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Hall in Tirol and the Historic Importance of Salt

Austria

Before refrigeration, salt was "white gold" — and a key to surviving the winter. In the Austrian town of Hall in Tirol, reminders survive that show how the town was once a powerhouse thanks to its salt mines.

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Today's laid-back Hall cradles its market square. Its pastel buildings and quaint streets feel refreshingly traditional. Actually, too traditional if you're trying to accomplish anything more than a leisurely lunch from noon till two, when everything closes.

During the Habsburg rule, Hall's castle served as the local mint. Old-time methods are still used here to strike shiny souvenir coins. Five hundred years ago, this was how you made money.

The town's name, Hall, means "salt." Hall was so important because it was a center of salt mining and trade.

In the past, salt was mined like a precious mineral. It was so valuable because before modern refrigeration it was used to preserve food. Salt helped people survive the winters. That's why they called it "white gold."

Back when salt was money, Hall was loaded — its seal features a barrel of salt. The town's elegant architecture and rich church make it clear that in its day, Hall was a local powerhouse.

While the church's structure is mostly 15th-century Gothic, the decor inside is 17th-century Baroque. And with a close look, you can see the wealth was founded on salt. Miners generated the wealth that paid for the lavish altars, extravagant starbursts, and this statue of the miners' patron, St. Barbara. And even the little cupids carry barrels of salt.