St. Stephen′s Cathedral Vienna, Part I
In the very heart of Vienna, in the centre of the first district, you will find the ultimate icon of the city, the biggest and highest of all Viennese churches, the national cathedral of Austria: The Stephansdom (St. Stephen′s Cathedral), affectionately called "Steffl" by many Austrians.
A view on the Stephansdom as provided by YouTube.
The cathedral has survived two Turkish sieges, religious wars, French bombs in the course of the Napoleonic wars and World War I without too serious damage. It was finally hit by bombs at the later stages of WWII and repaired with the financial aid of all the provinces of Austria in order to underline the importance of the cathedral for all of Austria.
Today′s cathedral is built in late Gothic and typically Germanic style that I find utterly unimpressive. I prefer the clear lines and simplicity of English or French Gothic styles rather than thousands of little hooks, shingles, ornaments and other masonry. The first church on the site was Romanesque and built in the years after 1137 but burnt down in 1193. It was re-built in early Gothic style which also burnt down in 1258.
Today′s Stephansdom was built between 1359 when Rudolf IV laid the foundation stone for a new cathedral that was meant to emphasise the role of Vienna as a capital, and the early 20th century, when some of the choirs and chapels were finished. However, at the same time, repairs and renovation works are taking place for decades now and I think I have never seen the Steffl without some kind of scaffolding. The stone used for the cathedral comes from the ancient quarry of St. Margarethen south of Rust in the Burgenland. It is a very soft material and thus vulnerable to rain and frost.
A "Must See" for Responsible Sightseeing
There are dozens of anecdotes about the Stephansdom and its history - I recommend to take a guided tour, which will not only teach you a lot of background information, but also take you to parts of the church that you couldn′t see otherwise. There is an indicated meeting spot near the entrance of the cathedral and a watch that will tell you when the next tour leaves. Back to the some basic information that I can give in this article: The Steffl has two towers, the 137 metre high southern tower that you can climb to enjoy a stunning view over Vienna.
And the significantly shorter northern tower that was meant to grow to the same size as its big brother, but in the course of re-building Vienna after the first Turkish siege of 1529, it was decided to save some money and simply not finish it. To mark that it was done, a copper roof was added in 1556. The tower is somewhat legendary in Austria, since this is where the "Pummerin" lives, the biggest bell in Austria that is used only on New Year′s Eve and on high holidays.
To see the interiors of the cathedral, just follow the never ending flow of tourists that go in and out - this will take you straight through the main entrance. After entering, I usually feel a strong absence of atmosphere - the over-all impression of the Stephansdom is the one of a dark and packed place that does not allow intimate silence or rest. But that might be just me - I simply don′t like the cathedral particularly much. Just after entering, keep going right to see the "Pötscher Madonna" with its late-Gothic baldachin.
Continue with "Stephansdom Cathedral - Part II"
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