The Hohensalzburg Fotress at Sunset

1000 Years: A Brief History of the Hohensalzburg Fortress

Explorer’s note: Some links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a booking through them, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps us keep providing tours and top-notch travel advice.

If I could only recommend one sight in Salzburg, it would be the Hohensalzburg fortress. First of all because of the three viewing platforms, but also because of the building, the museums, the funicular, and the history that is inseparably linked to the city. That’s what this article is about.

History of the Hohensalzburg Fortress

This article is a Brief History of the Hohensalzburg Fortress.

Listen to the Episode on the Free Walking Tour Podcast instead:

When was the Hohensalzburg Fortress built?

The year of construction of the Hohensalzburg Fortress is said to be 1077 because that was the year of the trip to Canossa. Henry IV went to Pope Gregory VII in Canossa to ask for forgiveness. He was previously excommunicated by the Pope in the investiture dispute. A very complicated matter that actually took almost two hundred years. Too long to elaborate on it here.

Hohensalzburg Fortress in Winter

It is important for us that the Salzburg Archbishop was on the side of the Pope while many neighboring rulers were on the side of the Emperor. For this reason, Salzburg had to be fortified. 

However, the first fortification was only a wall and a residential tower but enough to make Henrie’s life considerably harder. When returning from Canossa he had to walk over the mountains instead of through the valley because of the newly built fortifications.

In the oldest parts of the fortress, parts of the initial tower are still contained.

Christmas Market at the Hohensalzburg Fortress

To finish the fortress as we know, however, it today took another 600 years. Not of continuously building but occasional upgrades and adaptions to more modern times.

Let’s find out when and why the most significant changes were made in the course of history! 

Leonhard von Keutschach – The last knight of Salzburg

The greatest progress in the construction of the fortress was made around 1500. At that time, Leonhard von Keutschach was archbishop of Salzburg. He is said to have been the last medieval ruler of the city. Because of his authoritarian style of leadership, he angered the Salzburg population.

Leonhard von Keutschach Memorial at the Fortress Hohensalzburg

For this reason, he expanded the fortress, with the staterooms, from a defensive structure to a residence. He needed distance from his underlings. The first cistern goes back to him. With the cistern, rainwater was collected so that the water supply was secured in the event of a siege.

Cistern at the Hohensalzburg Fortress

The peasants’ revolt, for which Leonhard prepared the fortress, occurred, but only with Leonhard’s successor Matthäus Lang. After he was unable to leave the fortress for three months, besieged by his own people, he expanded the Hohensalzburg again. Among other things with an even larger cistern. The one you can see in the main yard.

Traces of this section of the history of Hohensalzburg Fortress can be found practically everywhere. Leonhard von Keutschach’s coat of arms can be found 58 times on the walls of the fortress and consists of a turnip.

Paris Lodron – The Thirty Years’ War

Another archbishops coat of arms can be seen not only in the fortress but throughout the city. It’s the lion with the pretzel tail of the archbishop Paris Lodron. Paris Lodron was the archbishop during the Thirty Years’ War. The Thirty Years’ War was a war of faith between Catholics and Protestants during the first half of the 17th century, and even though the Salzburg archbishops were strictly Catholic, Salzburg did not take part in this war.

Paris Lodron Coat of Arms as a witness of the History of the Hohensalzburg fortress

This was thanks to the clever policies of Paris Lodron, who ruled the city of Salzburg throughout the 30 years of war. In some parts of Europe, 30% of the population fell victim to the war, while Paris Lodron completed the cathedral, founded the university, and further fortified the fortress and the city of Salzburg. 

He is one of the reasons why Salzburg became the baroque city it still is today.

Further fortification was important because they didn’t know how the war was going. Warfare has also changed. Artillery became more and more important. These artilleries were too big and too heavy to be carried up the towers. Therefore, bastions were created, platforms on which the guns could be pushed around at ground level. In addition, the enemy’s cannonballs had less effect on the star-shaped bastions, while the defender could fire in all directions.

