WickedEye's Quotient

7/25/2007 at 07:27

Travels of an Average-Looking American, Missive 2: Salzburg

Salzburg: An outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble which illustrates (a) significant stage... in human history.
-Criterion for which Altstadt Salzburg was included on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites

I wasn't really knowledgeable about- or, before coming here, very much interested in- the Habsburg-Lorraine and Austro-Hungarian Empires, and all the cultural accomplishments thereof.

Seeing Munich shook that indifference. I've yet to post about that richly bright, beautifully organized, cheerfully friendly city in any manner which does it justice- and this blog post, alas, will not do so either. But it was an extraordinarily easy and wonderful introduction to Europe, and it’s a place in which I intend to spend more time in the future.

It also made me consider that I was genuinely lucky to be able to spend time in this region. However, I was still fixated on my planned trips to Italy; visions of Cellini saltcellars, La Serenissima, and figures pushing through the white foam of Carrera marble dancing in my head as I rode into the Tirol.

Those of you who’ve read my blog post on Tirol-
Lanterns, Breath, and Holy Water from the Tirol- know that my attitude was no longer cavalier in any way a week after getting here.

But it took a trip to Salzburg to knock the last of the dust off my antiquated (or merely Mediterranean-centric) cultural notions and awe me as to the region’s cultural achievements, which stretch backwards to a time before any idea of the country in which I was born even existed.

Bea and I went to Salzburg in order to hear Mozart’s “Requiem” performed in the Kolligienkirche. The concert was wonderful, but it wasn't even close to being everything that made the trip worthwhile.

Salzburg, like my climb up that path in the Tirolian Alps, blew through me and replaced my breath with its own pulse, the steady bass throb of stone, the variegated ostinato chiming of the most perfect epitome of Baroque architecture and ornament in existence.

The history of Altstadt Salzburg, worth reading in far more detail than in this brief recapitulation, included Cardinals and Archbishop Counts and Dukes who imported Baroque architects and artisans to remake most of the town in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, and the result is the most immaculately preserved city of Italian Baroque architecture in existence. In Austria.

But the most perfect description of Salzburg I can conjure is one which I wrote to a friend:

Altstadt Salzburg is incredibly beautiful. And it’s not the fragile, ethereal, evanescent beauty of other places: light on the buildings in the late afternoon, a particularly gorgeous sunset. No, Salzburg’s beauty is solidly grounded, carved from ancient stone and masonry, shaped in plaster. Permanent. Pervasive.


It’s endured through 10 centuries, and even the battering of the winds of Time have only managed to make it more unflinching. It is, step for step, the most beautiful manmade place I’ve ever been- and let me tell you that the Taj and the Palace of the Winds make for stiff competition. But they are jewels shining in otherwise commonplace landscapes, ornaments which are all the more dazzling for their contrast with the plebian world around.

Salzburg is an enormous gem, a massive carving into the heart of a rock unornamented from the outside but glowing like light prisoned in a sapphire within, every curve and alley another facet of an adornment which IS the thing which it embellishes.

And I have walked through it, captivated by the incandescence at its core.

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