Culture & History in Heiligenblut am Großglockner

Art, culture & the long and fascinating history of a remarkable region

Anyone visiting Heiligenblut for the first time will quickly become aware that the village, its buildings and the pilgrimage church are steeped in a long and fascinating past. The turbulent and far-reaching history of Heiligenblut dates back to long-gone eras most of us know very little about. In the same vein, it seems that Heiligenblut am Grossglockner, with its beauty, cultural heritage and breathtaking natural surroundings, will endure for a long time to come – allowing future generations to experience this remarkable place on Earth.

Historical Development

Imagine, if you will, the year 300 B.C. An era that is challenging to grasp from a modern perspective. What did the world really look like back then? None of us can know for sure. What we do know is that this is when Heiligenblut am Grossglockner was first mentioned in a written document; we also have evidence that, in around 400 BC, the Celts moved into this area – also called the ‘Tauriscans’. This is where the name of the ‘Tauern’ mountains is believed to have originated.

Agriculture and animal husbandry were at the centre of people’s lives, though the Celts also went in search of the well-known Tauern gold. A few centuries later, the Romans built the first pathways over the mountains around Heiligenblut, establishing the first north-bound connections as early as 15 BC. In fact, they were such skilled road builders that some of today’s most well-known mountain passes have incorporated parts of these ancient Roman routes.

From freight carriers to gold miners

Salt from the North, and wine from the South: these were the first items that the so-called ‘Säumer’ (freight carriers) transported over the mountains on packhorses, oxen or mules. For several centuries, transalpine trade was a major source of income in our region. As was gold mining: the first mines were established in the area around Grosskirchheim, where over 1500 labourers were hard at work in up to 361 mining pits.

The end of the gold rush came about for three reasons: economy (gold could be extracted, and therefore sold, more cheaply in the New World); climate change (a mini ice age covered many of the pits); and religion (a counter-reformation caused the largely Protestant mining population to leave the area, in order to avoid having to convert to Catholicism).

"St. Vincent" of Heiligenblut

You recognise the sight as soon as you approach Heiligenblut am Grossglockner. The pilgrimage church of Heiligenblut, set against the majestic pyramid shape of the Grossglockner, is a scene captured in countless photographs and known all around the world. Few will know, however, that the church is dedicated to St. Vincent of Saragossa, and was first cited in a historical document as early as 1253.

The first pilgrimage to the ‘Heiligen Bluet’ (the holy blood) was recorded in 1273. A century later, in 1390, the decision was made to transform what was barely more than a chapel into a proper House of God. This set in motion a construction period lasting almost 100 years. On November 1st, 1491, the new pilgrimage church was consecrated – finally offering enough space for the ever-growing number of pilgrims and visitors.

The Path of the Legends

On the “Path of Legends” you will meet people like the mountaineering legend Alfred Markgraf von Pallavicini, the mountain railroad pioneer Josef Schmidl, the builder of the Grossglockner High Alpine Road Franz Wallack, Saint Briccius or Alberth Wirth, who laid the foundation stone for the Hohe Tauern National Park.

The path of legends emphasizes the viewpoints, integrates accents of the pilgrimage character and the importance of gold mining, reflects its own history as a mountaineering village and opens up the paths to nature, as well as to historical features.

The legend of “Saint” Briccius refers to the year 914. Secure written evidence dates back to the early 17th century. There are reports of immoral conditions at the court in Constantinople.

The emperor’s daughter is also horrified. She asks Briccius to take the holy relic with the blood of Christ with him – in his homeland it would certainly be in better Christian hands. But Briccius gets lost in the Hohe Tauern. He gets caught in the storm and is killed.
In the spring, farmers find the dead man and recognize in him a saint. With the Holy Blood
the name of our village was also found.

In the years 397 to 444 A.D., St. Briccius was bishop of Tours – successor of St. Francis of Assisi. Martin. He was considered the patron saint of travelers on perilous roads. This task was now taken over by “our” Briccius in this country. However, Briccius was never officially confirmed by the Church.
Neither blessed nor holy, Briccius nevertheless reaches the soul of the people. It is quite possible that behind the medieval legend of Briccius there is a much older cult, now forgotten.


The year 1271 AD is a memorable year for the church in Heiligenblut. In a document issued at Vischarn, Bishop Heinrich von Chiemsee granted a 40-day indulgence to all believers who venerated the Holy Blood and contributed to the construction of a new church.

The church was built – the legend of St. Briccius was thus confirmed in stone.


Since time immemorial, there has been an inkling deep in the soul of man not to stand alone in this world, but to be connected with the entire cosmos. People knew about sacred places and ways.

In supplications, people sought help in many a need, hoping to obtain the favor of nature, the gods and the saints. The Pinzgau pilgrimage also refers to pagan heritage – to cults of the Celts, Romans and Illyrians.

