History of Sankt Johann im Pongau

Development of the town in the heart of Salzburg Province

Sankt Johann is situated approx. 60km south of Salzburg at an altitude of 600m in the heart of the wide Salzach Valley and is the district capital of Pongau. The town has tripled in size since the 3,360 population of 1920.


First settlements in this region date back to the Bonze Age, from about 2000 BC with remnants from the Celts and later the Romans. The area which today is occupied by Sankt Johann was first chronicled in an archiepiscopal document from 924 AD, with the entry “ad sanctum Johannem in villa” appearing in a document from 1074.


Written evidence of St. Johann’s development to a market town dates back to 1290, along with the construction and consecration of a church at the present location in 1329. St. Johann is granted a weekly market in 1425. During the time of the Peasants’ War in 1525/26 the people of Sankt Johann joined the protestant rebels in their fight against the Archduke of Salzburg. As a result, the market town was plundered and destroyed.


In the 16th and 17th centuries the town experienced remarkable growth (royal privileges, autonomous court of law) before suffering a major setback in the 18th century with the expulsion of the Protestants. Of the 20,000 Pongau exiles, many of whom settled in East Prussia and North America, 2,500 were from Sankt Johann.


During the Napoleonic Wars in 1809, when the province of Salzburg was controlled by France and Bavaria, Sankt Johann went through times of great need (Salzburg became part of Austria in 1816). After the French Wars Sankt Johann experienced a period of economic growth, which was defined by a variety of trades and significant livestock breeding. On May 31, 1855 a terrible fire reduced most of the town and the church to rubble. The church was then re-built in the New Gothic style though not in its present form. Construction was marred by the collapse of the spire in 1871. The “Pongau Cathedral” as it is known, with its two 62m tall spires was finally finished in 1876. The only historical building to survive from the middle ages is St. Anne’s Chapel which was originally part of a Gothic church ensemble.


During Wold War I, when Sankt Johann still comprised a market town and the surrounding rural community, 118 soldiers from the area were killed in action. In 1929 Sankt Johann was granted the right to carry a Coat of Arms bearing the symbol of St. John the Baptist.


From 1938 to 1945 Sankt Johann was forced to take the name “Markt Pongau” (Market Pongau). During the 2nd World War prisoners of war from Yugoslavia, France and the former USSR were kept within town limit. A Russian Cemetery located near the town centre bears witness to these times.


American troop withdrawal in 1955 spawned a rigorous expansion in development. The local economy underwent a period of rapid and steady growth based on retail, service and tourism. As a result, Sankt Johann also soon become a centre for education.


The last few years have seen tourism develop into one of the most important elements in Sankt Johann’s economy. The part of town known as the Alpendorf is a paradise for holiday-makers and serves as gateway to “Salzburger Sportwelt” and “Ski amadé”, two world-famous ski areas. Sankt Johann is also known for the nearby natural wonder of the Liechtenstein Gorge which was first made accessible to the public in 1876 and brings joy to over one hundred thousand visitors each year.