A city of salty riches…
Welcome to Salzburg blog fans! Nestled below the Austrian Alps, along the banks of the Salzach River – just 10km from the German-Austrian border – this is a city rich in history and natural beauty. It’s a lovely old town and we’re excited about being here to explore it for the next few days!
Salzburg has long been a very wealthy city; even today the city is one of the richest in Austria. Today much of that wealth comes from the 5 million tourists who visit the region every year, but this city’s prosperity was actually built on a foundation of salt. There are salt mines not far out of town and, back in the days when salt was one of the most important commodities in the world, Salzburg (translation = salt city) was a very rich town indeed. The city was also the capital of the a powerful Archdiocese of Salzburg, a part of the Holy Roman Empire from the 7th century to 1803.
This long history as a city of import is reflected in the city’s architecture; Salzburg’s old town is one of the best-preserved city centres north of the Alps – it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. There are Gothic churches, Baroque cathedrals and Renaissance palazzos aplenty – as we saw today from our vantage point up Festungsberg (translation = Fortress Mountain).
We left Innsbruck under cloudy skies this morning and rode the train to Salzburg, where it was not only cloudy but raining incessantly. Given the inclement weather we decided to seek refuge indoors and where better to hide from the rain than an 11th century fortress?! We spent our whole afternoon exploring the massive, hill-top edifice that is Schloss Hohensalzburg.
After checking in to our hotel and a quick lunch in Salzburg’s altstadt (translation = old town), we caught the funicular train up the hill to Hohensalzburg Castle. Perched high on the hill, 542m above Salzburg’s altstadt, Schloss Hohensalzburg is imposing. It was originally built in 1077 by Archbishop Gebhard von Helfenstein (during the times of the Holy Roman Empire, the archbishops of Salzburg were powerful political figures with considerable interests to protect), then substantially enlarged by Archbishop Leonhart von Keutschach in 1519. Today it is one of the largest, fully-preserved medieval fortresses in Europe.
Originally the castle was designed to be a purely defensive structure, but over time it became a princely home for the Archbishops of Salzburg. As we toured through the many rooms of Hohensalzburg we could see how the transition has influenced the architecture and decoration of the rooms. The oldest parts of the castle were much darker and lacked detailing, whereas the 16th century additions were richly decorated with intricate gothic wood-carvings and ornamental paintings in every room.
The Golden Hall was especially impressive, with its ornate ceiling and gold-painted wooden detailing. The hall was originally built as a reception hall where the Archbishop would meet visiting dignitaries. Today the hall is hired out for classical music concerts where the most popular choice of music includes works by Wolfganag Amadeus Mozart because, you see, Mozrt was born in Salzburg!
In the early 1800s it was used as barracks, storage depot and dungeon before being abandoned as a military outpost in 1861. Hohensalzburg Castle was then refurbished from the late 19th century and quickly became a major tourist attraction. We certainly enjoyed our afternoon touring through the fortress and all its exhibits.
As an interesting side note, Salzburg is a dream holiday destination for music fans from around the world because not only was this the birthplace of 18th century composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, it was also the setting for the “Sound of Music” film (think Julie Andrews and the von Trapp family). We found out today that the von Trapps were actually a real family from around here who really did sing together. There really was a “Maria” who was going to be a nun, but ended up marrying Goerg von Trapp; and the family really did escape Nazi-occupied Austria during World War II. All these facts from the movie are correct, but there are definitely some “Hollywoodisms*” that snuck into the film (*stuff Hollywood producers made up to make the movie more appealing to the masses). For example:
- Maria came to the von Trapp family in 1926 as a tutor for one of the children who was recovering from scarlet fever, not as governess to all the children.
- Maria and Georg married in 1927, 11 years before the family left Austria, not right before the Nazi takeover of Austria.
- There were 10, not 7, von Trapp children. The names, ages and sexes of the children were changed for the movie too.
- The family did not secretly escape over the Alps to freedom in Switzerland, carrying their suitcases and musical instruments. They left by train to Italy and then continued on to the USA where they performed for many years.
There are a heap of tours available in and around Salzburg that take avid “Sound of Music” fans to all the key sites used in the original movie. Shane and I thought about taking one of these tours for giggles but the thought of being stuck on a bus with 50 people allloudly and gaily singing “Doe a deer, a female deer…” (and other such classics), had us foaming at the mouth in terror.