A historical guide to Salzburg

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I was feeling a little disheartened when our train stopped at Salzburg. Fellow travellers had little to no information, and all tours on offer were themed after Mozart or the Sound of Music. Julie Andrews-shaped alarms started going off in my head as soon as we arrived at the station. Moments later, a chorus of prepubescent Von Trapp children also chimed in. My mood was worsening — and not even a hunky (in an old-timey way, at least) captain could lighten my mood.


Yet, honestly, I believe my reluctance came from the fact that I’ve never encountered a city without a historical tour. They’re the first thing we head to at the beginning of every trip: we gather our bearings, pinpoint areas on the map, discover the city’s history through the eyes of an expert and roughly find out where we’re actually meant to be going.

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Salzburg city centre

So we set ourselves a task: create a two-day itinerary that would satisfy all historical, architectural, culinary and entertainment needs. As this could become quite the bibliography, I’m separating the post into two parts. While this Salzburg post mostly focuses on historical sites, the next one will offer more food and party-friendly take. Don’t panic over the lack of Mozart here: he’ll make an appearance in the next post.

Old Town is the place for anything and everything

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Salzburgs’s Old Town

Salzburg’s “Old Town” (Altstadt) is renowned for its baroque architecture, and is one of the best-preserved city centres north of the Alps. As you may have gathered by the title, you could easily spend your entire visit inside its narrow streets. The area is mostly cut off from traffic, making it the ultimate hotel location. Old Town’s pedestrian streets also benefit from large concentrations of boutique shops, for those who have money burning out of their backpacks (I would’ve, but all money had been shrewdly separated by my boyfriend). If you’re lucky enough to venture to Salzburg around Christmas, you’ll also have the opportunity to see the Christmas markets that pop up in December time.

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Hotel Krone 1512

We opted to stay in Hotel Krone 1512 on Linzer Grasse, a small hotel less than a five minute walk from the Salzach River. A relatively small one, it takes its name from the original construction date (part of the material had been exposed and made into a decorative feature). Thanks to some overbooking, we got upgraded to what can only be called a brochure-worthy room (where I didn’t know what to be more in awe of: how old the hotel was or how beautiful the free-standing bath tub was).

Whether it was more of a hindrance or a plus, we could also hear the bells ringing every hour between 6am until 10pm. Although it can serve as a great wake up call, just make sure you’re capable of blocking out the rest of the chimes.

Salzburg Cathedral

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Salzburg Cathedral

Salzburg Cathedral is a 17th century Baroque cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese. As is typical in other Catholic buildings, the nave was intricately decorated in the Baroque style under Prince-Bishop Wolf Dietrich Raitenau to its present appearance. For those of you pining for a Mozart fun fact, Salzburg Cathedral still contains the baptismal font in which the famous composer was baptised.

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The cathedral is adjacent to Residenzplatz and Domplatz in the Old Town area of the city. Domplatz is accessed by three open arcade arches, which in turn unite the cathedral with the Salzburg Residenz and St. Peter’s Abbey. The enclosed square that forms as a consequence gives the illusion of one giant facade.

Sphaera (Balkenhol, 2007)

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Sphaera

Turn into Kapitelplatz and you may encounter an odd sight. The German artist Stephan Balkenhol created two sculptures to be displayed publicly in the Old Town centre. The one above, “Sphaera” is about nine metres high and shows a male figure on a golden sphere with a neutral expression. If you follow his line of sight, you might be able to see “Woman in the Rock”, Balkenhol’s 140 cm-tall female counterpart. Its significance remains open to interpretation, yet most agree that each piece represents everyday reality for the world’s population, anonymously living throughout the years without ever crossing paths.

Hohensalzburg Castle

Hohensalzburg Castle

Hohensalzburg Fortress (Festung Hohensalzburg), overlooking the Old Town, is one of the largest, fully-preserved castles in Europe. During its long history, the fortress has always remained unconquered by enemy troops. Initially built in 1077 and extended throughout the years, the building was made more accessible following the construction of the funicular railway in 1892.

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Having served as a fortification and temporary residence of the prince archbishops for many years, the fortress also served as military barracks and a prison. Prince Archbishop Wolf Dietrich was held captive in the fortress for five years by his nephew and successor, Markus Sittikus, up to his death in 1617.

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Outer facade of Hohensalzburg Castle

Today the fortress is open to the public all year round, and artists from around the world meet here for courses at the International Summer Academy. The monument also holds the Fortress Museum and several courtyards.

Mirabell Palace and Gardens

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Mirabell Palace

For everyone who loves viewing wonders for free (and really, who doesn’t?), head over to the Mirabell Palace and its gardens. Listed as a cultural heritage monument, the garden’s name (from the Italian mirabile, bella: “amazing”, “wonderful”) barely does it justice. While the palace was remodelled in a Neoclassical style after a fire in 1818; the gardens are geometrically-arranged and decorated with mythology-themed statues dating from 1730.

Mirabell Gardens

Whilst best known for its symmetrical boxwood layout, the garden also has several greenhouses that keep flora from all over the world. These too are open to the public (even in winter), so be sure to check them out.

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The second part to this Salzburg post is coming soon. Anything historical that you’d like to add to the list (no, I didn’t forget Mozart. He will be on the next one). In the meantime, check out the rest of the site or follow me @sideroutes for more updates.

 

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