Zell am See is an alpine city in the Zell Valley in Salzburg, Austria, and the capital of its own administrative district. Its name refers to the 68 m deep lake (See in German) with which it shares the valley. Zell am See is an important tourist hub owing to its airport, and makes up the majority of the Zell am See-Kaprun ski area.
The Zell Valley area around the lake was continuously populated since Roman times. In 740 AD, monks founded a village called “Cella” in the Pinzgau region, then called “Bisonzio“. The name cella refers to the private quarters of a monk (a cell) in the context of a monastery. When Zell received the rights of a market town in 1357, it started growing quickly. It was involved in the German Peasants Wars in 1526, and heavy fighting occurred in and around the city against troops of the Swabian League.
From the early 19th century, Zell was occupied by invading French forces during the Napoleonic Wars. The city finally joined the Austrian Empire by resolution of the Vienna Congress of 1816. When neighboring town Saalfelden became the capital of the Pinzgau administrative region in 1850, the Zell’s mayor successfully managed to relocate the seat of the council to Zell, increasing its political importance in the region.
Zell quickly transformed from a town with agricultural focus into one with a tourism emphasis after the Salzburg-Tyrol railway opened in 1875 and made the town more accessible. It first focused on a summer tourist season, but after it received city rights in 1928 it quickly expanded and evolved into a ski resort in the second half of the 20th century.
As a corridor through the Kitzbühel Alps, the Zell Valley connects the Saalfelden Basin of the Saalach river to the north of Zell am See with the Salzach in the south. It is ca. 19 km north of the Grossglockner, with 3,798 m the highest mountain in Austria, in the Hohe Tauern.
Like many alpine towns in valleys east of the Brenner Pass, Zell am See has cold winters with a lot of precipitation which usually falls as snow from November until February. Rain can be expected year round, although summer months are dryer than winter months.