What strikes me the most, as I climb the long, steep ramp to Salzburg Fortress, is how few people these days are imbued with the physical fitness necessary to make such a climb.
In medieval times, when this hill fort was built, climbing 100 – 200 vertical metres at a clipped pace would have been the standard minimum fitness.
How else would people get to work?
It certainly isn’t the case now.
Of the scant few who are willing to make the climb – there is a funicular, for those who’d rather not – the majority can be classified as overfed and under-exercised. Their red faces and madly beating chests reveal the full extent of our modern sedentary lifestyles.
Times have changed.
Or have they?
Visitors to Hohensalzburg Fortress might spot a small mechanised trolley, known as the Reisszug, exiting the rear of the fort and descending at a 65% gradient until reaching Nonnberg Abbey, where it terminates.
The setup looks relatively innocuous. It looks relatively modern too. But in fact, this rail line is more than 500 years old. It dates to approximately 1500 CE.
It was used to transport goods and passengers into the fortress.
Times haven’t changed, it turns out.
People have always been shy of a little exercise.
As it stands, the Reisszug is the oldest cable railway in the world.
It’s also a contender for the title of the oldest railway in the world.
The much more modern, tourist funicular, known as Festungsbahn, dates to 1892.
Founding of Salzburg
The Celts were the first to settle this part of the River Salzach – evidence of their occupation stretches back to the 5th Century BCE.
The Romans were next on the scene, appearing circa 15 BCE.
Romans are well known for being prodigious builders, and it wasn’t long before they had a small Roman town established in the valley, a town they called Juvavum.
In the 8th Century CE, Saint Rupert – a man who was also known as the Bishop of Worms (Worms is a city on the Upper Rhine, Germany) – moved into the region.
He built a new city upon the ruins of Juvavum, which he named Salzburg, meaning Salt Castle.
Just to be clear, the Bishop of Worms was not referring to a literal castle of salt.
He got his inspiration for the name from the salt barges that plied the river – salt has been mined from the region for at least the last 7,000 years.
Construction of the mighty castle began in 1077 CE, with various wings and annexes added over the centuries. The outer bastions, for instance, were added in the 16th – 17th Centuries, to calm a populace terrified of an invasion by the Turks.
As a result, Hohensalzburg Fortress became one of the largest medieval castles in Europe.
The Aldstadt Salzburg is the historic centre of the city (Aldstadt is German for Old Town)
Between the 16th and 18th Centuries Salzburg was a rich city state ruled by a prince-archbishop. Walk the streets of the Aldstadt and you’ll be left with no uncertainty as to the affluence and prominence of the city.
Mozarts Geburtshaus, or Mozart’s Birth-house, is, sure enough, the house in which the famous Austrian composer was born.
The building has operated as a museum dedicated to Mozart since 1880 (he was born here in 1756). Inside the period house you’ll find several musical instruments the composer used as a child, including his violin and clavichord.
Mirabell Palace and Gardens
Mirabell Palace was built in 1606 as a pleasure palace for the reigning prince-archbishop, Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau.
The palace underwent a major renovation and restyling in 1818, following a destructive fire.
If you’re a fan of the Sound of Music, then the fountain in the centre of Mirabell Palace Gardens (seen in the photo above) will presumably be of interest. It’s the setting for – as is the rest of Mirabell Palace Gardens – the ever-so-popular song Do-Re-Mi.
‘Ray, A drop of golden sun,’ the von Trapp children sing, swinging their arms merrily, as they run around the perimeter of the fountain.
Sound of Music tours
Sound of Music tours are big business in Salzburg.
Tours take you to various sites from the movie, including Schloss Leopoldskron, where the von Trapp family resided (in the movie; not in real life); St. Gilgen, where the opening shots of the movie are filmed, and Hellbrunn Palace, where you’ll find the gazebo used in the song I am Sixteen, Going on Seventeen.
Practical information and how to reach Salzburg:
Read more on Salzburg in the UNESCO World Heritage listing.