Old Salt Routes and the Salt Horses
There were once "salt roads" throughout Schleswig-Holstein, Bavaria, Thüringia,Westphalia, Tirol
and many other old trading cities such as Passau. It was difficult going by land with mule carts on
rough paths over steep mountains or cut through the forests with numerous toll-gates along the way
where one could be beset by robbers, severe weather and exposed to the dangers of plague and war.
Salt peddlers called "Säumern" carried salt on their backs in sacks. Holy Roman Emperor Karl IV
first established the trade routes commonly known as the Golden Roads from 1356 to 1361.

One road connected Bohemia with the Danube in the Middle Ages. This road through the Böhmer-
wald was not only important because of the trade and the travel, but it played an indispensable role
in the development and exchange of language and cultural values. The salt trade along the "Goldene
Steig" into Bohemia and beyond was particularly instrumental in bringing affluence to the trade
center of Passau as well as to the burgeoning towns along its path. An extensive road system
connected Bohemia, Passau and the Austrian Mühlviertel with the Inn River as a salt route. Horses
were used to tow the ships up the river, and depending on which direction the ships went and on the
amount of the cargo that was carried, the trip took between 8 days and 2 weeks.

Roads surrounding Passau and the roads which led out of Passau, crowded with pack horses and salt
caravans, contained markets and tollgates to the different local manorial systems. After the salt was
sold in Bohemia, the traders brought back glass, grain, and amber from the Baltic. Other local
businesses such as barrel makers, cloth makers, coppersmiths, tanners, inns, pewtersmiths, butchers,
restaurants and boat builders benefited from the salt trade, and Passau remained a powerful
merchant city until the late Middle Ages.

The traders, using horses or donkeys, took salt, spices, wine and cloth from the Danube by the ports
in Passau or Vilshofen northward into Böhemia and returned with fish, meat and grain. The lack of
salt in Bohemia was one of the principal reasons for their part in the active trade. Since the Säumern
were mostly farmers, the principal trade time was determined by the harvest in the autumn. Along
those Säumer paths throughout the old regions of Bohemia and Moravia, a great number of new
German settlements sprang up, blending in with the much older German villages and towns in the
areas which went back to the 10th and 11th centuries.

The stops of the three major Golden Roads (Goldener Steig) were (original names): The Unterer
Goldener Steig from Passau over Salzing, Straßkirchen, Großtannensteig, Kringle, Außernbrünst,
Ernsting, Ofernleinbach, Waldkirchen, Böhmzwiesel, Fürholz, Grainet, Bischofsreut and Wallern
ending at Prachatitz. The Mittlerer Goldener Steig from Ernsting over Wotzmannsreut, Winkelbrunn,
Hinterschmiding, Herzogsreut, Philippsreut and Obermoldau ending at Winterberg. The Oberer
Goldener Steig from Salzgattern by Außernbrünst over Röhrnbach, Harsdorf, Freyung, Kreuzberg,
Mauth, Finsterau and Außergfield ending at Bergreichenstein.
The art of truly refined road construction did not begin until the age of enlightened absolutism, when
various rulers recognized the economic and military benefit of good roads. From centuries before the
days of the Romans or Charlemagne, or even before the Middle Ages, traffic instead took place
mainly on "high roads". The artificially built and normally straight Roman roads which came later
have often kept in use, even until the present day where new roads have been built on top of them.
Once upon a time, however, the most common traffic took place almost exclusively over the "high"
ways and not through the more strongly populated valleys.

These narrow, ancient roads which cut through the forests were drier, while in valleys below there
were few bridges over the many small brooks which were often impassable after rainfalls. Only if the
destination was close, or if beyond an important river and capable of being reached by a well-known
ford or stone bridge, would the travelers attempt the lower roads. Aside from the problems of nature,
fords and bridges were likely places to be attacked or robbed.

Today in some regions there are traces of the old routes going back in Celtic time, some with groups
of graves along their  hilly paths. There were usually settlements in these high areas as well because
some ancient enterprises depended on the forest, such as firewood and building supply, charcoal and
potash businesses and mining. This traffic pattern changed, however, when the kings and princes of
the Middle Ages decided to concentrate traffic where the collection of customs duties was easy and
simple...and, like today's drivers that try to skirt toll roads, early travelers tried to outwit the tolls. Not
only that, farmers in the valleys did not enjoy the land being chopped up for roads.     

