Hohensalzburg Fortress: High above Salzburg

A tour of Hohensalzburg Fortress

By Mr. TWS — There are often surprises on a first visit to an area. One of these and something that Sweeney and I really liked about Salzburg was the way the Altstadt (Old Town) was nestled under a cliff and guarded over by Hohensalzburg Fortress (or Festung Hohensalzburg, meaning High Salzburg Fortress) one of the largest Medieval castles in Europe.

Keeping watch over Salzburg

"Hohensalzburg Fortress in thedistance from Mirabell Gardens"

Mirabell Gardens with Hohensalzburg Fortress in the background

Hohensalzburg Fortress is even more dominating lit up at night. Its building began in 1077, and I can imagine that it must have provided a feeling of safety through the years for the inhabitants of Salzburg. The castle was built by the Prince Archbishop of the time and expanded by his successors over the centuries to protect the city and symbolize their authority as the religious and secular powers of the province.

"Winter views of Hohensalzburg Fortress and funicular from Kapitelplatz (Chapter Square) in Altstadt"

Fortress views from Kapitelplatz (Chapter Square) in Altstadt

The picture above captures the omnipresence of the fortress keeping watch over the city. But it also provides a scene that is somewhat surprising. The photo was taken from Kapitelplatz (Chapter Square) just off Salzburg Domplatz (Cathedral Square) and abutting the west side of the cathedral.

Covered in snow, the large gold sphere shares the domination of the view. Atop stands the image of an ordinary man in white shirt, black pants, expressionless, gazing into the distance (ironically, not at the fortress which commands the focus), basically so much an everyman that it magnifies the effect. The sphere is characteristic of the modern artwork that springs up in cities with historic beauty, architecture and charm. There is typically controversy – should anything be changed in such a beautiful historic setting? Is it art? And this was no exception. The work is Stephan Balkenhol′s “Sphaera”, one of the 10 works of art that were sponsored annually by the Salzburg Foundation since 2002, and it continues to spawn debate and controversy. Another part of Balkenhol’s contribution is “Woman in Rock”, a similar statue of a woman that is embedded in the stone wall below the fortress at the nearby Toscaninihof courtyard.

Just to the left of the sphere is a fountain, both a watering hole and a horse wash, the less famous of the two working horse washes in Salzburg. The other is in Mirabell Gardens. You can see the small monument on the back side of the fountain. Also notable about Kapitelplatz is that just below the globe and away from the fortress is a giant chessboard on the pavement, covered with snow when we were there, but populated in warmer seasons with large chess pieces about 1 meter in height, used for actual chess matches where contestants lug the large chessmen to make their moves. Imagine how that adds to the eclectic nature of the view.

The funicular illuminated in blue lights in the photo was one of the ways to reach the castle and the next day Sweeney and I took the short steep ride up the cliff face for a tour.

Touring the Fortress

As we walked in, we were treated to a southern view of the Alps, just a taste of the wonderful views of the area the tour would provide. Salzburg is located on the Northern border of the Northern Alps and these were the Alps through which the von Trapp family of Sound of Music escaped to Switzerland. Of course, that was according to the movie and certainly a wonderful romantic dramatization. How do you think they really left Salzburg? (answer below)

"The hills are alive with the sound of music! View of the Alps from Hohensalzburg Fortress"

The Alps from Hohensalzburg Fortress

Entering the fortress, the first thing that is evident is the difference in the stonework and architecture representing the changes and additions made over time.

"Short walk between building of Hohensalzburg Fortress to the square and entrance"

inside the fortress, a short walk from the funicular to the courtyard entrance

As we turned the corner we entered the main courtyard. Since it was early December, one of Salzburg’s Christmas markets was set up here. Though it was small, it had some unique booths and the setting was great. In the summer months, the courtyard also hosts theatrical performances and a medieval festival. Also visible is St. George’s Chapel, with an entrance on the courtyard.

