Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Mines of Hallein

Saturday was another big day, this time featuring an adventure to the old salt mines of Hallein! Julia, Hannah, her five year-old host sister Alexandra and I hopped on a train this morning to check them out. After a bit of wandering about the town, trying to locate the information center and figuring out which bus to take up the mountain, we successfully arrived at the Salzkelten. Before the tour began, we had time to eat our lunch and bask in the gorgeous view! Würfel Zucker (a stuffed toy guinea pig mailed to me by Amanda who’s name means “Sugar Cube”) even came along for the adventure.

Before you can go into the mines, they make you wear these really goofy white suits that make you feel (and look) like a marshmallow. It can’t be helped-even if they make you feel silly, at least they keep you clean! After a good giggle about our get up, we climbed aboard a little green train that let us into the heart of the mountain, and we began our tour of the mine!

In the first tunnel we saw, we learned that because of the enormous pressure from above, the mining tunnels shrink about a centimeter a year. We went through a very old tunnel that was about half the size that it used to be, and it made me wonder how they would keep the mines open in the future. Throughout the tour, we learned about how salt mining was an extremely profitable enterprise for the people of Salzburg, and by people, I mean the Prince Archbishop, particularly Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau. He used the money from the mines to “remodel” the city of Salzburg, and transform it from a medieval city to the beautiful Baroque city that it is today.

One of the most fun parts of going through the mine is that you get to go on giant slides! That’s right-there are these great wooden slides that the miners used to use, and you get to go down a few of them, which is a blast. Then, after that, you get to cross a subterranean salt lake on a boat! They used to saturate an area with water, and then heat it up so that the water would evaporate and only the salt remained. We also got to see many different kinds of salt, like “Red-rock Salt” (red due to the prescence of iron oxide) and what was apparently blue, radioactive salt. The salt mines also cross the border into Germany! So, for about fifteen minutes today, I was like five hundred meters below Germany, or something like that. Cool.

So it was quite an interesting day! We learned a lot about the mining, and had a great time riding around on the slides and trains, and looking fabulous in our white suits. Alexandra had a good time too, and we had fun trying to understand her German (I may have saved the day by recognizing that “Klo” meant “Bathroom”). Outside the mines, they also have a “Celtic Village” to illustrate a bit about the life of the Celts, who were the first to settle in that region and start utilizing the salt. The views were beautiful, and it was quite a fun adventure!


  1. "The Mines of Hallein" totally sounds like it could be something out of LOTR, like the mines of Moria.