On the value of salt, French royalty, and Austria’s most notorious art theft

Salt made Austria rich.

In a country without gold, silver, or even a port, salt deposits from the prehistoric sea under the alps was a precious resource for trade. People received their wages in salt. The city of Salzburg and the Salzkammergut region of the country both take their names from the so-called white gold.

It’s easy to forget this when you stand in Spar, listening to Europop on the supermarket radio and weighing up boxes of salt that cost less than 2 a…