St. Johann im Pongau:
Skiing & Hiking Town in Salzburg′s Mountains
St. Johann im Pongau is a community with some 11,000 residents in the south of Salzburg province. It is the capital of the county of Pongau and well-known in Austria as a place ideal for hiking or skiing holidays. St. Johann is situated in the Salzachtal, the main valley of Salzburg, which makes it easily accessible - a clear selling point for the local tourism mafia, which needs to exploit this fact to compensate for not overly well-developed tourism facilities.
To build up a tourism ghetto without doing too much harm to the town centre, St. Johann went the sensible way of building a settlement for hotels just outside of the place itself - a hamlet comprising mostly of hotels and now called "St. Johann - Alpendorf".
St. Johann tries hard to pimp its authenticity; there are customs and events celebrated, most importantly the Raunächte and Perchtenlauf ceremonies. Day-trip destinations like the pretty, but not overwhelming Liechtensteinklamm gorge are sold by the tourism mafia as if they were a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage. Nevertheless, St. Johann makes a nice base for a family vacation in which you want good value for money and a good connection to the city of Salzburg, without abandoning the mountain aspect of an Austria vacation.
History of St. Johann im Pongau
A few words on the history of St. Johann: Like most of the Salzachtal valley, the area around today′s St. Johann was probably populated since 2000 BC. Mining started here very early, wooden pillars in some tunnels were investigated and turned out to be some 3000 to 3700 years old. In 1047, the name St. Johann was first mentioned in a written document: "ad sanctum Johannem in villa". Like many mining towns in the south, the population of St. Johann turned Protestant after the reformation - social tensions were the main reason to develop an opposition view on the landlord, the Prince Archbishop of Salzburg.
In the peasant wars of 1526, the people of St. Johann played a major role. After their defeat, many protestants were expelled from Salzburg. This happened in several waves over the course of counter-reformation, most dramatically in 1731. In this year, an impressive 2,500 protestants (approximately 70 percent of the population back then) were kicked out of St. Johann.
The Nazis renamed St. Johann into "Markt Pongau" and built a camp for prisoners of war in 1941. Up to 30,000 men were arrested here and guarded by 1,000 soldiers. The camp had been designed for a maximum of 10,000 POWs. It was sub-divided into two sectors; prisoners of Western countries were treated more or less in accordance with the Geneva convention. Soldiers of the Soviet Union and other Slavonic countries were considered racially inferior and less lucky: Until 1945, more than 3,700 Soviet soldiers died under very bad conditions. Today, there is a "Russenfriedhof" ("Russian′s Cemetery") for these men, which commemorates a dark chapter of St. Johann history.
Attractions & Sightseeing in St. Johann
For obvious reasons, the official St. Johann much rather underlines other sightseeing attractions. The most important one is the "Pongauer Dom" ("Pongau Cathedral"), which is a nickname for the local parish church. By no means a cathedral, it surely is somewhat oversized for a community like St. Johann. The original parish church dated back to 924, but burnt down in 1855 at a great fire that destroyed much of St. Johann.
The enormous neo-Gothic church you can see today was originally built with a single tower - this tower, however, collapsed. A reconstruction was done using two towers for improved static conditions. In principle, the "Pfarrkirche St. Johannes" (that′s the official name) is nothing to shout about, Vienna is full with historicist ugliness of this kind - but in Alpine areas, neo-whatever churches are somewhat rare.
Another attraction is the Annakapelle, a Gothic chapel left of the parish church; it survived the great fire of 1855 and has - rather strangely so - two floors. The original chapel gradually disappeared under sand deposits in the Middle Ages, and so it was upgraded by one floor in 1340. In the 1980ies, the Annakapelle was renovated by the Roman Catholic parish and the Lutheran community of St. Johann (unfortunately, they don′t have to fear expulsion anymore these days, as Salzburg has fallen under Vienna′s rule). The Annakirche is now used by both communities.
St. Johann im Pongau - gone underground
Note also the Arthurstollen, an ancient tunnel that was created for copper ore mining. It is thought to be at least 1600 years old and parts of it are open to the general public (ie., you). One part of St. Johann that is strictly not open to the public is the "Bunkeranlage Goldhaube", an extensive bunker. It is run by the Austrian military and in case of a war, the federal government will be evacuated from Vienna and taken there.
The bunkers are considered to be a fully autonomous "underground city" with separate supplies of water, air and energy. For day-trip suggestions to the surroundings of St. Johann, note especially the previously mentioned Liechtensteinklamm. It is a gorge that was formed by the "Großarler Ache" over the course of approximately four kilometres. It is up to 300 metres deep and very scenic.
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