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St. Stephen's Cathedral

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Vienna's largest place of worship, St. Stephen's Cathedral, known as Stephansdom in German, is one of the continent's finest pieces of religious architecture. There has been a church of some sort on this site since 1137, though clearly the structure has grown rather substantially since its early days as a modest parish church. The building has done under a serious of extensions and overhauls down the centuries, each bishop seeking to stamp his own mark on the place.

The current structure is a remnant of at least three major construction projects, with the Romanesque heart of the cathedral dating from works that lasted between 1230 to 1304. The second, and more dramatic, aspect to the cathedral is of course the Gothic nave and tower, soaring edifices built in 1511 reaching up to a height of 445 feet, and intended to draw the eyes of worshippers upward to the heavens. The third, and final, phase of construction the cathedral benefitted from was more recent, taking place at the end of Second World War after rampant fires destroyed the cathedral's magnificent roof. The replacement roof utilised 230,000 glazed tiles arranged in an ornate, abstract pattern, as well as 600 tonnes of steel bracing replacing the old wooden rafters. This modern roof is said to be so steep that it never needs to be washed, with rainfall cleaning it sufficiently.

The Roman Catholic cathedral is one of the most important in Austria, being the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna, and has played host to numerous key events down the years, including both the wedding, and funeral, of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The church also houses one of the biggest bells in the world, the Pummerin bell, which was made out of a Turkish cannon recovered after the 1682 Siege of Vienna. The bell has a particularly strong and clear ring, and it was only after Beethoven saw birds fly out from the belfry, without hearing the ringing of the bell itself, that he truly comprehended the extent of his deafness.

The Cathedral offers a number of interesting diversions once visitors are inside, enough to attract more than 3 million tourists and worshippers per year. The stone pulpit, a masterpiece of intricate stonework, was designed by Anton Pilgram, who, it is thought, carved his own likeness into the images that adorn it. The cathedral has 18 main altars, as well as a number of smaller chapels, many dedicated to the royal persons and significant individuals buried here. One of the finest burial tombs inside St Stephen's is that of Emperor Frederick III, an elaborate marble sarcophagus featuring sculptures by Dutch carver van Leyden. So rich in detailing is this tomb that its construction took almost 45 years. Elsewhere, under the chancel of the church, visitors will find the Ducal Crypt, an atmospheric mausoleum containing the bodies, hearts and viscera of 72 members of the Habsburg Dynasty.

For one of Vienna's most privileged views, climb the 343 steps to the old janitor's room at the very pinnacle of the Gothic tower. The view takes in the rooftops of the First District and nearby sights such as the Hofburg Palace.


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