15 September 2012

Fortress Hohensalzburg

Fortress Hohensalzburg (Salzburg Castle) defines the town.

It sits imperiously above it on a high and narrow escarpment so it can be seen from almost everywhere.

The previous day I had walked up to it and had left going inside for a less sunny day, and that came the next day as if anticipating my keeness to see it.

I had done enough walking up and down the day before so I decided to take the funicular train instead.

Confusingly this goes directly in to the castle and the apparently exorbitant price for the ride, around 11 euros, actually includes access to the castle and do the exhibits inside. The extra cost of the funicular is around 3 euro and is worth it for the experience and also to avoid the steep, if short, climb.

Once inside it is clear that this is a proper castle rather than a baronial home with a few fortifications added. Everywhere there are thick rugged stone walls with no pretence at decoration, which is attractive in itself.

Many of the rooms are open and there is an audio tour (included in the entry price) that guides you through some of them.

Obviously this is available in English and less obviously you can stick use your iPhone earphones which keeps both hands free for photography and for holding on tightly when negotiating steep steps.

Some of these steps take you to the very top of one of the towers offering yet more views of the town below. I seem to have spent most of my three days in Salzburg climbing up to look down on it and I have no problem with that at all.

Climbing through the castle's innards you get a good idea of how it has grown in stages from its modest beginnings almost a thousand years ago. This is explained in detail through diagrams of the main developments and biographies of the people responsible for them. This is easily digestible history that also manages to be intelligent.

There is also a museum. This consists of several rooms on several floors each filled with artefacts on a theme.

The room on armour and weapons impressed me the most with its clever use of wooden poles and wires to show them as if in use.

Other rooms had an assortment of paintings, pottery, medals and photographs.

It was a little weird seeing some of the story of WWI and WWII from the other side, so to speak. I had also forgotten that Italy was on the same side as the British in WWI and so it came in to conflict with Austria with which it shares a long border.

The museum exhibits, like the tour, managed to feed just the right amount of information to keep me interested and informed but not so much that I ever felt overwhelmed by it all. 

The castle also caters for tourists other needs and there are several restaurants. Unfortunately most of these are outside, to take advantage of the views, which is a real plus on a good day but a distinct disadvantage when it is raining.

So I went to the beer cellar instead where a pint and an apple strudel made a fine lunch.

It had brightened up by then and I was able to explore the courtyards without the hassle of an umbrella or the misery of getting wet.

My usual metric for gauging the success of places like museums and galleries is the amount of time that I spend there and at around three hours that shows that there was plenty to see and do, despite the unpromising nature of the castle's appearance from the outside.

Salzburg Old Town is quaint and the rugged castle above it provides a stimulating contrast. One could not exist without the other and they are best enjoyed together.

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