If the Ringstrasse and the palatial buildings that line it are demonstrative of Vienna’s more recent 19th century prowess (and, with the recent additions of the MuseumsQuarter, its 21st century cultural advances to boot) then its spectacular churches are demonstrative of a magnificent history which goes back yet further. For these religious monuments have truly stood the test of time, from their inception as far back ago as the 13th century, to the progressively exquisite embellishments which have since followed.
The Stephansdom inside and out
We begun our tour of Vienna’s grandest religious spectacles with the centre point of them all, the Stephansdom cathedral. Often called the soul of the city itself, it is perhaps no coincidence that the cathedral contains a great many of the remains of some of the most historically significant of the Hapsburg rule which lorded over Vienna, and the empire which spread out around it, for centuries. But rather than begin this visit from the inside, we instead claimed the 300 or so steps of its main gothic spire, taking advantage of the aspect which is perhaps most characteristic of this building – its enormous height. There, from somewhere close to the top of the “Steffi” or spire, we were able to enjoy magnificent views not only over all of the city, but of the incredible tiled roof which contains almost a quarter of a million glazed tiles, meticulously restored after the damage inflicted towards the end of the second world war.
Vienna from the top of the Stephansdom
Having caught our breath upon our rather perilous descent down a very narrow spiral staircase, we did not linger in the inside of the cathedral for long. This was not so much owing to a lack of content, but to both the queues for, and the price of, admission, both of which inspired us to take our leave and seek further thrills in this city of plenty.
The Stephansdom’s spectacular tiled roof
Next on the list was the equally impressive domed Peterskirche, a romantic oval-based construct remodelled in the 18th century on St Peter’s in Rome, and by no means lacking the exuberant ostentatious interiors of its inspiration. For the interiors of Peterskirche are amazingly lavish, with an eye-catching pulpit meticulously sculpted by Matthias Steindi, and frescoes embellishing the huge dome depicting the Assumption of the Virgin by J M Rottmayr. From the extravagant altar to the richly carved pews, this was a church whose every detail was dripping in embellishment, and easily the equal of the Stephansdom up the road.
We encountered several other religious spectacles as we proceeded with our tour around Vienna, although we seldom ventured inside. One we would have liked to have explored, on the inside and out, was the last iconic church of the city, Karlskirch, sitting at one end of the central Karlsplatz. But as I bemoaned in Monday’s post, a further prohibited entrance fee found us fleeing from the tourist entrance, leaving us to appreciate this columned baroque masterpiece from the outside – an aspect which, like so many others of the magnificent buildings clambering to be admired in Vienna, could not fail to impress.
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