Historical Religious Buildings Walking Tour, Salzburg

Historical Religious Buildings Walking Tour (Self Guided), Salzburg

The historic center of Salzburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, is home to numerous landmarks, including religious sites. Collectively, these historical sanctuaries, from small churches to the impressive Baroque-style Salzburg Cathedral, bear witness to the city's fascinating past and contribute a great deal of charm to its alluring present.

The local Saint Peter's Abbey is one of the oldest monastic settlements in the German-speaking world. Its tranquil graveyard is an attraction in its own right.

The Franciscan Church is another medieval monument in the vicinity. Its Gothic architecture and serene atmosphere make it a true gem, inviting visitors to explore its peaceful interior.

The Collegiate Church boasts a richness of Baroque. Its stunning façade and interior showcase the evolution of Salzburg's religious architecture over the centuries.

Saint Michael's Church, with its bell tower, is a notable feature on Salzburg's skyline. Inside, the church boasts exquisite frescoes and a colorful altar, making it a point of interest for art and history enthusiasts alike.

Finally, the Nonnberg Convent, perched atop a hill, is known for its stunning panoramic views. It is also famous as the real-life convent of Maria von Trapp, inspiring the much loved "The Sound of Music" movie.

To truly appreciate Salzburg's historical churches, take your time to explore their architectural details, immerse yourself in their spiritual ambiance, and soak in the city's rich cultural vibe. Whether you are a devout pilgrim, an art enthusiast, or simply a curious traveler, these sacred sites can offer you a unique window into Salzburg's past and present, sharing their tales with you.
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Historical Religious Buildings Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Historical Religious Buildings Walking Tour
Guide Location: Austria » Salzburg (See other walking tours in Salzburg)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 6
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.4 Km or 0.9 Miles
Author: julian
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Salzburg Cathedral (Salzburger Dom)
  • St. Peter's Abbey and Cemetery
  • Franziskanerkirche (Franciscan Church)
  • Collegiate Church
  • St. Michael's Church
  • Nonnberg Convent
Salzburg Cathedral (Salzburger Dom)

1) Salzburg Cathedral (Salzburger Dom) (must see)

The keynote edifice of the cityscape, with its fabulous dome and pair of landmark towers, Salzburger Dom presents a breathtaking vista. Markus Sitticus, one of the most famous of the lengthy line of Prince Archbishops, was instrumental in taking the Baroque beauty – his center of power – to near completion. In the gloriously exquisite genre, the ornateness outside is a promise of what's in store within.

With an awe-inspiring vision along the vast nave, the eye is drawn to the altar and choir. A depiction of Jesus's resurrection is the centerpiece of the former, while sculptures of saints sit atop. A number of organs are to be admired, one on each side of the high altar and a magnificent one in the rear traditional placing. Definitely take a minute to sit in a pew and absorb everything around – you won't be disappointed.

The grand bronze baptismal font, just to the left upon entering, famously was used for the baptism of not only Mozart but also the creator of "Silent Night", Joseph Mohr.

Why You Should Visit:
Absolutely massive, incredibly ornate, free (although they ask for a donation), and very welcoming towards all kinds of people including tourists. Cameras are allowed and there are some excellent photo opportunities to be had.

Take a downward trip to the crypt – there is as much underground as above.
Worth attending a Sunday mass at 10am, as you get a full orchestra and chorus.
St. Peter's Abbey and Cemetery

2) St. Peter's Abbey and Cemetery (must see)

Dating from the late 690s and still extant, St. Peter's offers much to view and contemplate. Forming part of the oldest functioning monastery in Austria, it also houses the country's oldest library and oldest restaurant, the entrance to which is adjacent to the church on the voluminous square that houses the Abbey monks and the administrative offices. "Community", a terrific wooden sculpture by Tyrolean artist Lackner Ferdinand is adjacent to the energetic water mill wheel.

