Monday, July 29, 2013

Rock Me Amadeus

Salzburg Cathedral seen through one of the cannon ports in Fortress Hohensalzburg.
It's been three weeks now since I've returned from Bavaria. My blogging has been derailed by a trip to Vegas and a visit with my niece but I think it's about time I got back to my what-I-did-on-my-summer vacation posts before the impressions of that trip become too dulled by the liters of German beer I consumed while over there.

After four nights in Munich, my Bavarian itinerary took me to Salzburg, Austria for a couple of days before returning back to Germany for three more nights. The side trip to Salzburg was primarily to get us closer to the Berchtesgaden National Park but I thought crossing the border would allow us to take in the culture of a different city, learn a little bit about the city's most famous son, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and find some apple strudel.

The trip from Munich to Salzburg by train takes about two hours, about the same time as it took to get to Hohenschwangau two days earlier. And just like the trip to Hohenschwangau, the ride to Austria takes you from the flat country around Munich into the beginnings of the Alps, although the terrain becomes hillier way sooner. You start to see mountains in the distance about a half an hour into the journey and the climb is pretty obvious.

As a city, Salzburg is a lot smaller than where we had been the previous few days, with a population of about 200,000 compared to over 1.3 million in Munich in an area about one fifth the size. Both cities have an old city or altstadt. Munich's is walkable in about 30-45 minutes; Salzburg's takes about 15. The city is established along the river Salzach and is situated around a large hill which is topped by a forbidding looking castle. The altstadt, complete with the church after church after church which are ubiquitous in Bavaria, sits at the bottom of the hill. The entirety of Salzburg's altstadt is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its collection of baroque buildings. Perhaps embarrassingly, we compared walking down the streets of the altstadt to walking in the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. What can I say...we are sometimes very American.



Settlement in the Salzburg area stretches back to before the time of Christ but the place became the beginnings of today's city in the late seventh century under the Archbishopric of Salzburg. From that time until the city's surrender to Napoleon in 1803, the city was church run, with the succession of Archbishops of Salzburg as the city's top official. There were times that the city was part of the Holy Roman Empire during this period, but whoever the Archbishop was at the time remained essentially the ruler of the city. This was very much a revelation for me. I had run out of time to research the history and importance of the city prior to starting this trip. As it turned out, the two major buildings we visited were both built by the Archbishopric and served as very different illustrations of that office's power.

The most prominent building in Salzburg is Fortress Hohensalzburg (literally high salt fortress - Salzburg was named for salt, the source of its wealth), first erected atop the city's highest hill in the year 1077 and added to over the subsequent centuries. Construction of the fortress was started by Archbishop Gebhard von Helfenstein as protection from the Holy Roman Emperor in the event that there was some dispute between the Emperor and the seated Pope because the Archbishop would inevitably take the side of the Pope. Apparently in those days, disputes could easily devolve into armed conflicts. Actually it's probably not much different today. 

After a couple of days climbing large hills / small mountains in Hohenschwangau and Andechs, the climb to the base of Fortress Hohensalzburg looked daunting. Fortunately, we elected to spend a couple of extra Euros on the funicular ride which got us to the top in about two minutes. Once you are at the base of the fortress, the entire city of Salzburg becomes visible and you can really understand how packed the altstadt is.



The Fortress itself is huge. It's like a small city built to hold the entire population of Salzburg in condensed form. It is without doubt a real castle built to withstand sieges, unlike the two castles I visited in Hohenschwangau two days earlier. The Fortress was equipped with its own water and salt stores for curing food, meaning the city had the ability to withstand assault for some time. The Fortress, as it turns out, was never taken by force and that's very easy to understand having visited. Not that I'd want to try to take over any castle, but looking up at Fortress Hohensalzburg, the thought of conquering it seems extremely daunting. The only time it was ever turned over was when the region surrendered to Napoleon during his conquest of Europe.

Interior of Fortress Hohensalzburg.
From the tower of Fortress Hohensalzburg looking about 8 km to the south, one can make out Hellbrun Palace at the base of a small hill. This was our next destination. Just like the Fortress, Hellbrun Palace was also built by the Archbishopric of Salzburg. But instead of being built for protection of the entire city, Hellbrun Palace was built basically as a day trip getaway for the Archbishop to party with neighboring noblemen. I'm not kidding.

The Palace was built from 1613-1619 by Archbishop Markus Sittikus von Hohenems. Apparently the Archbishopric was flush with cash in the early 1600s because the whole place was built entirely for his own amusement. The property features a small palace (OK, small for a palace) with room after room for entertaining and then vast gardens with the main attraction being a series of fountains to entertain, soak and sometimes just make fun of guests visiting for the day.


The highlight here truly is the fountains and I can imagine at the time these were first built that they were amazing to behold. There are static fountains featuring many many ibexes (the Archbishop's personal symbol); man made grottoes with fountains made to amuse visitors; various scenes featuring mechanical figures which move based on the movement of water nearby; and hidden fountains designed purely to douse the guests.

Some of these fountains, all seen via a timed tour, are actually really remarkable considering they were built 400 years ago. The most impressive for me was the fountain that elevates and lowers a shining crown on a column of water. The rise and fall of the crown symbolizes the rise and fall of royal power, which to me just illustrates how much power the church enjoyed 400 years ago in Salzburg. They clearly thought they would outlast royal rule. I guess nobody rules forever.

The Roman Fountain. If you go and the guide asks for volunteers to sit at the table, do it. But sit at the head. Trust me.
The juxtaposition of these two attractions on this day was not intentional but provided a good overview of the history of the city before exploring some lesser attractions. The remainder of our time in Salzburg was spent roaming the altstadt; eating and drinking; and visiting the two Mozart themed attractions, his birthplace and his family's residence. If you decide to go to these last two, take my advice and just visit his birthplace. The building is original to Mozart (rather than a reconstruction like the residence) and tells the story far more authentically and thoroughly than the residence. If your aim is to know how to identify portraits of Mozart, go to the residence. It covers that subject in great detail throughout its six rooms. For me it offered little else.

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