminar, 2006
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