A marvelous steeple crowned with an onion dome gives an admirable facade to the Abbey Church. Inside is a harmony of Rococo adornment, with a breathtaking vista through the nave. Decorative columns and arches take the view to the glorious altar area which should not be missed. It has been said that this Abbey was the birth of Christianity, being established just two centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire. You can certainly feel the history inside.

The abbey complex also contains a very old but interesting (and beautifully maintained) cemetery that features decorative gravestones and vaults keeping the remains and memories of many famous personages, including the architect Santino Solari who designed the nearby Dom/Cathedral, Mozart's sister Nannerl (an accomplished musician in her own right), and Joseph Haydn's brother, Michael.A steep stone stairway leads to early Christian catacombs incorporating two stone churches rendered from caves on the berg. Wonderful to visit, they are filled with early altars, faded murals and inscriptions.

During Wolfgang's early years in Salzburg, Abbot Dominikus Hagenauer administrated St. Peter's church and monastery. Hagenauer celebrated his first mass here in October 1769, and Mozart composed the Dominikus Mass, KV 66 for this festive occasion. Hagenauer wrote in his diary, "Music for the Mass composed by Wolfgang Mozart, 14 years of age, which in every one's opinion was most elegant. Wolfgang Mozart played on the great organ for half an hour to the astonishment of all." The youngster would soon venture out to conquer the musical world; however, he specifically returned to St. Peter's fourteen years later, in October 1783, to conduct a performance of his monumental "Mass in C minor". Though it was the sole performance during his lifetime, the Salzburg Festival now performs the mass here every summer.

Toward the end of "The Sound of Music" film, the Von Trapps hide from the Nazis that wield flashlights behind the tombs in Nonnburg Convent's cemetery. The real Nonnburg cemetery, however, is extremely small and modest, so the filmmakers instead decided to use the Saint Peter's picturesque cemetery (Petersfriedhof) for the inspiration to build a Hollywood set where the actual filming took place. Ringing the edges of the flower-filled cemetery are large crypts for the local wealthy families enclosed within elegant wrought iron gates which are expertly reproduced in the movie.

While the real-life Von Trapps never hid in a cemetery, the scene and the confrontation with Rolf adds a great deal of drama to the plot, which is somewhat different from the original Broadway play produced in 1959.

Why You Should Visit:
Everything is free to visit except for the catacombs which cost not very much at all.
Franziskanerkirche (Franciscan Church)

3) Franziskanerkirche (Franciscan Church) (must see)

What it lacks in size compared to the grand Cathedral (Dom), the Franciscan Church makes up in height and design. The dominance of outstanding Gothic characteristics is wonderful. From the grand verticality of the steeple and tower on approaching to the slender forest of columns within, it was made to impress. And this it marvelously does.

While the inside is beautiful with angelic carvings, beautiful paintings, masterpiece reliefs, and great stained glass, it is the vaulted ceiling, rich in lattice patterns, and the soaring delicate columns, that make this one of Salzburg must-see destinations. A grand organ is splendidly placed in an elevated position, and the church is quite enthusiastic about its musical Masses (Sundays at 9am) which frequently feature some of Mozart's compositions. With some luck, you can attend a formal organ concert or listen to the organist practice during an afternoon when you want a quiet place to rest.

Why You Should Visit:
One of the oldest churches in Salzburg, and of course it is free to go inside. Featuring an elegant combination of Baroque, Romanesque and Gothic styles, it's a neat place to see the architecture of the region.

Make sure you head up towards the altar as the ceilings rise to double the height of the area where the pews are.
Collegiate Church

4) Collegiate Church

The Collegiate Church was built as the place of worship for the adjacent Benedictine University. It is the finest example of Baroque architecture in Salzburg and became the model for other churches in Austria and Southern Germany.

Prince Archbishop Paris London established the Benedictine University in 1623 and made plans to build a church for the university. Renowned architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach was commissioned to design the building, and the result was one of his finest works. The church was constructed between 1694 and 1707. It was used as a hay store when Napoleon’s army invaded Salzburg and was disbanded in 1810 when the city came under the Bavarian rule. During the Austro-Hungarian rule, it was a secondary school and military church. It was the venue of the Great World Theater in 1922, and in 1964 it regained its original purpose after the University of Salzburg was re-established.

