Episode 86 – Looking back wistfully: Salzburg, July 2016

Mozart, mountains, monasteries, and music.

Salzburg really checked all the boxes for us. We stayed at the Altstadt Hotel Wolf Dietrich, named after the Prince-archbishop of Salzburg from 1587-1612. The hotel consists of buildings on two sides of Wolf Dietrich Strasse, in a curious parallel to the city itself which spans both sides of the Salzach River. The hotel was in the Old City (Altstadt) on the left bank, across from the 19th century “new” city (Neustadt) on the right bank, in walking distance of everything the city has to offer.

We were in Salzburg mainly to cross an item off my personal bucket list: attending the opening night of a major classical music festival, which we did and which was every bit as wonderful as I had imagined.

But beyond that, Salzburg was filled with historic, cultural and architectural wonders.

The city’s landscape is dominated by 3 hills: the Kapuzinerberg, the Mönchsberg, and the Festungsberg, each of which are worth ascending.

We climbed up (and – many, many footsteps later – back down) the stairs of a stone laneway tucked between shops housed in baroque era buildings on Linzergasse to access the pathways leading to the top of the Kapuzinerberg, location of a Capuchin cloister dating back to 1602 that is home to a set of 15th century wooden reliefs.

(above) From the top of the hill, at an elevation of 640 metres, we got the first of many wonderful views of the city below.

(above) Accessing the top of the Mönchsberg, 507 metres above the river, involved a modern elevator from a visitor centre, and gave a different perspective across the top of the city looking at the Hohensalzburg Fortress which dominates the landscape from atop the Festenberg.

(above) Perhaps the most impressive view, though, is the angle from the top of the Festungsberg itself, at the fortress of Hohensalzburg, an elevation of 506 metres accessed by funicular. From the fortress’ vantage point you can see the entire city on both sides of the river.

(above) The walk to the funicular is as picturesque as everything else about Salzburg.

Hohensalzburg Fortress is one of the largest medieval fortresses in Europe. It looks huge when viewed from below, as in the photo above, but it is when you are inside it that you fully realize how vast its 250 m (820 ft) length and 150 m (490 ft) width make it – and then add the soaring walls and towers to that feeling of immensity. The oldest parts of the fortress date to 1077 AD; the “newest” to 1519.

We were able to tour the Golden Hall, Golden Chamber, bedchamber, and more – including a marionette museum that had a marionette Von Trapp family! The variety of furnishings and artifacts that have survived is impressive; while the fortress was never attacked after 1525, it was surrendered to the French during the Napoleonic wars, and served various purposes during the world wars, including being a site for the internment of Italian POWs. Of course, the fortress also housed the expected displays of weaponry and medieval-looking torture devices, but let’s just focus on the marionettes, shall we?

One of our favourite areas of this compact city at the bottom of the hills was the area surrounding St. Peter’s: the abbey and church, catacombs, and the gorgeous old cemetery. St. Peter’s Abbey was established in 696AD, making it the oldest continuously operating abbey in the German-speaking countries of what was the Holy Roman Empire.

(above) The present-day church, separate from the abbey, was constructed beginning in 1130 and dedicated in 1147. It is in the Romanesque style, with a gorgeous golden pipe organ as one of its most beautiful features.

In the rock walls beside the cemetery are catacombs dating to the period before the Middle Ages, probably between the 3rd and 7th centuries, pre-dating the establishment of the abbey itself. The stairs and tunnels carved into the mountainside are in amazingly good condition; the wooden handrail is a more recent addition, but climbing into the carved chapels feels surprisingly safe.

(above) St. Peter’s Friedhof (churchyard/cemetery) as viewed through one of the small windows carved into the catacomb walls.

The original cemetery here was laid out in around 700 AD, with the oldest surviving graves dating to the 13th century. The cemetery is so lush and beautiful, and in such a central location, that there are always people strolling through it.

(above) A few of the many, many notable graves in St Peter’s Churchyard. (Top) Markers for seven members of the Stumpfogger family, dating from 1708 to 1740. (Bottom) The crypt of W.A. Mozart’s sister, and Johann Michael Haydn, the church organist known as Brother Joseph.

Back on our hotel’s side of the river, we walked around the corner to the gardens of Mirabell Palace (above). It was approaching supper hour, so the palace interiors were closed for the day, but we enjoyed the flowers, sculptures, and fountains of this inner-city palace. Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich must really have loved his mistress Salome Alt to build her this beautiful place in 1606. In the 18th century, this palace’s Marble Hall would have heard music played by Mozart himself; it is still used as a wedding venue and occasional concert hall.

Salzburg is, of course, the city of Mozart. We toured the unassuming house in which he was born in 1756, located a short walk from our hotel.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was buried in a pauper’s grave in Vienna, but his wife Costanze (Constantia von Nissen after her remarriage) has a beautiful gravesite in St. Sebastian’s Churchyard in Salzburg, along with Mozart’s father Leopold.

St. Sebastian’s Churchyard is a stunning courtyard filled with interesting gravestones, monuments, and niches – an absolute repository of history. I was fascinated by the fact that many crypts were decorated with skeletal figures, others had crying cherubs; one family had an entire marble-tiled chapel complete with its own altar.

We were also able to look into the church itself, built between the years 1505 and 1512. As is the case in many of the working churches in Austria, the sanctuary is closed to the public (via ornate iron gates) except during services.

Our final event in Salzburg was the gala opening concert for the 2016 Salzburger Festspiele (Festival), held every year since 1920. Yes, this is the same festival dramatized in The Sound of Music, although after WWII it was converted into a festival of classical, operatic, and dramatic music. “Our” opening night featured Haydn’s 1798 oratorio Die Schöpfung (The Creation), which tells the story of the Book of Genesis. It was fabulous – not only the music, which was glorious, but also the experience. It made it totally worth lugging formalwear all over Germany and Austria so that we could glitter along with the rest of the crowd.

Would we go back? Absolutely! There is so much more cake to be eaten and coffee to be enjoyed!

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