The Salzburg cathedral with its turquoise, copper dome and its white interior is in the center of the old town. With its distinctive appearance, it will dominate each of your landscape photos from Salzburg. Surrounded by the main squares it’s not only an attraction but the center of attention in the old town for locals and tourists alike.
As the archbishop’s church, it’s the most important out of over 20 churches in the old town. It’s the burial spot of most archbishops, the place where Mozart was baptized, one of only a few churches equipped with five organs and the first baroque church in Austria. The Salzburg Cathedral is a highlight during your visit to Salzburg.
The History of the Salzburg Cathedral
The Cathedral is a masterpiece of early baroque. It was the first baroque church in Austria because the rest of Austria was busy fighting the 30-year war while the archbishop of independent Salzburg consecrated the new cathedral in 1628. But that’s not when the churches history began.
Approaching the Cathedral you notice three numbers. One above each of the entrances. 774 is the year when the first cathedral was built by Saint Virgil. Saint Virgil is, therefore, portrayed as a bishop with a church as a symbol. You will find a statue of Saint Virgil, alongside Saint Rupert with his salt barrel, in most churches in Salzburg.
Throughout the centuries, however, many fires hit Salzburg and damaged the Cathedral. Every time it was reconstructed until at the end of the 16th century a particularly ambitious archbishop ruled Salzburg. Wolf Dietrich knew about baroque architecture from his studies in Italy and desired a baroque Cathedral for Salzburg.
He brought Italian architects and made a plan for a new church. Wolf Dietrich, however, only laid a foundation. He ended up as a prisoner inside Hohensalzburg fortress, while other archbishops kept working on what became the first baroque church in Austria and consecrated it in 1628. Hence the second number.
For centuries the Cathedral regarded as a masterpiece was left untouched until devastating damage was done during the second world war. On the 16th of October 1944, the dome collapsed after the first bombing of Salzburg. Only in 1959 was the dome reconstructed, and that’s the number you see above the third entrance.
The Salzburg Cathedral Explained
The Salzburg cathedral when built at the beginning of the 17th century was, like many baroque arts, an instrument of the counter-reformation. Most people were still illiterate at the time and the statues and paintings were supposed to tell stories.
The exterior of the cathedral
Standing in front of the cathedral you look out on various statues. The two outside statues on the ground floor represent Saint Virgil and Saint Rupert, two bishops and saints you find in most churches in Salzburg. Saint Rupert with the salt barrel on the pedestal and saint Virgil as the builder of the first cathedral with a church. The two statues on the inside are Saint Peter with the keys and Saint Paul with the sword. Two saints representing the world church while Saint Rupert and Saint Virgil represent the church of Salzburg.
One floor up, you can see the four evangelists. They stand for the New Testament while another floor up there are Moses and Elijah from the Old Testament. Jesus is enthroned above them all on the roof gable.
The interior of the Salzburg cathedral
While the facade of the cathedral depicts saints and prophets, the interior tells the story of Jesus. After entering the cathedral you turn around and look up at the ceiling. On the top left, you see Jesus coming to Jerusalem. On the top right the last supper. The story goes all the way to the crucifixion and the end of the story is the main altar. The resurrection of Christ. The whole church was designed to convey stories.
Let’s look at features and details of the cathedral. Some things to notice while you visit the Salzburg cathedral and some of the reasons a visit to the cathedral is a must.
7 Reasons why the Salzburg Cathedral is a Must-See
The Cultural Center of Salzburg
The squares around the Cathedral are the center of the old town. On these squares, the Christmas market, the country fair for the patron saint, the brass music festival and countless other events happen.
During the Salzburg Festival, the facade of the cathedral serves as the backdrop for the Jedermann theater. For that purpose they set up a tribune seating 3000 people on the cathedrals square. In 2019 the newspaper wrote that there are events on the square next to the cathedral on 200 days out of every year. In case you visit Salzburg on a weekend in summer, it’s likely there is an event going on.
The Center of Religion in Salzburg
Cathedrals are the seats of bishops. With Salzburg, the cathedral is the seat of an archbishop. These archbishops ruled Salzburg for more than a thousand years. Today the archbishops don’t have power over the country anymore but are still the head of the church.
In Austria there are only two archbishops. One in Vienna and one in Salzburg and the archbishop of Salzburg is responsible for the whole west of Austria. The Salzburg Cathedral, therefore, was and still is the most important sacred building in Salzburg and the center of religious life.
The Relics of Saint Rupert
In every church in Salzburg, you will find the statue of a bishop with a salt barrel. These statues depict Saint Rupert. Saint Rupert was the founder of the city. He died at the beginning of the 8th century and when in 774 the cathedral was finished, his remains were transferred to the cathedral. They are supposed to be in the black box underneath the altar. Inspect the box and you will even on the box recognize the statues of a bishop with a salt barrel and one with a church.
