In collaboration with the
International Astronomical Union


Category of Astronomical Heritage: dark skies
Eastern Alpine and Großmugl starlight areas (multiple locations): General description

Format: Full Description (IAU Extended Case Study format)

Identification of the property

Country/State Party 
  • InfoTheme: ‘Windows to the universe’: Starlight, dark-sky areas and observatory sites
    Entity: 87
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 4
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2017-05-10 17:03:01
    Author(s): Günther Wuchterl

Austria

 

State/Province/Region 
  • InfoTheme: ‘Windows to the universe’: Starlight, dark-sky areas and observatory sites
    Entity: 87
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 3
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2017-05-10 17:04:15
    Author(s): Günther Wuchterl

Lower Austria, Upper Austria and Styria. The Großmugl Starlight Oasis is within the Korneuburg district, Lower Austria

 

Name 
  • InfoTheme: ‘Windows to the universe’: Starlight, dark-sky areas and observatory sites
    Entity: 87
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 5
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2017-05-10 17:04:34
    Author(s): Günther Wuchterl

Two separate sites:

 

Maps and plans,
showing boundaries of property and buffer zone 
  • InfoTheme: ‘Windows to the universe’: Starlight, dark-sky areas and observatory sites
    Entity: 87
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 16
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2017-11-23 11:25:15
    Author(s): Günther Wuchterl

Fig 1 shows the general location of the proposed core areas of the Eastern Alpine Starlight Reserve and of the Großmugl Starlight Oasis.

The Alpine Arc and Central Europe at night.  <str

Fig. 1. The Alpine Arc and Central Europe at night.  Top: Upward light from satellite measurements (background image), with state boundaries superimposed in purple, and the Austrian border highlighted in light blue. The bar at the lower right indicates 500 km.  Bottom: Magnification of the part within Austria. Provincial boundaries are shown in blue. Bright green patches show the proposed Eastern Alpine Starlight Reserve cores and the Großmugl Starlight Oasis (with yellow boundary). Blue-green denotes additional IUCN category I and II protected areas in Austria, while dark green marks selected nature protection areas (for orientation). Blue stars denote light-monitoring stations that were set up for this study. They monitor light levels resulting from light shining downwards onto the sites. Chart and image: G. Wuchterl. Background image: NASA Black Marble

 

Justification for inscription

Comparative analysis 
  • InfoTheme: ‘Windows to the universe’: Starlight, dark-sky areas and observatory sites
    Entity: 87
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 4
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2017-05-10 17:05:44
    Author(s): Günther Wuchterl

See separate analyses for Eastern Alpine Starlight Reserve and Großmugl Starlight Oasis. A comparative analysis of natural values other than dark-sky quality, important as they are, is beyond the scope of this case study.

 

Integrity and/or authenticity 
  • InfoTheme: ‘Windows to the universe’: Starlight, dark-sky areas and observatory sites
    Entity: 87
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 21
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2017-11-23 11:44:54
    Author(s): Günther Wuchterl

It is beyond the scope of this case study to attempt a complete, integrated discussion of integrity and authenticity including both astronomical and non-astronomical aspects. Instead, we focus upon the possible connections and relations between astronomically determined environmental factors in a broad sense and potential additional cultural, archaeological and science-historical values.

From a cultural perspective, the authenticity of the night sky must surely concern how well its appearance today reflects its appearance to the cultures that had a connection with it in the past. From a natural perspective, the question is perhaps how well the integrated sky-landscape system conveys the exceptional nature of both together. Either way, a critical factor is sky quality, as discussed in other sections. Complete visibility of the entire firmament is an important factor that can relate to integrity if natural views have been compromised.

While a relatively intact night sky remained in most places long after astronomers first noted light pollution in the 19th century, it is now evident that the night-time situation has significantly changed the appearance of many heritage sites—including World Heritage Sites—at night. Part of this may even result, ironically, from efforts to enhance the appearance of the heritage itself, by lighting it at night. In this context it is significant that the large tumulus at Großmugl, itself intact and unopened, sits beneath an authentic night sky (see Großmugl Fig. 4), even though the tomb itself has no evident material connection to the sky. The possibility of such connections has been explored in the case of the Lange Ries circular ditched enclosure near Steinabrunn (Zotti et al. 2009) but they have low credibility (Zotti and Neubauer 2015).

Given their proximity to the Großmugl site, we can use the two World Heritage Sites in Vienna—its historic centre and the Schönbrunn Imperial Castle—to illustrate what integrity and authenticity, and their loss, may mean at night in a cultural environment.

1852 painting of Friedrich II playing the flute un

Fig. 2. 1852 painting of Friedrich II playing the flute under the ’crown-light‘, a symbol of ultimate luxury. Creative Commons license.

Today it is impossible to see Schönbrunn Castle or St. Stephen’s Cathedral in authentic night-light, but seeing them by starlight or moonlight, especially during the long winter nights, was as normal at the time they were built as the daytime view still is for us now. And much of the representative ’luxury‘ of such sites may well be related to the particularities of night-culture. In ’enlightened‘ courts the ultimate luxury was the crown-light (candelabrum) (Fig. 2): one used by King Friedrich II cost the equivalent of 5 annual salaries of his court musician Karl Phillip Emanuel Bach. (N.B. The court of Friedrich II shown in the picture is actually in Potsdam, not in Vienna.) Being able to afford to sleep during the day and sustain night-time activities against the classic dangers of darkness was one of the highest social privileges. Yet light levels were surprisingly dim (5 Lux for the scene in Fig. 2, as measured in a recent reconstruction experiment). The crown-light and all the candles and mirrors were not creating brightness but rather a ’Christmas tree‘ atmosphere, making the room come to life. In those days people came into the royal light from a dark park outside, through a sequence of court-rooms with slowly increasing candle-contingent and smaller crown-lights, not through rooms housing modern ceiling floodlights which reveal all the splendour in something as close to daylight as present-day lighting technology can provide. The dimness seems unnatural to us because we have lost the ’art of seeing‘ at night—we are culturally night-blind.