Plus, there were the age-old reasons for using a less conspicuous route, such as smuggling, running
from the law or eloping. Thus, the old high ways remained in use for as long as people could get
away with using them.
Even Older High Ways
The Schwarzenberg Kanal
In the 14th century, forward thinking Holy Roman Emperor Karl IV also envisioned a canal system
which would link the major rivers of Bohemia with the Danube, but high mountains proved to be an
obstacle, and the only project along those lines that was realized was completed much later with the
building of the unique Schwarzenberg Canal which was cut through the mountains to transport timber
in 1789. The canal enabled lumber from the mountains to be transported by water from southern
Bohemia to Vienna.

The idea of canals was not new. Around the year 793, Charlemagne tried to link the North Sea and
the Black Sea with a navigable waterway . Known as Fossa Carolina, or Karl's Ditch, this apparently
unfinished waterway ran from the upper run of the Swabian Rezat to the Altmühl river, with a series
of beaded together ponds and tiny lakes, the idea of locks not yet perfected, and various but useless
attempts were made through the centuries at improving this connection.

Within two years, the 40-kilometre long navigational canal had been carved out of the rugged
mountains. The project for the building of the navigational canal was prepared by Josef Rosenauer,
1735-1804, an employee of the administrative office of the Schwarzenberg estates. In 1775, he
presented project plans for a waterway on which felled logs would be floated down from the forests
regions of the Hapsburg Empire's regions of Bohemia to Vienna. The planned canal was supposed to
lead from the mouth of the stream Zwettelbach to the Grosse Mühl river near the Austrian town of
Haslach, across the forests which belonged to the Austrian monastery of Schlägl to the Bohemian
country across the land which was in the ownership of the Schwarzenberg family and the region of
Plöckenstein towards Hirschperky.

The final destination of the Rosenauer project was the stream of Lichtwasser near the Bavarian
border. At that time, the exclusive rights previously given to the bishop of Passau to float timber on
the Mühl river came to an end, and authorised by the emperor's patent, this formed a necessary part
of the plans for transporting timber to Vienna. The right to transport timber was awarded to the duke
of Schwarzenberg, and Johann of Schwarzenberg gave approval to the project, but the actual work
did not start for another ten years in 1789.

The building of the Schwarzenberg navigational canal went very quickly. During the first year a 29.3
km long section of the canal was built from the Zwettelbach stream to the Hefenkriegbach stream,
and it was lengthened until 1793 when the first section of the navigational canal ( later called "the old
canal") ended with a total length of 39.9 km. The building of the canal did not continue, because
even Rosenauer himself had doubts if the water from the reservoirs would be sufficient for the
smooth function of the canal. In 1791, the first continuous flow of logs along the whole length of the
canal took place. The logs floated freely through the Schwarzenberg canal and on to the Mühl river
up to Neuhausen, where an unloading canal with a dock was built. Before the mouth of the Mühl
river to the Danube river, the logs were caught and loaded onto a boat which took them to Vienna.

The logs had to be placed into the canal evenly so that they would not pile up. There was an
optimum capacity of 900-1,000 feet of timber a day, and up to 200 people tended to the smooth
running of the canal and piling up timber and other obstacles from the canal. It stalled when all the
timber was gone or if there was insufficient water. In this situation, it was necessary to suspend the
process and wait until there was rain. The increase in logging brought more work, and this brought
numerous loggers to the areas near the canal, and they, along with their families, populated new
settlements with the approval of the nobility.

The increased requirement for lumber supported the idea of finishing the canal as per the original
project, and therefore make other areas of the forests accessible for production. The second part of
the canal flowed toward the Bavarian border. The first voyage through the "new canal" took place in
1824. The total length of the water way after connection of both sections of the canal was now a
total length of 89.7 km. The canal was fed by 21 streams and was crossed with 87 bridges, 80 water
sluices, 78 water ditches and 22 gates. During the second half of the 19th century, coal edged out
firewood for fuel and the timber industry shifted to long building timbers which the canal was not
suited for, but some timber floating still continued through the canal. The water transportation of the
timber from Haslach to Vienna finally ended in 1891. The railway finally won out over water
transport. In 1916, the last journey took place through the whole length of the canal. Only a small
section was used in the 20th century.
The traders followed salt trails from Passau to places such as the Böhmerwald town of Prachatitz.
The salt trade made this little German settlements and many others flower in the 14th century.
Above left: traders unloading salt in Prachatitz,
The salt trade connected much of old Europe. Transylvania in today's Romania was once inhabited
by many Germans. Bordered by the South and East Carpathian Mountains, between there and the
Transylvanian Highlands is a wealth of gorgeous valleys, among them the Oderhellener Senke           
(Depresiuena Odorhei), the Fogarascher (Fâgârs), the Hermannstädter Senke (Depresiuena Subiului)
and the Großpold (Apoldu de Sus). Large salt deposits are found in some of these depressions and in
the high Country. For thousands of years these deposits have been mined. Salt here was in high
demand even in prehistoric times. The Praid is one of the most important areas in the "Salt Zone".

