The Stephansdom quarter contains the soul of the city and is the place to head to if you are sightseeing old Vienna. The streets contain it’s Medieval layout and are therefore, narrow and winding. It is dominated by the Gothic Stephansdom church whose spire and tiled roof can be glimpsed between them. This is one of the main areas to visit on a trip to Vienna. This travel guide will point out the most interesting historical places to visit and the stories behind them. It’s my suggested itinerary for Vienna if you like a bit of history.
There are wide squares all over, some with excavations of a Roman garrison from 2000 years ago. It was only discovered due to the damage of World War II. Today the Vienna is a neat, grand and grownup city. This area will only take you half a day to get round.
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This church is considered the ‘soul of the city’. A church has sat in this spot for over 800 years. Although all that remains of the original Romanesque church are the frontage Giants’ Doorway and Heathen Towers (left of the picture).
There is an incredible quarter of a million glazed tiles on the roof, now restored after damage during World War II.
The front of the church was a gleaming white and the cleaning up of the exterior continues along one side. At the moment it is looking pretty grimmy in parts
The church is missing one of it’s giant 137m Gothic spires. The one that remains is a famous landmark.
According to legend, the North tower was never completed because it’s master builder spoke a Holy name, breaking a pact he had with the devil. In response the devil caused him to fall to his death. Why some one else couldn’t finish the job, I have no idea!
The Singer Gate was once the entrance for male visitors. The sculpted scene shows the life of St Paul (not show because of scaffolding).
Once inside, it feels both cavernous and imposing.
You have to pay a small fee to walk out, otherwise you can only gawp from the entrance.
Head for the Pilgrim’s Pulpit. It’s a tremendously intricate Gothic pulpit decorated with Four Fathers of the church (from my understanding this is four temperaments) and a pilgrim looking out from a window below.
The church is highly decorated with religious imagery and messages for the people of Vienna. The collection spans several centuries.
As with other huge churches people of power are allocated their own chapels. As well as that we noticed this booth set above a small row of substantial chairs…
Emperor Friedrich III’s tomb takes a huge space right of the High Alter. It’s made from ornate red marble and has a lifelike carved portrait on the lid. It dates back to the 15th Century and is considered a spectacular piece of Renaissance work.
The atmospheric High Alter depicts the martyrdom of St Stephen.
The Statue of Crucified Christ above the alter has, according to legend, a beard of human hair that is still growing. I can’t confirm or deny this – it was a bit dark, but hat’s off to his barber.
The High Alter is very flamboyant.
The organ is huge, and towards the front of the church near the choir.
The 1960’s Organ Gallery and Case is back towards the entrance in the loft space.
Friedrich III commissioned this Alter in 1447 and it now sits to the left of the High Alter. The carving shows scenes from the lives of the Virgin Mary and Christ. There are painted images of 72 saints.
Back outside, one more thing to note is Johannes Capistranus. It was built after the victory over the Turks in 1456. It was the spot an Italian Franciscan preached against the Turkish invasion. It depicts a triumphant saint trampling on a defeated Turkish invader.
The entrance to the Spire is via this little lodge if, for you, sightseeing old Vienna includes panoramic views…
Streets of Stephansdom
As the old heart of Vienna the narrow streets and lanes have many stories to tell…
So make time to stroll around the streets when sightseeing old Vienna.
Blood Lane and Mozart’s street
Blutgasse, or Blood Lane, acquired it’s gruesome name after a massacre in here 1312 of the Knights of the Templar (a religious military order). Or at least, that’s the story (apparently theirs little evidence to prove it).
Blutgasse leads to Domgasse and Mozarts apartment where he lived with his family. Look out for Mozarthaus Vienna the home where he is said to have been happiest.
It’s a pleasant street with a beautiful old bookshop. He composed some of his most famous works here, including The Marriage of Figaro. The street must have echoed the sound of his music.
Pretty Lantern Street
Schönlaterngasse, or Pretty Lantern Lane, gets it’s name from a nice wrought iron Lantern you’ll find at number 6.
The street also is known for the Basilisk, a legendary reptile, reputed to be King of serpents. There’s a nice looking restaurant here named after it…
It is because on one of the walls of a Medievel house, called the Basiliskenhaus, has an artist impression of a Basilisk dating back to 1740. The serpent is meant to have been discovered in the well of this house in 1212.
