Hallstatt, pearl of the Salzkammergut - Part II
The church Maria Himmelfahrt itself is an attractive example of Austrian Gothic art. Particularly nice are the interior and the Gothic side-altars from 1515, one that was made by Leonhard Aist. The tower of the church was built in 1320 and is the oldest part of the building - almost everything else was built in the 16th century.
Outside of the church, you will find the pretty market square of Hallstatt, which you explore best by just strolling around and into the little alleyways connected to this central point of the town. In 1846, a man called Johann Georg Ramsauer discovered a series of Neolithic graves near Hallstatt, on the "Salzberg" or "salt mountain".
Ramsauer was the managing director of the salt mines and a hobby archaeologist. He immediately recognised the importance of the find and pushed forward the idea to perform professional excavations. In the years and decades that followed, the entire region was systematically examined and many important discoveries were made.
The Discovery of Hallstatt
Not only in the Hallstatt region, though: similar graves and artefacts as those known from the Salzkammergut were found in other parts of Austria, Germany, France and Spain. The period in which they were made was named "Hallstatt Age" in honour of the early findings in Austria. It refers to a Celtic culture that used iron for tools and armour and was wide-spread after around 800 BC. It is not clear how much of a hub or centre Hallstatt was at that time - there are too few findings to support a coherent image of this culture. However, it is clear that trade connections were maintained between the Salzkammergut and regions as far away as the Mediterranean or the Baltic area.
There is also a connection between the Celtic people of Hallstatt and Hallein: Once natural disasters had made mining unsafe in Hallstatt, the people of this settlement relocated to the Dürrnberg Mountain near Salzburg. Here they continued their mining business. For a detailed story of these people, you should go to the "Prähistorisches Museum" in Hallstatt - it includes the second-most extensive collection of Celtic artefacts from the Hallstatt Period after the Museum of Natural History ("Naturhistorisches Museum") in Vienna.
It is also a good spot for an introduction to the mining that was going on in Hallstatt. A second museum is affiliated with it, the "Heimatmuseum" or town museum. This one is more of a strange mix of Celtic artefacts and an unfocussed anthropological collection, gathered by the locally active archaeologist Friedrich Morton.