Festival honoring Gastein's miners
Mining in Gastein looks back on a long tradition. Experts believe that even the Ancient Celts and Romans searched for gold here. The rapid growth in gold mining didn't just draw miners, it also brought in prosperous farmers and land owners. And artisanal crafts flourished. The archbishops promoted such developments out of self-interest, compiled mining regulations, gave credits and oversaw the construction of roads that were vital for trade. Craftsmen, farmers and merchants moved here from Franconia, Swabia and Saxony, and even from Italy, in order to be a part of this economic boom.
Mining still goes on in Gastein. Though, rather than in search of precious metals, now it's very much focused on health. In the Gastein Healing Gallery, a unique form of therapy unlike anywhere else on Earth, a variety of patients, especially those suffering from rheumatism, experience astonishing and long-lasting pain relief. Here, miners - known locally as "Knappen" - are responsible, now as in the olden days, for keeping the gallery and tunnels in tip-top condition.
And a pleasant side-effect: None of the men who work there suffer from joint complaints.
In honor of the local miners, the so-called "Knappenfest" is held every year on the first Sunday in September, also the occasion for the famous "Böckstein Sword Dance". The event always takes place at the old mining settlement in Böckstein, where gold ore used to be processed hundreds of years ago. At the Alt-Böckstein mining museum, you can still see parts of the original equipment.
The Sword Dance has been performed since the 15th century, its goal being to promote the miners' pride in their profession. On the one hand, wearing a sword was a privilege granted to no other profession. The right for miners to bear arms was actually introduced in 1405, since they were exposed to countless dangers as they made their way up into the mountains. On the other, during the Sword Dance one representative of the miners is "raised up" - which has an important symbolic meaning for this profession as well.