Geopark Erz der Alpen
UNESCO World Heritage on the Salzburg Sun Terrace
The Salzburg Sun Terrace region and the surrounding province of Salzburg can look back on a long, dynamic history of settlement dating back as far as the Copper Age and the Bronze Age. Today the Geopark Erz der Alpen or Ore of the Alps Global Geopark, a UNESCO global geopark – offers exciting insights into this unique world between Bischofshofen, Hüttau, Mühlbach and the Sun Terrace community St. Veit im Pongau.
Manifold rock worlds
This UNESCO geopark in Austria is about 50 km from the city of Salzburg and connects special rock worlds to fascinating history. Almost the entire Erz der Alpen is part of the so-called greywacke zone describing a Palaeozoic rock with mineral deposits. In addition, small parts in the north belong to the Northern Limestone Alps and a little bit in the south to the Central Eastern Alps. The Geopark Erz der Alpen predominantly consists of the following types of rock:
- Slate and phyllites
- Limestones and dolomites
They yield breathtaking forms, frequently in connection with proglacial deposits (crushed rocks, moraines, clays). On a walk through the geopark near the Salzburg Sun Terrace you will come across gorges, waterfalls, springs, earth pyramids, corrie lakes (tarns), corallian limestone, dressed rocks (sheepbacks), rockslide deposits, and, obviously, terraces.
Salzburg’s home of mining
What sets the Geopark Erz der Alpen apart from Salzburg’s numerous other geoparks and national parks are the ore deposits. The mining of copper, iron and gold has been leaving a mark on life in the region for over 5,500 years. Mühlbach’s Mitterberg was the European mining centre during the Bronze Age, for example. The copper of the Nebra sky disk exhibited in the State Museum of Prehistory in Halle (Salle), the oldest known concrete depiction in the cosmos, verifiably came from the geopark mines. There might not be any more mining activities on the geopark territory, yet its unique history lives on in the mining museums and the geotrails of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What are UNESCO Global Geoparks?
The declaration “World Heritage” by the UNESCO indicates monuments, sites, natural formations and manifestations of extraordinary worth that must be unconditionally protected and supported. World Heritage includes:
- World Natural Heritage and World Cultural Heritage regions (e.g. Historic Centre of Salzburg or the Hallstatt-Dachstein Cultural Landscape)
- Biosphere reserves (e.g. Salzburger Lungau & Kärntner Nockberge)
- UNESCO Global Geoparks (e.g. Erz der Alpen)
Geoparks are areas with geological and/or agricultural peculiarities of national and international significance. They are meant to display the geo heritage, give a closer understanding about it to its visitors and preserve it for ages to come. It’s not just geological peculiarities that are on display as the holistic collection and sustainably touristic utilisation also looks at archaeology, history and culture. Currently, there are 147 UNESCO Geoparks spread across 41 countries. Three of them are in Austria: Steirische Eisenwurzen, Karawanken and Erz der Alpen, the UNESCO Ore of the Alps Global Geopark.
History of the geopark and the Copper Ore Path
A geopark doesn’t just happen overnight. The initiative “Geopark Kupferlandschaft Pongau” started in 2009 and set out to unite the prehistoric and the historic mining centres of St. Veit, Bischofshofen, Mühlbach and Hüttau. The geopark request followed in November 2013 and was given a positive assessment in early September 2014. The Geopark Erz der Alpen has been an official UNESCO Global Geopark since 17 November 2015 and was re-validated for the first time in 2018.
The Copper Ore path is the integrative geopark element in the open terrain as well as in the visitor centre, which is located at the ski jumping area in Bischofshofen. The UNESCO geopark presents itself at its most informative and diverse here. The path impresses with numerous facilities, such as montane-historic geosites (museums, mining museums, collapse shafts, trench dens, melting places, prehistoric and historic mining settlements, etc.). Various info panels connect the individual destinations and convey interesting facts about geology, settlement history, formation of the landscape, and much more.
Gorgeous panoramic views await you along the path from museum to museum, mining site to mining site. Several chapels and churches, specifically themed experience stations, nature playgrounds, oases of tranquillity, adventure paths, picnic spots, alpine farms and excellent gastronomy accompany your geopark trip. By the way, walking the entire trail takes at least four days. If you wish, you can most certainly experience the UNESCO World Heritage Erz der Alpen over several stages, even as part of guided hikes on request. Don’t miss out on this unique experience at the gates of the Salzburg Sun Terrace!