The interior has a modified Greek cross plan with a convex façade. In 1740 a high altar created by Alton Pfaffinger was added with classical columns representing the seven pillars of wisdom. The altar paintings were by celebrated religious artist Johann Michael Rottmayr. The chapels inside are dedicated to the patron saints of the four university disciplines, St. Thomas Aquinas of theology, St. Ivo of jurisprudence, St. Luke of medicine, and St. Catherine of philosophy.
St. Michael's Church

5) St. Michael's Church

St. Michael’s Church is a small pink church located between Residenzplatz and Waggplatz in Salzburg. It is the oldest parish church in the city.

Records show that the St. Michaels Church existed back in the year 800. At the time, it was the principal place of worship for all sections of society. The St. Peters monastery maintained the church and it suffered damage and was rebuilt after the fires that ravaged the city in 823 and 1167. It remained the main parish church and palace chapel until 1223 when it was replaced by the Franciscan Church. Although it lost its position as a parish church and its former significance, St. Michaels church remains a functioning house of worship today.

St. Michael’s Church has a rococo architectural design. It has two floors. The upper floor was reserved for the emperor and other high officials with easy access from the palace while the lower floor was accessible from the market square for the lower classes. The structure was remodeled between 1767 and 1776 with the addition of a baroque onion dome and an ornamental screen by Philpp Hinterseer. The main altar has a beautiful painting of St. Michael killing Lucifer and the side altars have paintings of the two archangels, Gabriel and Raphael.
Nonnberg Convent

6) Nonnberg Convent

Nonberg Convent (Stift Nonnberg) is probably the most famous of all The Sound of Music sites in Salzburg. Founded by Saint Erentrudis, the niece of Saint Rupert (Bishop of Worms) in 712-715, this historic Benedictine Convent is the oldest continuously existing abbey in the German-speaking world. Perched high over the east side of Salzburg, it made an excellent location for many powerful scenes in the famous musical.

The complex that makes up the convent includes the Maria Himmelfahrt church, the cloisters, a pillar hall, the abbey, the kitchen court, the dining hall, the St. John's Chapel, the Pieta Chapel, and other small buildings. With impressive Gothic-type architecture, beautifully maintained headstones, and a very tranquil ambiance, it is a marvelous sight to see.

It was here that the real-life Maria (Maria Augusta Kutschera), aged 19, came to live in 1924, stayed for two years as a nun apprentice, became a tutor for one of the widowed Captain Von Trapp's sick children, and then married him on November 26th, 1927, 11 years before the Nazis took over the city. At the time of her marriage, Maria was 22 and Georg – 47.

The scene of their wedding was filmed at Collegiate Church in Mondsee, Austria, while the majority of the indoor scenes – as well as that with the nuns singing "Maria" in the convent courtyard – were shot in a California studio. Filming inside the courtyard was not allowed, so they had to do it at a re-created set in Hollywood and a small studio in Salzburg. Still, there were four iconic scenes shot on the actual grounds, near the gate, including those in which Maria leaves the abbey wondering "What will this day be like?". The nuns talk about Maria, the children come to visit, and the Nazis go on the hunt for the Von Trapps after their escape, upon which the nuns disable their car.

At the time of the filming, there were 50 nuns residing in the convent; now there are only 14 left (as at 2017). Each morning at 6:45am the resident nuns gather to sing Gregorian chants in Latin which is a real treat.

Why You Should Visit:
If you want to get off the beaten path and see a church that seems unaffected by the passing of time, this is a great stop!

For some of the finest Romanesque and Gothic artwork in Austria and Europe, go to the Convent's museum ("Stiftsmuseum"). Make sure you also have some 50-cent coins to light up the area at the back of the church and see Roman frescoes (painted around 1140) or the baroque altar and side altars (dating back to 1515).

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