Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Travel: Salzburg ~ In tune with Mozart

A panoramic view of Salzburg

Salzburg, in the scenic mountains of the northwest, isn't as major a landmark on the Austrian tourist map as its capital, Vienna. But it has an impeccable claim to fame -- as the 1756 birthplace of the legendary musician, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

On every stroll through the streets of Salzburg, we often heard passers-by whistling Mozart. After all, in his brief life from 1756 to 1791, he did father a staggering 626 compositions, including 50 symphonies and 19 operas, among them classics such as T he Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute.

Today, Salzburg is Mozartown. The whole city of 138,000 people, with its dramatic cupolas and spires, seems to warble his name. Its musical academy is called the Mozarteum. An annual Mozart Week and a key portion of its musical festival feature the maste r's works. The house on Getreidegasse where he was born, now a museum, is daily thronged by tourists. It is ironic that Mozart, in fact, hated Salzburg because of the pettiness of his employer Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo. That made Mozart opt for Vienna, which lionised him until his death.

In the city centre is the Mozart Square, with a memorial to the maestro created by Ludwig von Schwanthaler in 1842. While you pay your homage to Mozart, it's a pleasure to chime in to the famed Salzburg carillon, which sounds daily from the archbishop's palace.

Within walking distance is Makart Square 8, where Mozart lived from 1773 to 1780. Its first floor hosts a museum that documents the history of the building since 1617 and the life of the Mozart family.

Mozart's birthplace
 Getreidegasse doubles as one of the most beautiful, quaint shopping streets in Europe. Its fascinating shop signs, fine doorways, well-kept facades and idyllic courtyards are the perfect backdrop for the commerce of everyday life, including a McDonald's outlet.

Mozart apart, Salzburg was the locale where the ever-popular film, The Sound of Music, was shot. The snow-topped Austrian Alps are visible from most points in the city, dotted with pretty castles and villas. It's easy to imagine Maria and the Von Trapp s ingers warbling through these windblown peaks amidst the drama of the Nazi occupation. Cashing in on the popularity of Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, Salzburg today offers tours of the film's locations.

But it is through its historic spots that Salzburg most comes alive. Take the Schloss Hellbrun, the prince-archbishop Markus Sitticus' dream of a summer palace. Set amidst a verdant park since the early 17th century, court architect Santino Solari realised the spacious parklands and the zoo that make the castle such an unforgettable experience.

As our guide escorts us around, he narrates colourful stories about court life at Hellbrun. Amidst sculpted stone benches and tables perfect for courtly hospitality in the open air, we sit down for a minute to rest our weary feet -- and find ourselves drenched by a shower from a trick fountain activated by our guide! An essential part of the Hellbrunn experience.

At Schloss Hellbrun

We soon come to a grotto, above which nests a miniature township -- complete with butchers, bakers and candlestick makers -- which works entirely on hydraulic power. It is so enchanting when its figures move in unison that we were rooted to the spot, beg ging our guide to activate it time and again.

The Salzburg Cathedral or the Dom, is equally fascinating. The original medieval cathedral was destroyed by a fire in 1598, but was reconstructed by Solari in 1641, combining the early baroque style with architectural themes from Rome. Within its cool co nfines, with beautiful arched windows, we listen to a choir rehearsing for an outdoor concert later in the day. We're thrilled at the opportunity to tune in because the price of the concert tickets is way beyond our budget.

Outside, in the bright autumn sunlight, we find Salzburg teeming with activity. All around us are itinerant musicians clad in Mozart era costumes, fiddling for a living or playing their flutes magically, their caps on the ground for a tip or two. As visi tors scan the market stalls that hawk jewellery, souvenirs and Austrian cow-bells, I stop to watch a match in progress on a chessboard painted onto the market square. Spectators abound, chipping in with advice or superior moves, as the players move the knee-high wooden pieces around. It's engrossing!

My eyes soon move to the leather-upholstered, horse-drawn carriages, with liveried footmen, that take you for a ride through the streets of Salzburg. And then the distance lights up as acrobats, jugglers and men on stilts in top hats tumble out a side st reet to put on a show out of the blue.

But we still haven't had our fill of the wonders of Salzburg. Another square presents another aspect to the city's charm. A spontaneous small-scale performance by the city's 80-year-old famed Marionette Theatre. Colourful costumes, minimal props and impe ccable music are basic to their performance. Those brief scenes transport us to the troupe's meticulous recreations of Mozart operas that are lauded around the globe.

But is music all that's at the heart of Salzburg? Not quite. Because from the days of the Celts to the Salzburg archbishops, salt brought the city its riches and prosperity. A visit to the salt mine on the Durmberg is a journey to the time when salt was still called `white gold.' Visitors are allowed to thunder with the mine car through the deepest tunnels, plummet on the polished parallel slides into the heart of the mountain, even take a raft ride on a subterranean lake.
En route, we stop at the majestic Hohensalzburg fortress, originally constructed in 1077 under Archbishop Gebhard. Completed in the 17th century, it is Salzburg's landmark and the largest preserved citadel in central Europe.

Salzburg is undoubtedly Mozart's city, we think, as we bite into a Mozart-labelled chocolate days after our visit. It's a city dedicated to a single grand passion -- the sound of music -- around the year.

What to see: 
~ Hohensalzburg fortress
~ the salt mines
~ Franciscan church
~ Mirabell Gardens
~ Linzer Gasse
~ Mozart's birthplace and residence
~ Schloss Hellbrunn
~ Collegiate church
~ the Dom
~ the Residenz

What to attend:
~ A Mozart dinner concert in July-August
~ a festival of Mozart serenades from January-December
~ the Salzburger chamber music festival
~ Festungkonzerte, Salzburg's celebrated annual music festival.


  1. I remember Salzburg as the Mozart and the Sound of Music city. The view from Hohensalzburg fortress and the Schloss Hellbrunn are awesome. It is beautiful city with so much of music everywhere. Thats actually true of whole of Austria with music at very nook and corner. Thanks for the vivid description. Brought back a whole lot of memries

    1. Thanks. What special musical nuggets did you carry back home from Austria with you, Kumkum? Would love to know more.