Of Bombs, Heroes and Treasures the history of Altaussee Salt Mine

A story just begging to be filmed: During a guided tour of Altaussee Salt Mine, you will learn why the mine was used to store art treasures of inestimable value, how two Aussee miners defied the Nazi regime, and why even Hollywood greats made an appearance at the Altaussee Salt Mine.

Altaussee Salt Mine in Ausseerland has a long and storied history. It all began during the High Middle Ages, in the mid 12th century: Salt mining in Altaussee was first chronicled in 1147. Between 1334 and 1449, medieval salt production in Aussee reached its zenith under the leadership of the private Hallinger company, later being nationalized by Emperor Friedrich III in 1449. We now jump to the 20th century. Beginning in 1906, the production amount gradually quadrupled, previously having been around 10,000 tons of salt per year. This also required an increased labor force, eventually peaking at 238 employees. Now yet another leap forward in time, to the dark days of the Second World War. It was during the last two years of the war – between 1943 and 1945 – that history was written in the Altaussee Salt Mine.

    

Masterpieces of Art: depot in “Mountain of Treasures”

A Madonna by Michelangelo, paintings by Rubens and Rembrandt, the Ghent Altar by the van Eyck brothers, works by Dürer and Vermeer – Art of inestimable value came within a hair’s breadth of going up in flames during the final weeks of the war in 1945. When the German Reich began to collapse and the cities were turning into fields of rubble, the authorities began to hide underground the treasures which the National Socialists had looted and gathered from across Europe. It was felt that those works would be safe from Allied bombing in the mines. That said, they were far from safe from the insanity of the Führer himself: In the spring of 1945, the dictator had given the order from Berlin that, in the event of defeat, everything which the German people had created – factories, roads, bridges, artworks – should be destroyed along with it. This included the artworks that were being warehoused in the Altaussee mine, originally intended for the “Führer Museum” in Linz. Shortly thereafter, Hitler revoked the order. However, the Gauleiter of the Salzkammergut, August Eidgruber, was a fanatical Nazi and did everything in his power to implement the original command. And to destroy the art treasures inside Altaussee Salt Mine.

"Bombing Michelangelo": when miners became heroes

And so it was that he had eight US bombs, which had been dropped over Linz but had not exploded, brought to the mine in Altaussee. To conceal the contents of the cargo, he had the crates containing the bombs labeled “Marble, handle with care!” Yet the miners grew suspicious. And a race against time began. How two intrepid miners managed to save the art treasures from destruction, what was necessary to do so, and why famous artworks later began showing up in the back rooms of local inns: All of this is explained in “Bombing Michelangelo”, a prize-winning multimedia show with impressive pictures depicting the final days of the war and the spectacular mission to rescue the treasures.
And as you make your own way through Altaussee Salt Mine, listening to the stories told to you by your guide, peer every now and then into the depths of Sandling mountain, and try to imagine how it must have been back then – not so very long ago – with art treasures stored in enormous subterranean salt chambers, intended for the dictator’s art museum that would never be built.
Incidentally: The shelves for the Führer Museum, which you will see during your visit below ground, are the originals from the 1940s. They are standing just as they did right after the miners first built them

Hollywood in Altaussee: "Monuments Men"

You have probably already realized: The actions taken to rescue those art treasures could have been plucked from a Hollywood script. Which is precisely why it does play an important role in the Hollywood production “Monuments Men” by and with George Clooney. In this movie, characters portrayed by George Clooney himself, Matt Damon and Bill Murray are sent off to rescue artworks from the Nazis. During your guided tour of the Altaussee Salt Mine, you will also get to see the original shooting locations for this Hollywood movie. We look forward to seeing you soon here in Altaussee Salt Mine!

Additional Information

Would you like to know more about the treasures that were rescued from the Altaussee Salt Mine? Further background information can be found in a book published in 2013 entitled "Mission Michelangelo" by Konrad Kramar.
Are you already aware of our online ticket? Benefits include guaranteed admission at your preferred time. And you'll never have to stand waiting in line when you get here. Sound good? Well, it is! Here you can order your online ticket for the salt mine quickly and easily.

An Overview: Historical Milestones of Salt Mining in Altaussee

1147Salt mining in Altaussee is first chronicled. Mining and processing is controlled by Rein Abbey near Graz.
1211Nationalization: Mining and processing rights acquired by Babenberg Duke Leopold VI, with the salt works moved from Augstbach to Unterlupitsch..
ca. 1285Salt works again relocated, this time to today's Bad Aussee.
1319Tunneling for the Steinbergstollen begins
1334Renovation and expansion of the salt works in Bad Aussee, raising production to around 10,000 tons annually.
1334 - 1449Heyday of medieval salt mining in Aussee under the leadership of the private Hallinger company
1449Renationalization by Emperor Friedrich III.
ca. 1550Approximately 120 people are employed in the mine.
17th – 19th cent.Annual salt production amounts to around 10,000 tons.
1906A new brine pipeline opens via Rettenbachtal to Bad Ischl, supplying the "Ebenseer Solvay-Werke" plant. In subsequent years, production quadruples, with employment reaching a historic high of 238 workers.
1943 – 1945Storage of art treasures to protect them from the turmoil of war.
1949Tunneling for the Erbstollen begins
from 1971313 employees work in the mine.
1965Conversion of brine production to a process using drill probes
200861 employees produce 1,506,000 m³ of brine annually, with a salt content of 450,000 tons.