Bad Ischl and Surrounding Regions Celebrate European Capital of Culture 2024

In an unexpected but welcome deviation from tradition, Bad Ischl, alongside 22 other towns in Upper Austria and Styria, has been selected as the European Capital of Culture for 2024. This prestigious designation extends beyond the charming confines of Bad Ischl, encapsulating a diverse array of towns within the Salzkammergut region, renowned for their rich cultural heritage and scenic beauty.

Image: Grosser_Welt-Raum-Weg-©-Christoph_Mayer_chm

Earning the title
The path to earning the European Capital of Culture title is an arduous one, governed by stringent criteria set by the European Union. Competing against the likes of Dornbirn and St. Pölten, Bad Ischl distinguished itself with a culturally vibrant program that resonates deeply on a European level. This program is designed not only to showcase the region’s rich cultural tapestry but also to generate lasting impacts through local and European participation.

Hallstatt: a jewel in Salzkammergut’s crown.
Within the Salzkammergut region lies the picturesque village of Hallstatt, a place that frequently finds itself on travellers’ bucket lists; National Geographic have even dubbed it “the fairy-tale town”. Known for its breath-taking alpine setting and traditional architecture, Hallstatt gained worldwide fame as the reported inspiration for Arendelle in Disney’s popular film ‘Frozen’. This idyllic village, with a population of merely 778, has experienced the double-edged sword of global tourism, often playing host to up to 10,000 visitors per day. Travellers from Asia are particularly drawn to the village, such that a replica Hallstatt was built in China in 2012. However, its global appeal has led to frustrations from local residents; in 2023, some residents built a fence to block a popular selfie spot (it was removed shortly after following a social media backlash).

Its inclusion in the European Capital of Culture festivities marks an interesting opportunity to balance its international appeal with sustainable cultural preservation and slower tourism.

A balancing act
The title of European Capital of Culture brings a myriad of opportunities and challenges. For Bad Ischl and its neighbors, it promises a significant boost to the economy through tourism and cultural revival. However, concerns about over-tourism and the dilution of authentic cultural experiences mirror those already faced by Hallstatt. Addressing these challenges head-on will be crucial in preserving the region’s cultural integrity.

Scheduled to begin on January 20-21, 2024, the opening weekend promises to be a grand affair. Featuring performances from acclaimed artists like Hubert von Goisern and Conchita Wurst, as well as a choir of a thousand voices, it hopes to set the stage for a year dedicated to the region’s rich cultural heritage and arts.

Whilst many will know the region only for Hallstatt’s postcard views and architecture, the Salzkammergut region plays host to a wealth of historical importance. The area’s motto this year is “Culture is the new salt“, a reference to the region’s name: Salzkammergut translates loosely to ‘salt domain’, with Hallstatt claiming the title of the world’s oldest salt mine. This precious commodity has influenced Salzkammergut through history, and the program this year looks to explore how art, literature, and music have become embedded in the landscape in the way that salt is.

A crossroads of culture and community.
As Bad Ischl and the broader Salzkammergut region prepare to step into the spotlight, they find themselves at a pivotal cultural junction. This accolade is a recognition of their unique heritage and a call to action to shape a sustainable future, culturally and communally, but also an opportunity to diversify from the fast tourism that has plagued Hallstatt in recent years. As Europe (and the world) looks towards this alpine gem, Bad Ischl has a lot to offer tourists, historians, and travellers – but try not to disturb the locals!

Together with Bodø in Norway and Tartu in Estonia, Bad Ischl is one of three Capitals of Culture in 2024. Check the official website for the program and further background information.

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