Karlskirche Church:
Vienna′s Baroque Showpiece Church

The Rottmayr frescoes in the Karlskirche, Vienna - photographed in 2008 right in the cupola just after their renovation

Situated not directly by, yet still in the sphere of the Ringstraße, the Karlskirche is without doubt Vienna′s most impressive Baroque church - which means quite something, given that the entire city is full with Baroqe churches (and palaces…and villas…and garden…).

The Karlskirche Church.

Fortunately, there is a bit of space between the church and the Karlsplatz Square with its enormous amounts of traffic, and so visitors can enjoy a few quite moments in front of the building. The Karlskirche was designed by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach and has some features that identify the architect: The central Italianesque cupola with the two, symmetric pillars to its flanks and an enormous, again Italianesque central gate are all stylistic elements that can be frequently found in von Erlach′s sacral heritage.

Fine, home-crafted documentary on the Karlskirche in Vienna.

In the case of the Karlskirche, however, the Baroque ornaments are a lot more elaborate than in any other church designed by the master. In the case of the pillars, the model was - easy to spot - the Trajan′s Column in Rome. The church was finished by Johann Bernhard's son Johann Michael von Erlach in 1737. Keep in mind that at this stage, the pompous Ringstraßen buildings were far from even being planned, even the Hofburg was a humble little court compared to the current palace.

Vienna′s Finest Baroque Church

At this stage, the impression that the Viennese drew from the Karlskirche must have overwhelming. I would imagine the Karlskirche rivalled the Stephansdom and Vienna didn′t have a second sacral building to hold up. Given the traffic from the Karlsplatz and the mess that has developed around it, I find it hard to imagine that this must have been a spiritual centre for the entire city for a very long time.

Reflections of the Karlskirche as seen on the Wien Museum

The Karlskirche is dedicated to St. Karl Borromäus, whom I have never come across outside of Austria - within Austria, however, he is actually quite popular. Anyway, in the case of the Karlskirche, it is likely that the fact that the Emperor′s name at the time was "Karl", too, played a certain role in choosing a patron saint. The reliefs on the columns on the church′s outside show scenes from the life of St. Karl Borromäus and not Emperor Karl VI, anyway. Have a good look at the plain masonry of the columns.

They make a splendid appetiser for the interiors of the church, with super-sized frescos by Johann Michael Rottmayr. There is an elevator that will take you up to the frescos, which requires a ticket. It is worth the investment, as you won′t get much closer to any roof-fresco in Austria than here.

Frescos on the Ceiling of the Karlskirche

It will also allow you to appreciate interesting details such as an angle setting fire to Martin Luther′s bible, underlining the orthodox tradition of the Catholic Church that rejected the reformation. The rest of the interiors blend together into a Baroque mix of a quality hard to compete with - you will have to go to Italy to find something better, or at least to Salzburg.

Other nearby attractions include the "Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien" (Vienna City Museum), the Musikverein Concert Hall, the Belvedere and the Academy of Fine Arts as well as the Secession.

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Further Reading

Official website of the Vienna Tourist Information

Information on the Karlskirche Vienna, with photos

Wikipedia on the Karlskirche

Official Website of the Karlskirche