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A Journey to the capitals of tomorrow: Bad Ischl – Salzkammergut 2024

Traunsee Traunsee Photo by Leonhard Niederwimmer / Pixabay

We asked managers of the European capitals of culture from 2022 to 2025, five same questions to understand their expectations in a clear and concise way. Each interview is preceded by a fact sheet on that European capital of culture. The format is the same for all. At the end of the series of interviews we will try to make a synthesis of objectives, trends, expectations by the Ecocs. After NoviSad2022, Esch2022, Kaunas2022 , Veszprem2023, Eleusis2023, Timisoara2023, Tartu2024, and Bodø2024 today we talk about , Bad Ischl – Salzkammergut, European capital of culture 2024.

After Graz 2003 and Linz 2009, Bad Ischl will be Austria's third European capital of culture in 2024.

Bad Ischl (15.000 inhabitants) is a spa town in Austria, located in the heart of the Salzkammergut region in southern Austria, on the banks of the Traun River. In 1849, Franz Joseph chose to establish a summer palace here. On August 19, 1853, Franz Joseph and Princess Sissi held an engagement ceremony. In 1854, the emperor's mother, Sophie, gave him the emperor's villa as a wedding gift. The villa became the summer residence of the royal family; Franz Joseph called it "the paradise on the ground."

For the Austrian title year 2024, three cities / regions applied: Dornbirn+, St. Pölten and the Salzkammergut. At the end of 2018, all three applicants submitted the first application document (the first 60-page bidbook). Subsequently, all three applicants had the opportunity to present the concept to the European Capital of Culture jury in Vienna. The decision to have all three candidates in the second and final selection round was made on 31 January 2019.

After a final hearing in Vienna in mid-November, in which the applicants presented the concept in 45 minutes and answered questions from the jury for 75 minutes, the decision that the Salzkammergut will be European Capital of Culture 2024 was made on 12 November 2019.

These 23 municipalities constitute the ECoC region Salzkammergut 2024: In Upper Austria: City of Bad Ischl (Bannerstadt), City of Gmunden, City of Laakirchen, Bad Goisern, Gosau, Scharnstein, Vorchdorf, Obertraun, St. Konrad, Ebensee am Traunsee, Traunkirchen, Hallstatt, Roitham am Traunfall, Pettenbach im Almtal, Grünau im Almtal, Kirchham, Altmünster, Unterach am Attersee, Steinbach am Attersee; In the STMK: City of Bad Aussee, Altaussee, Grundlsee, Bad Mitterndorf.

The theme of the region’s bid was “Salt and Water as DNA.” The aim was to rejuvenate the region’s cultural life with the necessary pinch of salt and the power of water. Another goal is to develop the area’s tourism industry towards a more sustainable direction.

According to the application, the goal of the project is to bring back and revitalize the cultural life of the region by combining a pinch of salt with the power of water. The cost of implementing the project is estimated at 30 million euros and will encompass the whole of the Salzkammergut area.

“Combining Salt.Water gives us culture, our New Salt. It is the best of both Salt and Water, a fertile and solid base on which to build a new Cultural Geography in our region, the Inclave”.

The interview is with team workers.

Why did the city decide to be the European capital of culture?

First of all, Bad Ischl - Salzkammergut 2024 is the first ECoC taking place in an alpine and rural region. This characteristic shaped the application for ECoC 2024. Salzkammergut 2024 is a truly regional application with a conglomerate of relatively small municipalities which influences the dynamic of the ECoC process as well. Being a regional ECoC means rebalancing and connecting the region and establishing one spirit out of a diversity of identities. 

What changes are expected for the reference community?

In our case, the reference community is an ECoC region of 23 municipalities. We want to emphasize the feeling of Europeanness in the rural region of Salzkammergut and the feeling of togetherness within the region without excluding elements. Furthermore we expect positive changes in the self-confidence of the local cultural sector as well as in the acceptance of new and unknown art forms. 

What are the three keywords of your cultural program?

In our case, there are two keywords of our cultural program: Salt and Water! Salt and water are the main elements that shaped the Salzkammergut as we now know and love it. They have got a big historical importance and influenced the local culture ever since, and we chose it as our main motto for our program. You can already feel the Salty Spirit in the region because culture will be our New Salt. 

What are the main citizen involvement activities?

Our Bidbook has been developed in a bottom-up process. From the beginning, citizens were involved a lot and figured a vibrant cultural region with us which we want to build for the title year and beyond. 

What do you want to remain after the capital year?

Real and Salty…. and a little bit quirky.


Serafino Paternoster

Ecocnews Founder, Journalist, repentant jazz guitarist, music critic and film lover.

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