With an incredibly beautiful Old Town setting against the backdrop of the majestic Alps, Salzburg is a perfect stage for any show. By a twist of fate, the legendary composer Mozart was also born in this heartland of Europe, making it a city of music and theatrical performance.
Situated on the bank of the Salzach River, Salzburg has been continuously inhabited for the last two millennials. The city has witnessed the rise and fall of many regimes throughout its history. That includes the Celts, the Romans, the Bavarians, as well as the Habsburgs. The name “Salzburg” (literally: Salt Castle or Salt City) derives from the barges carrying salt on the river, which were subject to a toll in the 8th century.
These days, Salzburg is Austria’s fourth-largest city and the capital city of the federal state with the same name. The city spans on both sides of the river, with Hohensalzburg Fortress and the Old Town on the western bank, facing the 19th-century New Town on the eastern bank.
Clinging on the verdant cliffs, Festung Hohensalzburg (Hohensalzburg Fortress) was the first thing that captured my attention. At an altitude of 542 meters, it offers a sweeping view over the city, along with the surrounding mountains. The imposing fortress was first erected in 1077 as the residence for the Prince-Archbishop Gebhard of Salzburg. Yet his successors were responsible for the expansions during the following centuries.
Today, the structure is one of Europe’s largest intact medieval fortresses. It serves as the emblem of this Prealps city. Inside, visitors set out on a journey into the past. They can visit a museum of medieval weapons or opulent chambers once frequented by the wealthy-arch bishops.
Salzburg Old Town
Stretching beneath the cliff-top fortress is Salzburger Altstadt, the best-preserved historic core in Central Europe. The town is strongly influenced by Italian culture, with Baroque churches and mansions predominate. However, none can surpass the magnificent DomQuartier. Once the center of the Prince-Archbishop’s power, this complex comprises lavishly decorated chambers and galleries. There is also a beautiful cathedral that features two graceful spires and an imposing façade. Since 1997, UNESCO has listed the entire area as a World Heritage Site.
Aside from the architecture, Salzburg Old Town is also known as the birthplace of the genial composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. More specifically, his family house on No.9 Getreidegasse – the city’s most attractive shopping street – is now a museum and a “pilgrimage site” for many Mozart fans.
Across the river, the Mirabell Palace with its splendid Marble Hall is equally fascinating. It was built in the early 17th century by the master Baroque builder Lukas von Hildebrandt for Salome Alt – the beloved concubine of the Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Reiternau. The name “Mirabell” actually originates from two Italian words: Mirabile (admirable) and Bella (beautiful).
The Prince-Archbishop wanted to be as close as possible to his family. Thus, he built a palace that is directly opposite to his office in the Hohensalzburg Fortress. Outside, visitors find themselves meandering pleasantly in a masterpiece of garden art – the Mirabell Garden. The garden was completely redesigned under Archbishop Johann Ernst von Thun in 1690. However, the underlying geometric form, which is typical for the Baroque, is still visible.
The Mozartskugel (Mozart Ball) – a small, round sugar confection made of pistachio marzipan, and nougat, covered with dark chocolate – is the city’s typical sweet treat. Yet it is not the only sweet specialty in Salzburg. This city is also home to Salzburger Norckel – a soufflé made of egg yolk, flour, and vanilla. They are always freshly prepared and served with sugar powder or raspberry sauce. Additionally, its appearance takes the shape of three hills surrounding the city center.
Tips for visiting Salzburg
- Hohensalzburg Fortress is accessible by either foot or funicular. However, it is worth buying the all-inclusive ticket (15.90€) which includes the funicular, the entrance to the fortress and all related exhibitions.
- Salzburg’s centre is relatively compact and explorable by foot. Between Old Town and New Town, there is an intensive network of buses and trams. Most of them pass by or stop around Mirabellplatz (just outside the Mirabell Palace).
- A good address to try this Salzburger Norckel is Hotel Elefant. The soufflé requires a minimum waiting time of 25 minutes. And a portion is enough for two or three persons.