We take reliable data from the writings of the Middle Ages. We learn about the construction of the church in Heiligenblut and about the recommendation of the Archbishop of Salzburg from 1301 to come to Hof to venerate the Holy Blood of Christ on the feast of the Princes of the Apostles Peter and Paul.

Even today, June 28/29, with the current more than 1000 pilgrims, is proof of a culture that has endured for millennia.


Iron. Ehern. Eternal.

The names of all those who lost their lives in our mountains are written in the “Iron Book”. For two centuries. Even then, intrepid farmers’ sons were willing to accompany scientists and mountaineers on often daring tours.

A new task, a new trade was born. As “mountain guides of Heiligenblut” they brought the entrusted safely to their destination and earned a legendary reputation in this way. The prerequisites were experience and local knowledge, knowledge of the necessary equipment and, above all, the ability to respond to the people being cared for.


Alfred Margrave v. Pallavicini (1848-1886)

Already in the 11th century the Pallavicinis belonged to the Italian nobility. In 1731 Gianluca Pallavicini came to Vienna as a diplomatic representative of Genoa, and since then he had a close relationship with the imperial court. Alfred von Pallavicini also served the emperor as an officer. His mother was a countess of Erdödy.

Pallavicini is considered one of the best mountaineers of his time. On August 18, 1876, the Margrave – accompanied by the Heiligenblut mountain guides Tribusser, Kramser and Bäuerle – conquered the “Pallavicini Gully” named after him.

The gully is still feared today because of the falling rocks. On June 26, 1886, Pallavicini was killed during a tour of the Glockner.

In the years 397 to 444 A.D., St. Briccius was bishop of Tours – successor of St. Francis of Assisi. Martin. He was considered the patron saint of travelers on perilous roads. This task was now taken over by “our” Briccius in this country. However, Briccius was never officially confirmed by the Church.
Neither blessed nor holy, Briccius nevertheless reaches the soul of the people. It is quite possible that behind the medieval legend of Briccius there is a much older cult, now forgotten.


Josef Schmidl (1902-1966)

For a long time, big names shaped the image of Austria’s winter – with lifts in vast ski areas. Heiligenblut am Großglockner learned about it during hibernation. Only a few could imagine that Heiligenblut could also become “winter-ready” one day.
With Josef Schmidl and the first ropeway projects, the beginning and the turning point came in 1964. Other timely decisions followed – far-sighted and, above all, infrastructurally necessary projects. The diligence was developed, the single-cable gondola was built on the Schareck. It remains to be seen whether the time has come to try something new again.


Franz Wallack (1887-1966)

Civil engineer Franz Wallack, planner and builder of the Grossglockner High Alpine Road, calculated the cost of this project in 1930 at 85.8 million euros (monetary value 2016). In 1936, Wallack presented the final account: 85.1 million euros – 700,000 euros less than estimated. The leitmotif of the technician and experienced high alpinist Wallack in an ecologically not yet sensitive time:

“The Glockner Road must technically outshine all famous alpine roads and be suitable for large-scale traffic. It must fit harmoniously into the landscape, because in this sublime mountain world it would be presumptuous to try to outdo nature with the means of technology.”

That is why Wallack also had the vegetation lifted off the construction site so that it could be used to heal construction wounds afterwards. And he established “planting gardens” to grow alpine seeds appropriate to the location. Wallack thus built in 1930 / 35 with half a century ahead of time the ideal feeder road of the Hohe Tauern National Park, which was founded in 1981 / 83.

Wallack was also ahead of his time as a traffic engineer: he wired a telephone with 16 emergency call boxes next to his road and developed the “rotary plow,” which coped with masses of snow in the high mountains and is used around the world today.

Wallack was the first to lead his high alpine road not up to the glaciers, but high above them. Therefore, by 2015, as many as 64 million visitors experienced the overview of the Pasterze, Austria’s largest glacier. Thus, together with Schönbrunn Palace and Hohensalzburg Fortress, this high alpine road forms the top trio of Austria’s tourist attractions.

In 1980, the Austrian architectural pope Friedrich Achleitner applied to Wallack’s work the standard of an ecologically highly sensitive time: “Proof that economic interests and technical understanding need not destroy a landscape.” Wallack took stock in 1960 on the 25th anniversary of his road: “Forgotten will be the many thousands of workers and engineers who worked tirelessly here. But one thing will remain: The road.” Perhaps forgotten – but thanked remain all who built this road.


The workers of the Grossglockner High Alpine Road

Weather and not the clock sets the pace

During the construction of the Glockner Road from 1930 to 1935, an average of between 2000 and 3000 people found work. The modest weekly wages of 230 euros for 48 hours of work were in line with the collective agreements of the construction industry. At that time, a kilo of brown bread cost 1.90, half a beer 1.52, a haircut 6 euros and a roll 22 cents. However, the wages were supplemented by bonuses: Depending on the level of the job, up to 12 percent and 25 percent each for overtime and work on Sundays.

