The Tyrolean Zillertal:
Hiking, Skiing & Sightseeing - Part I

The narrow-gauge railway is not the only attraction of the Zillertal - it is one of Tyrol's prettiest valleys

The Zillertal Valley is the widest of the side-valleys branching off from the main one, through which the Inn River runs (the "Inntal"). The entire valley is part of the district of Schwaz and divides the Kitzbüheler Alpen (east) and the Tuxer Alpen (west). A narrow part of the valley divides it into two halves; one funny features of the Zillertal is that, despite of its approaching of the central Alps, the base of the valley does not change its altitude very much: the northern part is 520 metres above sea level, the southern part 620 metres.

Archaeological findings from the Stone Age provide evidence that there were people living at least temporarily in the Zillertal for a very long time. However, permanent settlements can be tracked back only to the late Bronze Age between 1200 and 800 BC. There were also settlements found from the Iron Age, dating back to around 500 BC.

Furthermore, there are many names of places that probably pre-date the arrival of the Romans. Nonetheless, it was the Romans who finally connected the Zillertal with the civilised world. The people of the valley were "romanised" and the Zillertal might have played an important political role: The West of Tyrol belonged to the Roman province of Raetia, whereas the Eastern part was in the province of Noricum. It is conceivable that the Zillertal marked the border.

Ancient Rivalry in the Zillertal

In 889, a document refers to the valley for the first time as the "Cillarestale". Around this time, most land in the Zillertal became the property of the Archbishops of Salzburg. A few years earlier, in 738, the borders of the dioceses of Salzburg and Säben-Brixen had been fixed. (Probably once again), the Ziller (the river running through the Zillertal) served as a natural border - and still does.

The historic rivalries between dioceses were the reason why church towers on the Brixen side were painted red, whereas those on the western, Salzburg side were green. More so, wherever Salzburg built a church, Brixen had to have one on the other side of the river - and vice versa. A bit like Burger King opening a shop next to McDonald′s. You can still see "twinned" churches on the two sides of the River in various spots of the Zillertal.

More Recent History of the Zillertal

In 1816, the principality of Salzburg was secularised, the Prince Archbishop turned into an Archbishop and the newly created "Duchy of Salzburg" became Austrian and lost the Zillertal, which went to Tyrol (which was Austrian, too). Among the miners of the inner Alps, Protestantism was rather popular - read the history of Austria or the article on Schladming for further details. In Salzburg, the Archbishop had them expelled on two different occasions.

In the Zillertal, an expulsion took place very late - in the supposedly enlightened 19th century and after the valley had become part of a secular principality. In 1837, the protestant minority of the Zillertal was forced to leave for the then Prussian (previously Austrian and now Polish) Schlesien. Since they were Germanic, their descendants had to leave this area after the Soviets occupied the now Polish parts of Prussia following WWII. Today, the descendents of the Zillertal protestants live all over Europe and the World.

Continue with "Zillertal - Part II"

Back to "Tyrol Sightseeing Guide"

Sightseeing by Austrian Province

Bregenz and Vorarlberg - Innsbruck and Tyrol - Salzburg - Salzkammergut - Graz and Styria - Klagenfurt and Carinthia - Wachau and Lower Austria - Vienna - Burgenland

Further Reading

Official Website of Tyrol

Tourism Website on the Zillertal Valley