There are a few lovely streets set behind the Kirsch am Hof. You will see a steady flow of carriages clomp by. Look out for the Grimm Bakery you may have seen in my Best Places to Eat Cake In Old Vienna.
This street dates back to Medieval times although it’s now wonderfully Baroque. It’s pedestrianised and a pleasant street to browse bookshops or sit at a café.
Jewish Geto and Memorial
When sightseeing old Vienna the stories history tells can often be melancholy.
History of Vienna’s Jewish community – past and present:
- A Jewish community has been in Vienna since the 12th century.
- During the 15th Century the Jews were persecuted and by 1421 almost the entire Jewish population was burnt to death, forcibly baptised or expelled.
- After this Jewish fortunes have fluctuated, with periods of prosperity alternating with expulsions.
- The 1781 Edict of Tolerance lifted the restrictions placed on Jews.
- By the late 19th Century the city’s cultural and intellectual life was dominated by Jews.
- By the 20th Century anti-semitism had spread until growing Nazism forced many to leave.
- 65,000 of the remaining Jews were murdered.
- In 1938 there were 170,000 Jews in Vienna.
- 50 years later there were only 7000.
- The Jewish population today is slowly increasing.
The Jewish Memorial is found in Judenplatz and it stand for Vienna’s victims of the Holocaust.
It’s concept is a library whose books are shown on the outside but are unreadable alluding to the concept of Jews as ‘People of the Book’.
It wasn’t intended to be beautiful and it contrasts with much of the Baroque art and architecture of Vienna. It’s sever presence is meant to provoke thoughts of the tragedy and brutality of the Holocaust. And it does.
Judenplatz was the site of the Jewish Ghetto in the medieval times. The statue is of a German playwright whose works pleaded for toleration towards the Jews. The original one was destroyed by the Nazis in 1939. This one was a redesigned version by the same sculpture and placed back here in 1982.
When you are sightseeing old Vienna the churches are spectacular and well worth planning into your trip.
The Dominican order on Monks arrived in Vienna in 1226 and by 1237 they had built this church. The present church is actually from the 1630’s.
It’s handsome on the outside but rather glorious on the inside.
There are swirling Rococo grilles and candelabra.
The pulpit is equally decorative.
The beautiful gilt organ sits above the entrance and dates to the 18th century.
This church belongs to a chivalrous order of the Teutonic Knights (established in the 12th century).
The church itself is Gothic (14th Century). You can see the Knights coats of arms and memorial slabs all over the walls.
The winged alterpiece is Flemish from 1520.
Just outside the church is a courtyard and from here you can enter a remarkable treasury of objects collected by German aristocrats.
In the 1620’s the Jesuits decided to move their headquarters to Vienna to be near the Old University which they controlled. This church dates back to 1703.
The Jesuits were not afraid of making a statement and were the dominant force behind the Counter-Reformation – therefore, the interior of this church highlights their beliefs and their power.
It’s very grand inside, touching on gaudy. There are lots of columns and side chapels.
The organ is highly decorative.
The High Alter portrays their power most of all…
The ceiling has a fake dome painted, which works pretty well.
This 18th Century church was modelled on St Peter’s church in Rome, as many others around Europe are. A church has stood here since the 12th Century.
The interior is incredibly lavish.
The pulpit is exuberant to say the least…
White sculptures flow through the High Alter.
The ceiling is dominated by an oval with a dove.
This is a sculpture of St John Nepomuk. He earned his sainthood by being thrown into the River Vitava in Prague because he refused to reveal the secrets of a confessional King. He drowned and became a favourite subject of artists.
The richly clothed skeletons of early Christian martyrs lie hauntingly in glass cages either side of the high alter.
Kirche am Hof
This church is worth seeing because behind the back, between the church buttresses, are some tiny restored shops. Occasionally, when you are sightseeing old Vienna it’s not a grand affair…
Where to eat
Both tried, tested and recommended by us!
Tuchlauben 4-6, 1010 Vienna
A Contemporary restaurant with low-lit interiors, serving creative takes on classic Italian cuisine. There is a really great outside eating space and the food is really delicious.
Grab and go
Kurrentgasse 10, 1010 Vienna
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