Alpine "Fin de Siecle" Sightseeing
On the southern edge of Salzburg you will find the province′s finest "fin de siecle" town: Bad Gastein is famous for its late 19th century flair and chic, placed in the Gasteinertal. In the heart of a remote but very popular skiing area and blessed with hot sources nearby (they also feed the spa of Bad Hofgastein). The history of the town dates back to Roman times. The Romans recognised the importance of this location, a convenient pass that allowed an exchange between today′s Italy and Germany.
The other main reason why the Romans were interested in an outpost here in by the Tauern Alps were the local gold and silver mines. The road that the Romans built was in permanent use throughout the Middle Ages, when Bad Gastein grew from a village to a town with its own parish church (the 14th century St Nikolai Church was built on the site of a 9th century church) and court. In the 13th century, it got the privilege to arrange markets.
Things went bad in the 16th century: The plague wasted away a fair portion of the population, the gold prices dropped and social issues became more urgent. Protestant uprisings against the Catholic Prince Archbishop of Salzburg followed and the very South of Salzburg became the poorest region of the principality.
Bad Gasteins Fall, Rise & Second Fall
Social problems remained an issue until Salzburg became part of Austria in 1816. The expanding railway system connected remote parts of the country with urban ones and with the discovery of hot sources, the area around Bad Gastein suddenly became popular as a tourist attraction. Emperor Franz I of Austria granted Bad Gastein the status of a spa town in 1820 and kick-started a long line of noble and aristocratic visitors. Archduke Johann, his brother Emperor Franz Joseph I, Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany and his chancellor Prince Bismarck all came to take the cure and made Bad Gastein the hippest mountain place in Salzburg.
The boom was like desperate sex: Intense, but short. Despite of still being the centre of the entire region′s economy (mostly due to hiking routes, skiing and the modern spas), the scale of Bad Gastein′s 19th century hotels is unrivalled ever since. Many of them have gone through bad times in the 20th century and today, the town has a strange mix of luxury modern 5-star-hotels next to fading and decaying 19th century hotels. The grandeur of the "fin de siecle" spirit in an Alpine setting is preserved in very few places - you might find some in Switzerland and the Piemont. But as far as it concerns Austria, the "Zauberberg" atmosphere is best experienced in Bad Gastein.
Beyond this, there is classic sightseeing including the obligatory town museum and historic houses. However, I would suggest to inhale some of the general atmosphere and then go either to the spa or skiing in the winter season or hiking around Bad Gastein in the summer.
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