This is the reason why there are viewing platforms. The bastion in the south of the fortress, the one you arrive at when you take the funicular is one of them. The one from which you have the most wonderful view of the Alps.

When was the Hohensalzburg Fortress completed?

The last structural change in the history of the Hohensalzburg Fortress is the Kuenburgbastei, the bastion that towers over the old town with a huge coat of arms of the Kuenburg family facing the cathedral.

It was built at the end of the 17th century because there was a fear that the Turks could advance to Salzburg, which did not happen.

Kuenburgbastei on the Fortress

In fact, the Hohensalzburg Fortress was never successfully attacked and is, therefore, the best-preserved fortress in Europe.

When did the fortress cease to function?

In the history of the Hohensalzburg Fortress, it was never successfully attacked, but when Napoleon won the battle at Walserfeld near Salzburg against the Habsburgs in 1800, the fortress was handed over to the French without a fight.

After the Napoleonic Wars, Salzburg became part of Austria in 1816, making the fortress the property of the Habsburg emperor. The fortress was still a restricted military area until 1860, but could then since walls became increasingly useless for military purposes, be visited by the civilian population.

Only when the Habsburg monarchy was abolished with the First World War did the fortress become the property of the state of Austria. Austria then gave it to Salzburg in 2016 for the 200th anniversary of Salzburg being a part of Austria.

The History of the Hohensalzburg Fortress Funicular

After the fortress was abandoned as a military restricted area, it became what it currently is. A tourist attraction. And since climbing the fortress was already hard back then, they had to think of something.

The so-called Tröpferlbahn (dripping train) was built and opened in 1892. This funicular worked in such a way that water was pumped from the Almkanael, Salzburgs old canal system, up the mountain, and into one of the cars of the funicular. So much water that the loaded gondola was heavier at the top than the one below which was loaded with people. The gondola loaded with water then pulled the gondola loaded with guests up the mountain.

Festungsbahn Funicular Salzburg

In addition, the horse tram from Salzburg Central Station was extended to the fortress funicular a year later, so you could come to Salzburg by train, then take the horse tram to the funicular and the funicular to the fortress.

This system worked until 1960, until after the Second World War, but was very impractical and the fortress railway could not be operated in winter.

The Salzburg AG Funicular to the Hohensalzburg Fortress

The fortress railway was electrified in 1960. Today it is operated by Salzburg AG, the company from which we all buy our electricity. The funicular is now in its fourth generation and takes you to Hohensalzburg Fortress in 40 seconds. It can transport 1,800 people per hour.

Funicular to the Hohensalzburg Fortress

How much does a ride on the funicular cost?

A ticket for the funicular is only available in combination with entry to the Hohensalzburg Fortress. This is because the funicular takes you straight to the fortress. In 2020, the fortress and the funicular launched a new ticket.

The new Panorama Ticket for € 11.00 per adult allows you to visit the fortress without visiting the museums, while the Basic Ticket for € 12.90 includes the museums and the all-inclusive ticket for € 16.30 also the staterooms of the Leonhard von Keutschach included.

In my opinion, only the visit to the fortress is mandatory. I think museums should only be visited if there is real interest. But since you’ve finished reading this article, you seem to be interested. If so, I can only recommend the museums at Hohensalzburg Fortress.


The Hohensalzburg Fortress not only gives the city of Salzburg (Salt Fortress) its name but its history is closely linked to the history of the city. What started as a simple defense system became the archbishop’s second home and a way to retreat from the common people. It then became a military barrack during and after the Thirty Years’ War, and finally the second most visited tourist attraction in Austria after Schönbrunn palace in Vienna.

I already mentioned that if I could only recommend one attraction in Salzburg, it would be the Hohensalzburg Fortress. That’s why you will find another article here, a comprehensive visitors guide to the fortress, tips on how to save money, and even a trick that you could use to visit the fortress for free without the museums.

Have a nice time in Salzburg and for any questions regarding the History of the Hohensalzburg fortress or anything else for that matter, you can contact me at any time.

Similar Posts