For journalists, Austria’s largest and highest construction site ( Hochtor 2404 m ) was naturally a technically and “patriotically” productive topic. The reporters were unanimously surprised by the clean accommodation and good catering for the workers. Site manager Wallack, works council member Knöpfelmacher and the construction companies also wrote a piece of social history that had received too little attention. They agreed Austria’s first “bad weather regulation”:

In case of unacceptable weather, especially in the mountains, work is suspended, but without deduction from wages. The gentlemen calculated realistically and not ideologically. If workers catch a cold while working eight hours in the rain and storm, they are out for days and also infect colleagues in the barracks. Therefore, rest from work during bad weather is socially and economically wiser.


A construction engineer puts his visions into practice

155 people from Klagenfurt founded a section of the Alpine Club in 1872, also with the ambitious goal of significantly facilitating Carinthian access to the Großglockner. The club’s own civil engineer Heinrich Pierl developed a concrete plan for this: “2500 meters of ascent from Heiligenblut to the Glockner cannot be accomplished in one day there and back. But halfway up there would be a level place for a hut. Heiligenblut already offered 111 guest beds in three good hostels. Nothing can go wrong. And so we started the construction of the Glocknerhaus as early as 1874.”

The construction of such a hut with 40 beds, accessible from Heiligenblut only on a narrow path in three hours, weighed heavily on the association’s budget. Therefore, the resourceful people of Klagenfurt organized a lottery that brought in two-thirds of the construction costs of 176,000 euros (monetary value 2016).

Above all, however, the construction of the railroad in 1875 through the Drau Valley and the Pinzgau region of the Glockner Group opened up the tourist potential of large cities such as Munich or Vienna. The people of Klagenfurt therefore planned to improve the ascent from Heiligenblut to the Glocknerhaus in the long term. They raised 2.7 million euros and built an 11.2 km long and 2.5 m wide “Glockner Road” from 1900 to 1908 according to Heinrich Pierl’s plans, so that tourists could even comfortably ascend in two-horse carriages. From 1927 onwards, ten-seater post buses were already running between Heiligenblut and Glocknerhaus.

Heinrich Pierl had a daring idea at the time: a road on the blown tracks of an almost 3000 year old trade route over the Hochtor. It was to open up an attractive tourist approach to the Großglockner. In 1895 Pierl designed a route, but the plan never got off the drawing board due to lack of funds. Only Franz Wallack took up this project again in 1924 under completely different circumstances and led to success.


Alberth Wirth (1881-1952)

Ahead of his time

For some ideas, the time seems to be ripe only after long years. Alberth Wirth ceded the entire Glockner area to the Austrian Alpine Association in 1918 – in 1981 the Hohe Tauern National Park was founded.

It should be in Wirth’s spirit to constantly ask anew in what relationship we stand to nature – especially today, in a time of global ecological challenge.
At least one answer is certain: The Hohe Tauern National Park should continue to help return lost land to nature.

What he has achieved on a large scale in the heart of Europe should serve as an impulse to stop the exploitation that ultimately puts ourselves in danger. The aim, for example, is to pool existing initiatives around the world in order to secure success in threatened situations.


Hans Pichler (1903-1980)

The stone deer: Two sides of a legend

What would the Hohe Tauern National Park be without you -without our stone deer?

You call us “Kings of the Alps”. Feudal.

Since time immemorial, you have been considered supernatural beings.

Ah – superstition knew no bounds.
Being a legend … has mostly been our undoing.
People are contradictory.

Hans Pichler spent the summers of his childhood as a shepherd on the lonely alpine pastures of the Pasterze, herding goats and cows. He attended only the elementary school in Heiligenblut.

Nevertheless, he found his way in life better than some others and was successful as a versatile entrepreneur. In 1933 he leased the hunting rights of the municipality of Heiligenblut. Hunting was in a bad way at that time – there were hardly any roe deer, no chamois, neither deer nor marmots.

Under Pichler, the game recovered in a sensational way. Moreover, in 1960 Pichler realized his idea to give the stone deer a new home in the Hohe Tauern as well. Six ibexes were released – the project succeeded. The “Steinwildhegegemeinschaft Großglockner”, founded by Pichler in 1974, today looks after a considerable herd of 400 animals.


History, art and culture are an integral part of life in Heiligenblut.

If we have sparked your interest, and you enjoy gaining vivid insights into a rich and fascinating past, we look forward to seeing you soon in Heiligenblut am Grossglockner.

For details and information on any aspect of your holiday, simply contact us, send us a no-obligation holiday enquiry, or phone us on +43 4824 2700-20.

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