St. Stephens is a central point in Vienna. There is nowhere you can go in the first district and not see the South Tower looming above the rest of the buildings. Therefore, I thought I would dedicate an entire post to St. Stephens Cathedral.

St. Stephens was built in 1137, during the rule of the Babenbergers. Originally it was built in the Romanesque style, but later it was rebuilt in the Gothic style and also Baroque.

I’ve visited St. Stephens a number of times already, simply because there is so much to do in the area. St. Stephens sits right in the middle of a huge shopping street called Kärntnerstraße. All around the cathedral are clothes shops, food stands, restaurants, ice cream, and always plenty of tourists. On a nice day, I’ve often walked from the Institute past St. Stephens and eventually I’m only one U-Bahn station away from my apartment.

The front of St. Stephens.

The lower part of the front is Romanesque, but the upper part, including the small towers, is Gothic.

Inside of St. Stephens, much of the front section is Gothic. It’s easy to tell, because of the intricate details carved from stone.

I love the criss-crossing lines on the ceiling. I think they add so much character to the building and make the ceiling look like it was put together like a puzzle.

The pillar supporting the pulpit. It was like a maze of interlocking pillars filled with small swirls and tiny sculptures. I can’t even begin to image the skill and steady hand it must have taken to create such a masterpiece.

Below is the architect, named Anton Pilgram. He can be seen just under the pulpit, peeking out from a small window.

The main altar of St. Stephens. It was redone in Baroque.

To the right of the central nave is Friedrich III. He was Holy Roman Emperor and also Archduke of Austria. He was the last emperor to be crowned in Rome by the Pope. Friedrich III, along with his son Maximilian I, gained a lot of territory for empire through marriage. Also buried in St. Stephens are, Prince Eugene of Savoy, Rudolf IV, and some victims of the Black Plague.

St. Stephens has two towers, but there is a huge difference between them. The South Tower is much higher than the North Tower. In 1359 Rudolf I * ordered the construction of the South Tower. It instantly became a symbol of Vienna. Later on the construction of the North Tower was initiated, but it was never finished.

Legend goes that one of the masons, working on St. Stephen’s North Tower, was in love with the architect’s daughter. Her name was Maria. The mason asked her father for his approval, but the father said that the mason could only marry Maria if he could make the North Tower just as high and as beautiful as the South Tower in one year. As the year progressed the mason realized he would never complete the tower in time and so he made a deal with the devil. The devil promised to help if the mason didn’t speak any holy names. The mason agreed, but one day, in excitement, he called his love’s name. Therefore, he was struck on the head by a scaffold and the North Tower was never finished.

In reality, most people believe that the architect just ran out of money, but the legend sounds cooler.

 The South Tower

The North Tower

Anyone can get to the top of both towers. From what I’ve heard, the North Tower has an elevator, but I decided to brave the South Tower and climb all the way to the top, step by step. Annika and Addison also came with me and together we made the climb.

It was actually a very intense workout. The staircase was always spiraling to the right, which made for a dizzying climb and the steps weren’t large enough for my entire foot to step on. The other tourists climbing the tower made for a difficult climb too. I often had to stop and squish against the wall so that others could pass and for some reason there were a lot of people who thought it would be a good idea to bring ALL their shopping bags up to the top with them. It wasn’t.

Climbing all that way was very claustrophobic. The stairs never seemed to end, there were hardly any windows and our voices echoed off the walls, making it hard to tell if there were people above or below. At one point, I felt like I had been climbing forever and that I would have to keep climbing forever. It was a little nerve-racking.

Our first resting point.

We emerged from the stairs, into a room full of windows. I’m assuming a bell used to hang there, but the room was empty except for a few gargoyles. Off to the right the stairs continued to the top.

The view was worth the exhausting climb. One of the things I love about St. Stephens is the tiled roof. I’ve never seen anything like it on a church before and I think the zig-zags are really fun and bright.

The Prater ferris wheel.

From St. Stephens it probably takes 15 minutes to get to the Prater by U-Bahn.

One of the decorations on top of the church. It looks like it might be the symbol for the Habsburgs, the two-headed eagle.

The roof of the church had a row of these cute little windows.

Climbing down the tower was just as hard, but mostly because I got really dizzy. I was constantly turning in a circle, but to my eyes it looked like I was never getting anywhere, because the steps never changed.

The back section of the roof has tiles that create the two-headed eagle of the Habsburgs.

The back of St. Stephens. This is where all the carriages wait for tourists.

Detail on the North Tower. You can also go to the top of this tower, this one has an elevator, so there’s no need to climb.

There are a number of gargoyles all along the outside of St. Stephens. Some of them are still in really good shape, while others might be missing a head. Many of the statues from St. Stephens and the original glass windows are now in the Wien Museum.

On one of our excursions our professor said that St. Stephens is always being worked on and there’s hardly ever a time when you can see the entire building. Right now the South Tower is being spiffed up, so much of the bottom half is covered. Often you can see workers up on the very top of the steeple.

EDIT 10/17/12: I’m still learning about all the Habsburgs and since they’re all named basically the same thing sometimes I get confused. Rudolf I was the first Habsburg ruler, but Rudolf IV was actually the one called “The Founder”.

EDIT 11/10/12:

Addison and I decided to visit the crypt under St. Stephens, which is a guided tour only. The first half we were in the “new” part of the crypt, which had the sarcophagi of Rudolf IV. Many of the Habsburg’s organs are also kept in the crypt separate from their bodies, which are in the Imperial Crypt just a few blocks away.

We then headed further down into the ground to the older part of the crypt, which is where victims of the plague are buried. We walked down a long dark tunnel until we came to the first open room. The room we stood in was completely surrounded in stone, and during WW II it was used as a bomb shelter. The creepy thing is that it was once a room that held bodies and in the floor were still some bones that had been ground into the dirt.

There was a small room just to the left of that, which we could see through an grated window. In the room were piles of bones and the last remnants of some coffins. People actually used to pay to be buried in this room, but over time their coffins rotted away and now it’s mostly bones.

Next we made our way past an open hole in the ground where they threw the bodies of plague victims. It astounds me that they buried people right in the center of the city. The bones completely filled the hole and were beginning to pile up to the opening. Last we came to another room, where they had begun to stack the bones making a wall of skeletons, so that more people could be buried there.

It was an interesting, yet morbid tour.

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