Salzburg is a city full to bursting with charm, history, impressively well preserved Baroque architecture and a listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There’s plenty of ways to view and tour the city- from a Mozart inspired adventure to a more architecture oriented exploration, I’d be hard pressed to say there isn’t something for everyone.
For me and Julia though, we were just happy to explore wherever the streets took us that Saturday we were there and they just so happened to wind us through countless churches and cathedrals (I say countless because we really did pass through a bunch and I didn’t take photographs at each so i’m honestly still not sure which all we saw…I want to say we saw and/or passed by at least 5 though). If you’ve ever looked at a city view photograph of Salzburg you should be able to immediately pick out the many cathedral domes and church towers- especially if its a view of the Altstadt ( the Old City on the left bank of the river)- so its definetly, as the city guide website puts it, a City of Churches.
After coming back down from our walk up to Hohensalzburg Castle we immediately veered of from the path we had taken before through a iron gate into what turned out to be The Petersfriedhof (St. Peter’s cemetery). Fans of The Sound of Music movie might know this as the cemetery where the von Trapp family found a secure hiding place before ultimately escaping to Switzerland- which, if your keen on it, I saw plenty of tour buses for Sound of The Music inspired tours in the area as well. This is also where we visited the Catacombs, but that along with the cemetery will be it’s own separate post. Stiftskirche Sankt Peter (St Peter’s Abbey) was where we went into after coming back down from the catacombs, and it was an unexpected rococo splendor.
With a history spanning back to 696 when it was founded by Saint Rupert, the abby is full of history and definetly worth at least a cursory visit. The romanesque abby church that is open to all visitors was erected around 1130- though it wasn’t dedicated to Saint Peter until 1147- and the interior that makes it such a beautiful place of worship was refurbished in the Rococo style between 1760 and 1782.
After leaving and walking for probably less than 15 minutes, we came across the Franziskanerkirche (Franciscan Church)- this would be the one with the slender steeple that’s almost instantly recognizable on the city skyline. This church is one of the oldest churches in Salzburg and it’s gothic style makes it a genuinely fascinating church to visit, from outside to the interior (though apparently I didn’t take any photos of the interior….or if I did my phone and/or camera ate them…?)
Finally the last church we came across and couldn’t help but visit was the gorgeous Baroque style Kollegienkirche (Collegiate Church). This ended up being my favorite of all the churches we visited that day, at least in Salzburg. From the moment you walk in, it’s an otherworldly experience. As soon as you shut the heavy doors behind you, the bustling of the busy square outside shuts off like water from a tap being turned off, and a calm hushed silence completely inundates you. The tall domed ceilings allow light spill into and over the beautifully renovated walls, and while there are plenty of statues, frescos and touches of rococo splendor to be found, its an overall restrained beauty you’ll find here. It’s hard to stand inside and not feel utterly small but, somehow, the expansive halls never once lose their intimacy.
I don’t consider myself a religious person, but I was raised in a fairly spiritual household and the iconography of Christianity was always in my life in one way or another. Rebellious and eager to strike out on my own, I went through a short lived but rather hardcore atheist period that really just drew a kind of “uh, ok then” reaction from my family and eventually petered out into a general agnostic view of things. Now, older and with a deep seated love for learning about history (especially with regards to the Byzantine empire), I find myself much more comfortable exploring these areas of western religion – whether it’s at a museum or in a centuries old cathedral – than I ever did before, mostly as a oddly knowledgeable and respectful outsider but every so often, if the mood is right, as a hands clasped reluctant believer.
Whichever one you find yourself as when visiting Salzburg though, I highly recommend taking a quiet walk through at least one of the churches here- not only for the architectural beauty on display but also as an integral step into understanding the city’s long and fascinating history.
Final post on Salzburg coming up next, after which will be a post about the Parish Church of St. Sebastian (also known sometimes as the Ramsau church) and then diving into some fairytale castles built by Ludwig II that Julia and I visited.