The salt mine from Praid is one of the most important salt mines of the Transylvanian Plateau and
the settlement was inhabited back to Roman times, although the first written record of the locality
date back to 1567. In the Middle Ages, in the 1200's, the Praid mine was trading salt. The Habsburgs
immensely improved the mines through the centuries of their rule. In 1762, under the leadership of
the Austrian engineer Frendl, the Jozsef mine was opened, which had the shape of a bell, and in
which the first elevator drawn by horses called the "horse lift" was installed. Systematic mining was
established after the year 1787, when the mine from Praid became the property of the Treasury from
Vienna. The Habsburgs established local railways to facilitated the transport of the salt, which until
then had been handled by hand carts.

German Hermannstadt (Sibiu) in the 12th century was on the trade route through the Olt valley and
was the site of the Roman city of Caedonia and the first reference to the German settlement refers to
Praepositum Cibin (Hungarian: Nagyszeben). It was the most important city of the Transylvanian
Saxons during the middle ages. It is one of the seven major Saxon cities that gave Transylvania its
German name, Siebenbürgen, Land des Segens. The Germans here were expelled after 1945.
One salt horse was the Norik. For 2000 years, the Norik Horse (Noriker, Norisches Kaltbult, or
Pinzgauer) has lived in Austria. Named after the Roman province of Noricum, they descend from an
ancient Celtic horse that bred with heavy Roman draught horses. The breeding of Norik horses
flourished under Charlemagne in the 8th century. The first stud farm that bred Norik horses was not
opened until 1576 near Hallein and was under the control of the Salzburg Archbishops who bred the
Noriks primarily as ceremonial or parade horses, with the colorful specimens especially popular.

The frescos in Salzburg of the "Pferdeschwemme" portray similar horses. For the construction of the
Salzburg cathedral, rocks had been cut out from the Moenchsberg mountain. In 1693, Archbishop
Johann Ernst von Thun decided to use this cavity in the mountain, and he had a riding school built in
which tournaments were held. According to plans by Fischer von Erlach, it included 36 boxes for
guests and the Archbishops, and it was also used as an open-air theater.

It continued in use for sport, dance and theater performances since the 18th century. The Horse
Pond next to it was built in 1695 by von Erlach as a watering place for the Archbishop's riding
stables.By the 18th century, Norik horses, excepting those horses which had been interbred with
riding horses by the Archbishops, became important as work animals for farmers, and the more
common type of less temperamental, heavy work horses were preferred in difficult terrain.

In time, these useful animals which had served as a riding and carriage horse for knights and
merchants in the Middle Ages as well as a work horse for farmers, evolved into the heavy alpine
Norik horse, some of which would one day depart with their banished Protestant owners, bound for
a long trek into unfamiliar lands.

Noriks today are very large, with mares averaging between 15.2 and 16 hands and stallions between
16 and 17 hands. They have a straight profile with wide nostrils and medium sized eyes. The neck is
medium length and has a thick mane. The chest is deep and broad. They are a very muscular,
powerful animal. Most Noriks today are bay, brown or chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail, with the
blacks, bays and chestnuts making up about 90% of the Noriks. Later interbreeding with the
Mediterranean races led to unusual coloration such as Isabels, dappled horses, rare leopards and blue
roans which explains the colors which make up the remaining 10%. The Noriker became also known
as the “Pinzgau Horse” because only the Pinzgau Norik kept the purest and most massive forms as
he was bred in remote valleys far from the main connecting roads between the north and south.
When breeders consolidated the breed, the Pinzgauer Noriker was chosen as the  prototype.
Unfortunately, while a very strong  and hardy breed, they are not very fertile.

In 1820, the breeding programs were secularized and state-owned stud farms were built in Salzburg.
After this, other heavy breeds including Clydesdales, Belgians, Oldenburgs, Holsteins, Spaniards and
Neapolitans were introduced to the breed, with Burgundy stallions often used due to a lack of studs.
By 1885, new inspection regulations counteracted the interbreeding with other races and an
underlying goal was to apply strict selection criteria in order to achieve a pure breed and improve the
declining quality of the Norik horses. At the end of the 19th century the first registry was established.
By 1903, 135 stallions and 1081 mares were registered. World Wars I and II greatly reduced the
horse population. However, in the 1990's various breeding groups began to revive the breed as the
number of Noriks dropped rapidly in the 1960’s and 1970s from 34,510 to 9,599.
The Noric Horse
Above: Horse lift, Pferdeschwemme and Norik horse