Salzburg’s basilica is a landmark in the city—and no matter if you believe in God or not, there’s just no way you can leave without paying it a visit. Gracefully crowned by a bulbous copper dome and twin spires, the Salzburg Cathedral (“Dom zu Salzburg” in German) stands out as a masterpiece of early baroque art. The church in the heart of the historic center has been hit by no less than ten fires and been entirely rebuilt three times over the centuries. It bears witness to the power of Salzburg’s archbishops until today.
Each year, more than two million people visit the city’s ecclesiastical center where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was baptized and later played some of his most popular tunes to church goers. As part of the historic center of Salzburg, it was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1997.
The very first cathedral on the site dates back to 774. Built by Saint Virgil, an Irish priest with unusually modern views for his time (he believed that the earth was round, which resulted in a series of complaints to the Pope). Less than 70 years after its construction the cathedral experienced its first fire, caused by a lightning strike.
In 1598, after the basilica had been expanded with two towers and a crypt, another blaze almost destroyed it. Prince-archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau, a fan of modern Italian Baroque architecture, half-heartedly tried to restore it, but soon ordered it demolished — much to the anger of the inhabitants of Salzburg. Raitenau hired Italian artist Vincenzo Scamozzi to build an entirely new cathedral. The plans never saw the light of day though as the Prince-Archbishop was soon after overthrown and died behind bars.
The new prince-archbishop Markus Sittikus von Hohenems hired Italian architect Santino Solari who altered Scamozzi’s plans. The new basilica was consecrated in 1628 with the towers being completed about 40 years later.
During World War II, the Salzburg Cathedral was destroyed once again. A bomb crashed through the central dome and shattered it in pieces. The basilica as we know it today was completed in 1959.
Highlights of the Visit
Before you enter, have a close look at the Cathedral’s façade: The gates show the three divine virtues Faith, Love and Hope while the dates above them (774, 1628, 1959) are reminders of the three times the Cathedral was consecrated. You will also notice four huge statues in front of the main entrance: They represent the apostles Peter and Paul (with keys and sword) and the two patron saints Virgil (who built the very first cathedral) and Rupert, the patron saint of Salzburg.
Inside one of the first things that will catch your eye is the baptismal font. Dating back to the early 1300s, this is where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was baptized on January 28, 1756, the day after his birth. Later he regularly played the “Hoforgel,” one of five organs in the Cathedral. You can still see it today, at the southeast side of the church. Legend has it, Joseph Mohr, the composer of “Silent Night,” was baptized at the same font as the composer.
Now look up and marvel at the dome. At 232 feet (71 meters) high, it is probably the most impressive feature of the Salzburg Cathedral. It displays 16 frescos in two rows, each depicting a scene from the Old Testament. The works are connected to those on the cathedral’s nave, all painted by the same Italian artists, Donato Mascagni and Ignazio Solari.
The crypt on the right side of the main altar is well worth visiting as well. Here you will find what remains of the first two churches. You can also see the tombs of many of Salzburg’s archbishops, excluding Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau, who was buried in the cemetery at St. Sebastian's Church & Cemetery on Linzer Gasse.
In town for a church holiday? Consider yourself lucky as you will be treated to a feast for the ears free of charge: At 3 p.m. sharp, all seven bells ring together for a couple of minutes. They all have names ranging from Barbara (the smallest) to Salvator (the biggest). The latter weighs 31,429 pounds (14,256 kilograms) and is the biggest (and heaviest) bell in Austria after the “Pummerin” at St. Stephan’s in Vienna.
How to Visit
Finding the Salzburg Cathedral is easy as it’s literally in the heart of the old town. Situated next to Residence Castle and the Monastery of St. Peter, it’s on Domplatz where the "Jedermann" (Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s most famous play) is staged every year during the Salzburg Festival (“Salzburger Festspiele”).
The cathedral’s opening hours change depending on the month. January, February and November, it is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m Monday to Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. During March, April, October and December, it’s open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. In May and August, it’s open 8 a.m to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Entrance to the cathedral and crypt is still free though there are plans to start charging admission starting July 2019. When visiting, bear in mind that the crypt is closed during masses.
What to Do Nearby
The Salzburg Cathedral is part of the famous DomQuartier. So now that you are already there why not explore some more? The all-inclusive ticket costs 10–12 euros and gives you access to the Cathedral Museum (exhibiting art treasures from 1300 years of church history including the Cross of St. Rupert from the eighth century), the Prince-Archbishops’ private staterooms in the Residence Palace and the Museum of St Peter’s Abbey (gaze at historical artifacts and learn about the history of the oldest monastery in the German speaking world).
After the cathedral and exhibitions, enjoy the historic center, go window shopping in Getreidegasse and treat yourself to some delicious “Mozart balls.”