LivingTravelSalzburg Cathedral: The Complete Guide

Salzburg Cathedral: The Complete Guide

The Salzburg Basilica is a landmark in the city, and it doesn’t matter if you believe in God or not, there is simply no way you can leave without visiting it. Graceful crowned by a bulbous copper dome and twin spiers, Salzburg Cathedral (“Dom zu Salzburg” in German) stands out as a masterpiece of early Baroque art. The church in the heart of the historic center has been hit by no less than ten fires and has been completely rebuilt three times over the centuries. It bears witness to the power of the archbishops of Salzburg to this day.

 

Each year, more than two million people visit the city’s church center where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was baptized and later performed some of his most popular songs for churchgoers. As part of the historic center of Salzburg, it was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1997.

Story

The first cathedral on the site dates from 774. Built by Saint Virgil, an Irish priest with unusually modern views for his time (he believed the earth was round, resulting in a number of complaints to the Pope). Less than 70 years after its construction, the cathedral experienced its first fire, caused by lightning.

In 1598, after the basilica was expanded with two towers and a crypt, another fire nearly destroyed it. Archbishop Prince Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau, a fan of modern Italian Baroque architecture, tried halfway to restore it, but soon ordered its demolition, much to the anger of the people of Salzburg. Raitenau hired the Italian artist Vincenzo Scamozzi to build a completely new cathedral. However, the plans never saw the light of day, as the Prince Archbishop was overthrown shortly after and died behind bars.

The new prince-archbishop Markus Sittikus von Hohenems hired the Italian architect Santino Solari, who modified Scamozzi’s plans. The new basilica was consecrated in 1628 and the towers were completed some 40 years later.

During the Second World War, the Salzburg Cathedral was destroyed once again. A bomb tore through the central dome and smashed it to pieces. The basilica as we know it today was completed in 1959.

Highlights of the visit

Before entering, take a close look at the facade of the Cathedral: the doors display the three divine virtues Faith, Love and Hope, while the dates above them (774, 1628, 1959) are reminders of the three times that the Cathedral was consecrated. You will also notice four huge statues in front of the main entrance: they represent the apostles Peter and Paul (with keys and sword) and the two patron saints Virgil (who built the first cathedral) and Rupert, the patron saint of Salzburg.

One of the first things that will catch your attention is the baptismal font. Dating back to the early 1300s, this is where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was baptized on January 28, 1756, the day after his birth. Later he regularly played the «Hoforgel», one of the five organs of the Cathedral. It can still be seen today, on the southeast side of the church. Legend has it that Joseph Mohr, the composer of “Silent Night,” was baptized with the same font as the composer.

Now look up and marvel at the dome. At 232 feet (71 meters) tall, it is probably the most impressive feature of the Salzburg Cathedral. It shows 16 frescoes in two rows, each representing a scene from the Old Testament. The works are connected to those in the cathedral nave, all painted by the same Italian artists, Donato Mascagni and Ignazio Solari.

The crypt on the right side of the main altar is worth visiting. Here you will find what remains of the first two churches. You can also see the graves of many of the archbishops of Salzburg, except Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau, who was buried in the churchyard of the Church and Cemetery of Saint Sebastian in Linzer Gasse.

In town for a church vacation? Consider yourself lucky, as you will receive a feast for the ears for free: At 3 pm sharp, the seven bells ring together for a couple of minutes. They all have names ranging from Barbara (the smallest) to Salvator (the largest). The latter weighs 31,429 pounds (14,256 kilograms) and is the largest (and heaviest) bell in Austria after the “Pummerin” at St. Stephen in Vienna.

how to visit

Finding the Salzburg Cathedral is easy, as it is literally in the heart of the old town. Located next to the Residence Castle and St. Peter’s Monastery, it is on Domplatz that the “Jedermann” (Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s most famous work) is held every year during the Salzburg Festival (“Salzburger Festspiele”).

The cathedral’s opening hours vary by month. January, February and November, it is open from 8 am to 5 pm Monday through Saturday and from 1 pm to 5 pm on Sundays. During March, April, October and December, it is open from 8 am to 6 pm Monday through Saturday and from 1 pm to 6 pm on Sundays. In May and August, it is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday and from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Entrance to the cathedral and crypt is still free, although there are plans to start charging admission from July 2019. When visiting, please note that the crypt is closed during Masses.

What to do nearby

Salzburg Cathedral is part of the famous DomQuartier. So now that you’re there, why not explore a little more? The all-inclusive ticket costs 10-12 euros and gives you access to the Cathedral Museum (displaying art treasures from 1,300 years of church history, including the 8th century St. Rupert Cross), the private cabins of the Prince Archbishops at the St. Peter’s Abbey Museum and Residence Palace (see historical artifacts and learn about the history of the oldest monastery in the German-speaking world).

After the cathedral and exhibitions, enjoy the historic center, shop the Getreidegasse and enjoy some delicious ‘Mozart balls’.

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