"The Hohensalzburg Fortres courtyard with St. George's Chapel and the Christmas market"

St. George’s Chapel and Christmas market in the fortress courtyard

Built around 1500 by the Archbishop Leonhard von Keutschach, the Gothic chapel was very peaceful compared to the bustle in the courtyard. It felt very cozy and there were numerous features that made it distinct, such as the bas-relief carvings of the apostles on the walls, the altar and the domed ceiling above the altar.

"Interior of St. George's Chapel at Hohensalzburg Fortress"

St. George’s Chapel at Hohensalzburg Fortress

Exiting the chapel, I was again struck by the beauty of the day. Following the previous day’s falling snow which provided its own beauty as we walked around Salzburg, were bright sunshine and a clear blue sky that made the dusting of the snow even prettier.

"St. George's Chapel in Hohensalzburg courtyard"

St. George’s Chapel in the fortress courtyard

Inside the castle

The tour continued inside the castle with a self-paced audio guide. It provided a good description as we walked through numerous rooms on several levels, including the Golden Hall, Golden Room and King’s bedchamber. I thought that the presentation of armor and weapons was nicely done. There was a similar room with display cases of medieval instruments.

"Artistic and instresting armor and weapons exhibit inside Hohensalzburg Fortress"

Armor and weapons exhibit inside Hohensalzburg Fortress

One of the treasures in the castle was a mechanical pipe organ with over 200 pipes that dated back to about 1500. Organs of this type were common in towns and I believe this is the only one to have survived completely intact. It had a long cylinder that looked like the gigantic roll from a player piano. It played a roar three times a day that included the wake-up call for the city of Salzburg and the signal for bed-time. It must have been very loud within the castle to have been used as a communication to the city far below. Later the organ was fitted to play something other than the roar which earned it the nickname “Salzburg Bull” (“Salzburger Stier”).

"Model of old Hohensalzburg Fortress"

Model of old Hohensalzburg Fortress

One of the rooms also housed about 20 models of the fortress, representing what it looked like at different times over the centuries, highlighting the various expansions.

"Ornate ceramic stoves like this one were used to heat the interior of Hohensalzburg Fortress in Salzburg, Austria"

Ceramic stove used for heating in Hohensalzburg Fortress

There were almost no furnishings in the castle but this ornate ceramic stove was similar to others we saw in Salzburg.

Used as a fortress and residence, there was also a prison in Hohensalzburg. On display were numerous medieval torture devices and restraints (chains and stocks), though these were brought from some other location and never used in the fortress.

This finally led to what was the real highlight of the tour, the 360 view of the area provided atop one of the castles towers (“Recturm”). With a beautiful clear day we were provided with a wonderful aerial view of the city or Salzburg and the Salzach River. The dominant structure is the Baroque Salzburg Dom with its green dome and green capped towers.

"View of beautiful Salzburg and the Salzach River from Hohensalzburg Fortress"

View of beautiful Salzburg and the Salzach River from Hohensalzburg Fortress

In the photo below are the Northern Alps and vast plain to the south. I don’t know the exact story of the lone house in the foreground, but it is incredibly compelling. Imagine living there with the Alps on one horizon, Hohensalzburg on the other, a short distance away from Alstadt in Salzburg, and nearby Lake Leopoldskroner Weiher that was the location for the von Trapp mansion in the movie (though not reality). I believe that the lake is just left of center and below the Alps.

"View from Hohensalzburg Fortress of the Alps and a lone home in a meadow"

The Alps and home in the meadow

The photo below looking southwest captures an interesting juxtaposition of part of the fortress against the Alps and plain beyond. Obscured and not visible but just to the left in the picture is Nonnberg Abbey where Maria von Trapp was a novice (and also where she was married, though the location for the wedding in the movie was about 15 miles away at Mondsee Cathedral, Mondsee, Austria).

