Two Days in Salzburg

For a good long stretch of human history it was exceedingly good to be a prince. Aside from probably having to marry your cousin, you had lots of power, fancy duds, and a soft bed to die in when the plague rolled through.

If you didn’t have the good fortune of being born a prince, it was equally good to be a bishop. Aside from having to officiate weddings between cousins, you had lots of power, fancy duds, and a soft bed to die in when the plague rolled through.

A rare few got to be both prince and bishop. Salzburg was once one of the great archbishoprics of the Holy Roman Empire, and it was our second stop in Austria. It was also the birthplace of Mozart and where a lot of The Sound of Music was filmed.

The Residence of the Prince Bishop

To be the prince bishop meant control over matters of both government and religion. The palatial residence was attached to the ornate cathedral, making matters of state and religion easier to administer. We took a tour of the Residenz (the audio guide was free with admission), and found it a fascinating trip into history.

Random beautiful hallway. In San Francisco, this would have been converted into a studio apartment long ago. Photo by Tricia Griffin
The main audience chamber, where the prince bishop would meet with dignitaries. The rooms became more ornate the further into the palace we went, and the further into the palace a dignitary was allowed to go, the more important they were. Photo by Tricia Griffin.
They were very skilled at plaster carving. This is the detail from a ceiling. Photo by Ryan Haskett.

One of the greatest benefits of being the prince bishop was that all the money from both church and state were flowing into their coffers. This meant they could afford all the very best bling:

The bishop’s staff, made from gold, silver, diamonds, sapphires, rubies, and emeralds. Photo by Tricia Griffin.
The staff came with a very fine hat. Photo by Ryan Haskett.

The Residenz was a neat place to walk through. I mean, it was no Alhambra, but it was cool.

At this point in our journey we had some choices to make. We could try to see the Mozart museum, located in the same house he was born in, or we could see some of the places where The Sound of Music was filmed…or we could go to the world’s largest ice cave.

The ice cave won.

The World’s Largest Ice Cave

Eisriesenwelt isn’t the easiest place to get to. We took two trains, then a shuttle bus, then hiked up to a gondola. The gondola dropped us off at the ticket office, and from there we had to hike again up to the mouth of the cave.

The view on the way up was Tolkeinian. Phot by Ryan Haskett.
The hike up to the mouth of the cave involves a number of switchbacks, but is not as hard as it looks. The humidity was more of an issue for us than the climb. Photo via.

The cave is accessible only by guided tour and they don’t allow photos. We were given gas fired torches to help guide our way, but they immediately went out when the door to the cave opened. The temperature differential was so severe that it nearly blew me off my feet. My little torch flame didn’t stand a chance. Our guide dutifully stood inside and relit all the lamps.

Inside is wonderful. Eisriesenwelt is German for “World of the Ice Giants,” and the cave lives up to the name. Snow from the alps melts and flows into cracks in the rock. Inside, the cave is always freezing, so the water turns to ice, creating some magnificent structures.

One of the ice structures in the cave. Photo via.

The tour was about an hour and a half and there were quite a few stairs to climb, so if you’re having knee trouble this might not be for you. I do wish they’d have allowed photos, but I understand they want to protect the cave.

Hohenwerfern Castle

On our way back down the mountain we stopped in at the Hohenwerfern Castle. It was built in 1075 by Archbishop Gebhard. Yes, you read that right. A church official built a defensive castle. While the Holy Roman Emperor had been naming his own archbishops for a lot of years, the Pope in Rome had become quite put out by it. The question of whether the Emperor or the Pope could seat bishops of the church is diplomatically known as the Investiture Controversy. Gebhard sided with the Pope. There was some violence.

Exterior of the Hohenwerfern Castle. Photo by Ryan Haskett.

The tour of the castle is given by a German-speaking guide, but English audio guides are provided. You can skip it if you’re pressed for time, or have a weak stomach – a lot of what’s here is a remembrance of the torture that took place in its walls. If you do have time, the views are good:

View from the top of the castle. Photo by Tricia Griffin.
Inside the walls of the castle. Photo by Tricia.

I’m a little sad that we only had a few days in Austria before we moved on. It’s a beautiful country with a rich history. We’ll have to come back and really get into the meat of it someday. Next up: Fussen and the Castles of Mad King Ludwig.

*I’m guessing it’s still pretty good to be a prince or a bishop. But, frankly, most of us live like royalty already and we have a lot more freedom of movement.

One comment

  1. Tricia, Have followed you from the beginning of your sabbatical. What began as a year turns into much more I see! Your writing inspires, informs and feeds my global soul. Pictures are stunners. Hope you are mulling ways to use those talents in your future. Am currently finishing a book and am living in San Miguel de Allende for a year. Sending you all best wishes, Barbara Pagano


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