STYRIAN IRON ROUTE
Location: Austria, Northeast Styria (Mur-Mürz Furche), mainly district of Leoben
When driving along the national road 115, there is the one thing, which catches your eye immediately: the Erzberg (Iron Ore Mountain). The
region´s main attraction and symbol for its rich industrial heritage and mining traditions.
Figure 1: The Sytrian Iron Route
Cultural Associaton and LEADER region
When we talk about the Steirische Eisenstraße, we do it in the context of being a regional association (VESTE) and a LEADER region. Both organisations cover parts of the industrial and mining area. The LEADER region includes 17 municipalities, the largest being the town of Leoben. It is the regions administrative, economic, urban and cultural centre with about 25.000 inhabitants. Furthermore, it is home to a polytechnical university, specialising in mining, metallurgy and material sciences. Also, the iron ore mountain still operates, being the biggest ore mining site in in Europe. Other industries are also still in place with the VOEST Alpine steel maker, being the one with the most international recognition.
By putting on a helmet and getting on a lorry driving up the rough pitches, one can experience this unique landscape, which has been characterized by ore mining and processing for centuries and still is.
Hit by Structural Change
Since 1960 the region is affected by processes of structural change and is facing a loss of population. Next to an overaging society, especially youth outmigration constitutes a major challenge. Hereby, the more peripheral municipalities in the region are affected the most.
When the adrenalin level has stabelized, the many, often privately run, museums offer the visitors get a glimpse on past and present-day industrial production in the region. Listening to the guide´s stories.
Figure 2: Touristic highlights along the Styrian Iron Route
Overcoming a rusty image
Industrial heritage plays an important role for the region. Yet, in order to overcome the still persistent rather negative and rusty image of industry, tourism now focusses on sports and nature related forms rather than cultural heritage. This is also reflected in the development strategies, were industrial heritage is not well linked to tourism and rather seen as a tool to foster regional idenity.
Yet, the Erzberg as one of the few public accessible surface mines of its kind in Europe and constitutes a USP. Next to cultural monuments related to mining, 14 museums display aspects of the culture and industries of the area. Also, a range of sports related offers are available, with the annual motocross event ‚Erzbergrodeo‘ taking place right in the Erzberg mine. Nonetheless the region has lost its once important position on the regional tourism market due to a lack of investment in infrastructures and high competition in the domestic market.
How does industrial heritage and sports connect? Once a year this symbiosis can be watched live with other 10.000 people, excited to see the motorbike vs mountain spectacle. (A lot of dirt indeed.)
COVID as a game changer?
As COVID-19 hit, the tourims sector was severely affected. Thereby, changed travel behaviour and lifestyle resulted in a geographically uneven impact across national and regional Austrian tourism markets. The trend of searching for a natural, less crowded setting was beneficial for peripheral regions like the Styrian Iron Route, pushing domestic tourism. Hereby, an increase of peaks in arrivals in already „high“ summer seasons could be observed. This could constitute a chance for such regions to become a pin on the touristic map. Yet, if a lack of infrastructure and proper management, like in our cas-study, exist and so capacity breaches at hot spots occur during peak seasons, different development scenarios must be considered. However, if COVID will be a thrive for domestic tourism and so peripheral regions´ touristic development in the long run, remains to be seen/the future will tell.
Figure 3: Arrivals during COVID-19 in the district Leoben.
Getting to know the intangable cultural heritage: the Barbara festivities. An annual event in honor of St Barbara where you can spot miner´s dresses and listen to traditional music while sipping a local beer. (Also holder of the UNESCO titel of immaterial heritage.)
How is cultural heritage contributing to sustainable regional development?
We found industrial heritage tourism to be mostly contributing to social cohesion in the case study area, and so the social component according to the 3 pillar sustainability model in the Brundtland report. The analysed policies do not adress the the topic of ecology at all, besides some actions taken in events for re-usable ressources, space for improvement is given. Further, the region´s economic impact by cultural heritage tourism can be considered as low. Yet, if all three components are taken into account, long term strategies and proper management prevail as well as cross sectoral added value generated, cultural heritage can be indeed a driver for a more sustainable tourism.
May we present? Besides the Erzbergrodeo, there is another event filling the streets of Eisenerz like no other, the Rostfest. Chilling to sounds of local musicians, enjoying talks with the locals and being creative, coming one step closer to understanding the region´s heritage through a creative approach.
Industrial culture + creative arts = Rostfest
An already well established and known festival full of music, art interventions and discussions with links to the region´s industrial heritage. All and foremost it aims at exchange through creativity: Visitors talking with residents, thereby learning more about the region, providing impetus for participation and creative outputs. A best practice for regional development in peripheral areas through culture and tourism.
Picture 1: Rostfest2013 © LUPI SPUMA
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