"View of the fortress rooftops and Austrian countryside from the recturm at the top of Hohensalzburg Fortress"

Another view from the top

I don’t know the story of the buildings in the foreground of the picture below, but what a beautiful inviting scene.

"Homes and countryside outside of Salzburg viewed from Hohensalzburg Fortress"

Homes and countryside outside of Salzburg

This view looking northeast shows one of the fortress towers and remains of the northern defense wall in the hills.

"Hohensalzburg Fortress tower and remaining part of defense wall built around Salzburg"

Remaining part of Salzburg’s defense wall

As we left the fortress, I was taken by the steep rock wall on which the fortress sits. There are many details from the centuries of expansion and I’m sure there are many interesting nooks and treasures in the wall.

"A huge section of the old exterior wall of Hohensalzburg Fortress gives a sense of the structure's strength"

Huge section of old exterior wall

As we descended toward the city, we were provided additional views from a different perspective with Salzburg Cathedral and the rooftops of Altstadt.

Domes of Salzburg Cathedral"

Salzburg Cathedral

"Church towers and rooftops of Aldstadt Salzburg"

Church towers and rooftops of Aldstadt Salzburg

The descent was not difficult but I think that the funicular was a better choice for the way up. The stairs and ramped walkways were quite a trek even on the way down, especially since they were a little slippery.

"Taking the steep stairs back down to Aldstadt from Hohensalzburg Fortress"

Stairs down to Aldstadt

We only had 2 days in Salzburg and there was lots we didn’t see, but felt that Hohensalzburg Fortress was well worth visiting for a few hours.

So how did the von Trapps leave Salzburg? Sad to say — by train.

Travel tip: Investigate the Salzburg Card for your sightseeing itinerary. It might save you some money on Salzburg attractions.


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55 thoughts on “Hohensalzburg Fortress: High above Salzburg

  1. Fida

    I love Salzburg. I was fortunate enough to visit quite often, private and on business. Hope you had some “Salzburger Nockerln” for a calorie refill after walking down from the Hohensalzburg Fortress 🙂

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      We didn’t see Salzburger Nockerln while we were there. Of course, getting calories is never a problem. I looked it up and the picture made my mouth water. On our list of “musts” when we get back.

  2. budget jan

    I find that the fortress viewed from below is domineering, I much preferred the shots walking through it. A nice touch having the Xmas market up there. Have you seen the wire statue in Barcelona. It is totally weird and out of place, but is meant to refer to an old tradition, so it is partially relevant.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      I was a bit surprised and disappointed that I hadn’t taken more shots inside. It may have been that the castle seemed more plain compared to others we had just seen. We didn’t see the sculpture in Barcelona but googled it and it seems to surpass the sphere. I really am ambivalent about these art pieces. I like the way they almost shock or flabbergast but also can see retaining the more historical views.

  3. Leigh

    It’s been so many years since I’ve visited Salzburg that I think going back would fell like seeing the city for the first time again. I remember beautiful squares and delicious food but totally had forgotten about the postcard picture setting of the city. You two certainly made the most of your time there. Nice piece Mr. TWS.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      We’d like to get back too. There was a lot we didn’t have time to see but really enjoyed everything we did. The Christmas markets were part of the timing and did take time from other things.

  4. Andrew

    Very cool. I’ve been to Salzburg a couple of times but never up to the castle. For some reason it never worked out. I know Ali would like to see the town, so I am sure i will get another chance.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      I hope you are able to make it back to Salzburg. There was a lot we didn’t get to but the Christmas market, the beautiful day, the diversity of things to see at the fortress, and the even the views alone made it worth taking the few hours of our visit for this tour.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      You’re very welcome. I can imagine a whole new beauty in the spring, summer and fall. I’ve seen pictures of the isolated house surrounded by green rather than white.

