Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Vienna: Stephansdom

We visited Stephansdom (St Stephen’s cathedral) on the Monday morning. On the way, we walked through the old Jewish quarter and saw the Holocaust Memorial, designed by Rachel Whiteread,1996). The outside is concrete casts of books placed inside out, and there is a list of the names of concentration camps. Rather grim.

From there, we walked through Graben (one of the main shopping streets) past the Pestsäule (plague column); during a bad plague epidemic in Vienna 1679, Emperor Leopold I vowed to put up a mercy column if the plague ended. He put up a simple wooden column until a marble one could be sorted – it took until 1693 but the result was worth it!

And then the cathedral itself. The present cathedral dates from 1304, and the South Tower (known as Steffl or Little Stephen) is 137m tall and took 65 years to build. The North Tower was meant to be the same height, but they ran out of money just before the Turkish siege in 1529, and so it was capped at 68m. Mozart was married here in 1782 and his funeral was held here in 1791. (It's being restored and the scaffolding is covered in material printed with the features of the building beneath it.)

Inside, the vaulting is exquisite.

The Chapel of the Cross is locked behind an iron grille and is not open to the public. It’s where Mozart’s funeral was conducted. It contains the tomb of Prince Eugene of Savoy and a 15th century crucifix with real hair on Christ. Legend has it that the hair is human and still growing!

We took the elevator up the North tower to see the Pummerin bell (which rings in the New Year). (Behind us you can see some of the 250,000 tiles on the roof.)
Allegedly Beethoven only realised how deaf he was when he saw the birds flying away from the noise of the bells in the tower but couldn’t hear the bells himself. At the top of the tower, there were amazing views of the tiled roof and of the city.

The roof has 250,000 glazed tiles and is 361 feet long.

It’s quite a long way down…

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