Most archbishops were buried in the Crypt
The crypt is where most archbishops from 1619 on were buried. You find the entrance to their graves when walking all the way to the end and to the left. The crypt only became accessible after the second world war and the cathedrals reconstruction in 1959. You find the crypt by walking all the way to the end of the church and to the left where you find stairs leading down to the crypt of the Salzburg Cathedral.
The Cathedral is a part of the Walk of Modern Art
Also in the crypt, the burial place of the archbishops, there is one of the modern art pieces by the Salzburg Foundation. “Vanitas” is an artwork by Christian Polanski. The artwork is supposed to remind us of our mortality. While candles cast the shadow of 12 small metal figures on the wall, a voice in the background tells us what time it is. What I find more interesting, however, is the story of the French artist behind the “Vanitas” project. Read my article on the Walk of Modern Art to find out more about him.
Mozart was baptized in the Salzburg Cathedral
In the cathedral, Mozart was baptized a day after his birth in 1756 and later in his life performed there. You find the baptismal font at the end of your tour through the Cathedral. The bottom of the font dates back to the 12th century while the upper part is from the 14th century. Notice the lion’s faces! Don’t they look like humans? In Romanesque times artists liked to portray lions even if they never encountered or saw a lion.
How many Organs are in the Salzburg Cathedral?
The Salzburg cathedral houses five organs. Four in the crossings and a procession organ above the entrance. All the organs were rebuilt over the course of history. However, they say that north of the alps there is no other church with five organs. True or not, that’s impressive. With a bit of luck, you could even attend a free or a paid concert while you are in Salzburg. During Sunday mess or on holidays there is often music played.
Everything you Need to Know to Visit the Salzburg Cathedral
Where is the Salzburg Cathedral?
The Salzburg Cathedral is next to residence square, the main square of the old town in Salzburg. The cathedral is 200 meters away from the funicular to the fortress, 200 meters from the Mozart statue and 350 meters from Mozart’s birthplace in Getreidegasse, in the most popular area of the city.
How to reach the Salzburg Cathedral?
The old town is a pedestrian area but Salzburg is walkable and you reach the cathedral on foot. From most hotels, you are 5 to 20 minutes away from the Salzburg cathedral. If you take public transport because your accommodation is further away, you either get off at Mirabell square and cross the river to reach the Salzburg Cathedral in 10 minutes or you get off near the river and walk to the cathedral in 5 minutes.
You need not plan a separate visit to the Cathedral. You can easily include it in the rest of your sightseeing in the old town. Just don’t miss out on the chance to enter the Cathedral and admire its stunning interior.
What’s the entrance fee for the Salzburg Cathedral?
There is no admission fee for the Salzburg Cathedral. You don’t need tickets. There will be someone at the entrance asking for donations when you leave. I frequently meet travelers who leave when they see the donation counter but the donation is 100% optional.
What requires an entrance fee is Domquartier, the cathedrals quarter. Domquartier is a museum in the old Archiepiscopal residence. The residence is connected to the cathedral and the Monastery of Saint Peters and by entering the Domquartier museum you can access the arches connecting these buildings and the western gallery where the processions organ is.
Is there a dress code for the Salzburg Cathedral?
Like in all catholic churches you have to remove your hat when entering. That’s the only dress code everyone has to follow when visiting the Salzburg Cathedral. It goes without saying, that you have to behave respectfully. Even if the Cathedral seems like a museum it is still an active church. Visits during mess are prohibited. That doesn’t mean you are not allowed to enter but that walking around and photography are not allowed during church service.
What are the opening hours of the Salzburg Cathedral?
The Salzburg Cathedral opens at 8am. On the Cathedrals website, you will read that on Sundays and holidays the Cathedral only opens for visitors at 1 pm. That’s because there is a mass in the morning. I recommend to attend the mass but as mentioned before you can’t walk around or take pictures during mass hours. The closing time varies from 5 pm in low season and 7 pm in high season.
How to visit the Salzburg Cathedral?
When entering the Cathedral there is usually a one-way system in place. You start your exploration by going right where you pass the first side altar. That’s a good place to take candle pictures and light one if you feel like. Continue along the right side where you pass three more altars before you reach the transept. That’s where you can observe the four organs, two side altars, and the black relic box.
Also, take your time to stand in the middle of the transept and look up at the paintings and the dove. This part of the cathedral was damaged during and rebuilt after the second world war. On your way to the right-hand aisle of the church, you will find the stairs to the crypt and on the other end of the aisle the baptismal font. Before leaving the cathedral, have a look at the picture from the second world war. It’s behind the seats.
To explore areas of the Cathedral otherwise not accessible, you could visit the Domquartier museum. One entrance to the Domquartier is on the left after leaving the cathedral and before stepping out on the Cathedrals square. In case you purchased a Salzburg card, Domquartier is included.
The Salzburg cathedral, besides the fortress, is my favorite site in Salzburg and I don’t want you to miss out on a visit. Located in the heart of the old town, in an area that you will visit anyway, it couldn’t be easier to reach and there is no entrance fee. Besides the unique architecture and apart from its religious purpose, the cathedral is a part of Salzburg’s history.