  5. Sofie

    Wow what excellent weather you guys had! I’m not build for cold, but I’d go for a walk in that setting, under such a blue sky anytime!
    Great pictures. They make me feel cozy.
    Might need a cup of tea now:)

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      The weather ended up being perfect. The first day with snow falling while we walked about set the perfect mood and then the clear sunny day and the fresh snow. Thanks for the comments and glad you liked the pics.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      Sorry to hear that. Hopefully you’ll make it back and get lucky with good weather like we did. We really love scenery and taking photos and the weather is a big part of that. We enjoy many diverse weather conditions for walking but for pictures there’s a lot less latitude and since there is often limited time ones pictures are very subject to your luck of the draw for weather.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      We were lucky to have it look like winter in early December and that added to the experience. It would be great to see Salzburg when its green too.

  6. Andrew Graeme Gould

    Some beautiful views in this one, TW. Very interesting to see the different types of stonework side by side in that particular photo, too.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      The views were great. I didn’t want to end that portion of the tour; we were the last to go down. I’m still amazed at the changes made over the centuries to the fortress; there’s also the aspect that the fortress was never really attacked. The display of the models did a good job of showing the major changes. I have seen that there are many interesting aspects to the walls that we didn’t have time to explore.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      We love them too. This trip really indulged both. The ceramic stoves are really interesting. There is so much detail in each that would be interesting to understand what they represented and why each was included in the design.

  7. Donna Hull

    You are right, the view from the very top was spectacular. Isn’t it amazing to trace the years (and history) through the additions and renovations in historic buildings like the ones you saw in Salzburg?

  8. Haven

    Loved this city and spent two days there February 2006. My favorite part of the fortress was the World War I exhibit. I long to take my children to Salzburg when they are older.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      Thanks for the comments. We really loved it as well. The WWI exhibit was interesting. I’m still not sure why I had so few photos inside. Hope you enjoy Salzburg when you make it back.

  9. Mary @ The World Is A Book

    Thank you for this preview of the fortress and the beautiful city. We will be in Salzburg this summer. We’re looking forward to the Sound of Music Tour but also walking all over the city and visiting this fortress and seeing the panoramic views. It looks like you had a fantastic two days.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      You’re quite welcome. We didn’t investigate the “Sound of Music” tour before we visited but read some afterward about it and it looked better than what I pictured just from the title. We really like movies and are especially excited to come upon movie locations in our travels Our 2 days were great; we walked the city and saw lots but there was quite a bit we didn’t get to. Hope you have a great trip.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      We hope to go back and see the many things we missed. Also, I would probably re-watch the movie and do a bit of research to see what locations would be fun to visit

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      I like the Castle comment. Walking up would have been good exercise and I think you’d see additional viewpoints and items of interest. There are number of other things that should be of interest in the as well of which I didn’t have photos and so didn’t comment in the post. Hope you get to go soon.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      The views were nice, never quite captured in photo. The tour of the castle was 1.5 hours or so. Even with the audio, the tour group moved en masse so you had to keep up. The rest of the fortress, where accessible, was open to exploring. With a fortress that old and with changes over the centuries, I’m sure that exploring at a more leisurely pace would be very interesting and yield some fun discoveries.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      With the Christmas markets and the luck of getting snow followed by a sunny, the timing was perfect and the city was beautiful. It wasn’t bitterly cold either so walking was always very pleasant. The falling snow of the day before was really pretty as well.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      That sounds like a good one for the list of things to see on the return. We really didn’t focus much on the Sound of Music on this trip. Thanks for the comments.

  10. Lisa

    Cathy, these views are stunning! Wow, another place to add to my list. I saw your comment on Wanderlust, but I didnt know you wrote for Wanderboomers. That’s cool.

  11. Michaela

    The fortress and view is stunning! I’ve gained a huge appreciation for snow, since I rarely get to experience it here in Washington, DC. I love walking tours because you’re able to cover so much ground at your own pace. I would love to hear the history of the fortress and its inhabitants. Plus, I bet it’s especially fun to see these really old buildings – America’s young history can’t compare!

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