History & Stories

A historical look at Gastein Valley

You encounter stories of bygone days everywhere you go during your holidays in Gastein. So, what were the beginnings of this area as a world-famous spa destination, and what were its ancient origins?

Settled since earliest times and world-famous for its hot springs, Gastein is one of the Tauern valleys which open into the longitudinal Salzach valley. Located at the head of the valley were two important mountain passes, rising as high as 2,000 meters above sea level, essential for people who, either on foot or by horse, transported goods from north to south or vice versa.

The Romans settled Gastein Valley more than 2,000 years ago, and were probably well aware of the healing powers of the waters that bubbled up from the hot springs. The Celts in Gastein were involved with gold mining, which would bring considerable prosperity to the valley and an upswing in trade in centuries to follow. The actual name "Gastein" is first mentioned in a document from the year 1203. The fame of Gastein’s healing springs reached its first high point in the 16th century. But in the centuries which followed, the decline of gold mining and major natural catastrophes, including the plague, meant that development of Gastein as a place to “take the cure” came to a halt.

It was not until under Habsburg Archduke Ferdinand III that this development was revived once more. Emperor Francis I also lent his considerable weight to its increased profile. Through construction of the Tauern rail line at the beginning of the 20th century, this spa community, which had to this point only been accessible by horse-and-carriage, was now quite easy to reach. Gastein would become a place where grand-scale European politics were conducted. In fact, during Bismarck’s time, Gastein was nicknamed the "Spa of Diplomats"! Numerous illustrious guests, such as Emperor Franz Josef I and his spouse Empress Elisabeth, Prince Bismarck, Grillparzer, Schubert, Schopenhauer and many others, gave Gastein the reputation of a modern, cosmopolitan spa destination .

After major setbacks caused by the wars of the 20th century, the winter of 1945/46 saw the beginning of construction of a ski lift on the Graukogel. Which rang in a new era for Gastein Valley: this was the advent of winter sports.

Numerous points of interest, around which there swirl many different stories, provide insights into the historical development of the valley. There is, for example, the "Entrische Kirche", a secret gathering spot for Protestants during times of persecution, Klammstein Castle, the church “Of Our Lady” in Bad Hofgastein, one of the most beautiful and biggest Gothic architectural monuments in Salzburg province, as well as St. Nicholas’ Church, which is the oldest listed building in Gastein Valley.

Set out in the footsteps of the mule packers of old, or perhaps try your hand at panning for gold! Create your very own, personal and exciting journey of discovery through Gastein Valley.
Every Wednesday at 3.30pm historical walking tours are offered  – for details, please contact the Gastein Museum directly at +43 (0)6434 3488