Regarding the exterior of Schönbrunn Castle, a significant effort has been made to reconstruct the authentic daytime view of the façade in the ’Schönbrunn-yellow‘ colour that was ’iconic‘ in the Austro-Hungarian empire. But what of the night-time view? The Gloriette originally appeared as a moon-lit prominence in the imperial gardens as viewed from a candle-lit mirror ballroom. Nowadays it has to fight for contrast with the modern ballroom illumination, a fight for the attention that can only be won for the viewer inside by using lighting technology on the megawatt scale.

In general terms, a comparatively well-preserved night sky can strengthen the authenticity of astronomical attributes of value not only at a cultural site—including helping to provide a physical context for astronomical narration—but also at a natural one, since the sky forms the upper half of the natural environment, with the landscape below. Genuine night-light contributes to the integrity of the night-time environment (e.g. by allowing the original species to survive and exhibit their authentic behaviour) and is thus a basic contributing factor to the heritage value of a range of natural and cultural monuments and artefacts, both indoors and outdoors. Just as a curator’s efforts to better display pieces of art by bringing daylight into the exhibition is action towards the goal of authenticity, the Starlight Reserve or Starlight Oasis is a tool for similar efforts at night. It maintains the natural night-time illumination upon our heritage in places where people still live and conserves important elements of the night-time environment in an inhabited area.

 

Criteria under which inscription might be proposed 
  • InfoTheme: ‘Windows to the universe’: Starlight, dark-sky areas and observatory sites
    Entity: 87
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 4
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2017-05-11 12:12:24
    Author(s): Günther Wuchterl

  • Criterion (v): Sustaining human habitability in the extreme Alpine environment has engendered a wide range of cultural activities since the Bronze Age.

    The region around Großmugl is the oldest cultural landscape in Austria with continuous settlement, which extends back more than seven millennia. The Großmugl large tumulus is iconic of the early Hallstatt period, and the surrounding archaeological landscape includes the Lange Ries circular ditched enclosure, 88m in diameter, and other monuments and grave-fields that bear witness to human activity on the northern shores of the Danube as far back as the early 5th millennium BCE.

  • Criterion (vii): In the Eastern Alpine Starlight Reserve, the ragged mountain scenery and the superb sky quality combine to produce nocturnal phenomena of the utmost aesthetic importance.

    The Großmugl area, with its wide horizons and remarkable sky quality, contains a sky-landscape system that also provides exceptional day and night-time beauty, including the spectacular sight of the Milky Way arching above the large tumulus.

  • Criterion (x): The Alpine primary forest within the Dürrenstein Wildernis area contains significant natural habitats for the in situ conservation of biological diversity, including threatened species.

 

Suggested statement of OUV 
  • InfoTheme: ‘Windows to the universe’: Starlight, dark-sky areas and observatory sites
    Entity: 87
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 3
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2017-05-11 12:18:50
    Author(s): Günther Wuchterl

The Dürrenstein Wildernis area, with its last remaining stretch of Alpine primary forest, contains the ultimate in-situ conservation area for numerous species, including unique species, supported by and depending on the original soil and dead-wood organisms with their fungi and micro-flora and fauna. The larger species form a prototypical Urwald (primeval forest), where the ’Urlicht‘ (pristine sky) naturally blends in with the ragged mountain scenery resulting in exceptional beauty both by day and by night.

In addition to their own important species, the Gesäuse and Kalkalpen national parks sustain and protect Alp management—the human land-use practices such as high-altitude agriculture that have supported human life over the millennia as well as the other species that have adapted to it.

At Großmugl the combination of sky, prehistory, history and city is exceptional. The Großmugl Starlight Oasis is a sky-landscape system with outstanding remains from the Hallstatt and mid-Neolithic periods including an outstanding large tumulus in an authentic night-time environment of exceptional beauty, including nocturnal phenomena of aesthetic importance such as the arching Milky Way, situated close to Vienna, a city that is itself of considerable significance in the development of Renaissance astronomy.

 

Documentation

Bibliography 
  • InfoTheme: ‘Windows to the universe’: Starlight, dark-sky areas and observatory sites
    Entity: 87
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 5
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2017-11-23 12:01:14
    Author(s): Günther Wuchterl

Cited publications

Zotti, G., Neubauer, W., Schneidhofer, P. and Totschnig, R., 2009. Simulation of astronomical aspects of Middle Neolithic circular ditch systems. ArchéoSciences 33 (suppl.), 379-382.

Zotti G. and Neubauer W., 2015. Astronomical and topographical orientation of Kreisgrabenanlagen in Lower Austria. In F. Pimenta, N. Ribeiro, F. Silva, N. Campion, A. Joaquinito and L. Tirapicos (eds.), Stars and Stones: Voyages in Archaeoastronomy and Cultural Astronomy. Archaeopress (BAR International Series 2720), Oxford, pp. 188-193.

 

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