Set like a jewel in an Alpine valley, Salzburg dazzles with its beauty. Its ancient, historical core straddles the blue-green River Salzach and lies cradled between two mountains, Mönchsberg and Kapuzinerberg. Seen from one of the river's bends or from an outlook high atop Mönchsberg, the domes and steeples of Salzburg's many churches rise in a contrapuntal arrangement as thrilling as a composition by its favourite son, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
What makes Salzburg one of Europe's prettiest cities is a wealth of well-preserved Baroque masterpieces – many of them churches. In fact, there are 24 churches in the historic centre alone. Remote from the conflicts that roiled much of Europe through its history, much of Salzburg's graceful architecture has survived, a tribute perhaps to the city's impregnable fortifications. And, although it suffered bombing during World War II, most notably damaging the cathedral – known as the Dom – most of Salzburg's core escaped, largely unscathed. As a result, many of the churches and palaces built by successive ruling Prince-Archbishops remain intact, clustered in the compact Altstadt ('Old City') and Neustadt ('New City') that comprise the city's historic centre. One of the best-preserved city centres north of the Alps, Salzburg was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
For most of its history, Salzburg was a principality held by the Church and ruled by its Prince-Archbishops. Today it is the fourth-largest city in Austria and the capital of the federal state of Salzburg. The birthplace of Mozart, Salzburg was home of a treasury of splendours made possible by the Church's wealth and by the revenue generated by salt. With three universities, Salzburg is also animated by a large and lively student population. Yet, lacking the monumental scale of a Vienna, Paris or Rome, Salzburg remains a surprisingly intimate city.
Salzburg's natural beauty and authentic urban charm has long attracted visitors. Artists and writers of the Romantic era were drawn by its dramatic scenery. They depicted its forests and high alpine meadows, craggy peaks and waterfalls, in emotionally charged paintings and poetry. In the later 19th century, visitors came to pay homage to Mozart. As an outgrowth of their interest, the Salzburg Festival was organised. Since the Festival's inauguration in 1920, thousands of visitors have arrived each year to attend performances of some of the world's most accomplished musical artists, increasing Salzburg's fame. The celebrity of the Trapp Family Singers also drew attention to the city, especially because the city was the setting for parts of the film The Sound of Music.
The city rests under the watchful presence of the great white bulk of the Festung, a thousand-year-old fortress that sprawls atop Mönchsberg's height. Below it, the city streets retain their authenic charm. Between the spires, the copper and red roofs and domes, the elegant elevations and undulating facades, wind medieval passageways and lanes that open onto wide platzes adorned with fountains and sculptures. Shop windows glitter with colourful goods of all descriptions. Outdoor cafes invite you to sit and enjoy a coffee, a beer or glass of wine. Pyramid displays of silver- and gold-foil-wrapped Mozart balls – the sweet speciality of the city – invite you inside shops full of exquisite sweet delights.
From the elegance of the formal Mirabellgarten to the quirky intimacy of St Peter's Friedhof – the oldest cemetery in Salzburg – flowers bring colour to the city. Painted and gilded shop signs hang over medieval streets. This is a city that celebrates its traditions. Many Salzburgers wear trachten – the timeless dress of Bavaria that features lederhosen, loden jackets and dirndls in bright prints or rich, sumptuous fabrics – year round, especially at festival times.
It's not just eye-catching beauty that makes Salzburg special. There's sound too. World-renowned musicians perform not only at the annual Salzburg Festival but also in concerts throughout the year. Music students come from all over the world to study under master teachers. Wandering down a quiet lane, you may hear a student assiduously practicing her instrument, notes drifting from an open window overhead. In the wide platzes, knots of people gather around busking musicians of diverse traditions – folk, classical, fusion, World music or something entirely unique.
Wander into any of the many churches and you may find the organist and soloists practicing for service. Mass is frequently accompanied by a chamber orchestra and chorus performing Haydn or Mozart. You may thrill to the music of the master performed in the same church where he conducted it himself over 200 years ago!
There's more music to be heard in the bells tolling the hours and quarter hours. The Glockenspiel over Mozartplatz sounds its playful music twice daily. There's the clip-clop of the horse-drawn fiakers and the calling of the gulls over the river. And, if you're lucky, you may hear the bawling notes of the ancient Salzburg Bull, the 16th century organ suspended high overhead, in the walls of the Festung.
Salzburg is inevitably connected with music. Since the 19th century – not many years after Mozart's death, visitors have come to the city of his birth. And in the 20th century, of course, Salzburg became famous as the home of the real-life Von Trapp Family Singers. The convent where Maria began her noviciate is still accessible, tucked in beside the Festung at the edge of Mönchsberg, as is the façade of Schloss Leopardskon, which inspired the set for the film, The Sound of Music. You can splash in the Pegasus fountain famous as the setting for "Do-Re-Mi." And a tour of the countryside around Salzburg, also seen in the film, is a must-do for all true fans.
Whether you come for a day or two or plan a longer stay in this beautiful city, Salzburg, in the heart of Europe, rewards a visit with beauty, charm and, especially, Gastfreundlichkeit – gracious hospitality. Willkommen und grüß Gott!
St. Peter Bezirk 1/4
Saint Julien Strasse 9