For a good long stretch of human history it was exceedingly good to be a prince.* Aside from probably having to marry your cousin, you had lots of power, fancy duds, and a soft bed to die in when the plague rolled through.
If you didn’t have the good fortune of being born a prince, it was equally good to be a bishop. Aside from having to officiate weddings between cousins, you had lots of power, fancy duds, and a soft bed to die in when the plague rolled through.
A rare few got to be both. Salzburg was once one of the great archbishoprics of the Holy Roman Empire, and it was our second stop in Austria. It was also the birthplace of Mozart and where a lot of The Sound of Music was filmed.
The Residence of the Prince Bishop
To be the prince bishop meant control over matters of both government and religion. The palatial residence was attached to the ornate cathedral, making matters of state and religion easier to administer. We took a tour of the Residenz (the audio guide was free with admission), and found it a fascinating trip into history.
One of the greatest benefits of being the prince bishop was that all the money from both church and state were flowing into their coffers. This meant they could afford all the very best bling:
The Residenz was a neat place to walk through. I mean, it was no Alhambra, but it was cool.
At this point in our journey we had some choices to make. We could try to see the Mozart museum, located in the same house he was born in, or we could see some of the places where The Sound of Music was filmed…or we could go to the world’s largest ice cave.
The ice cave won.
The World’s Largest Ice Cave
Eisriesenwelt isn’t the easiest place to get to. We took two trains, then a shuttle bus, then hiked up to a gondola. The gondola dropped us off at the ticket office, and from there we had to hike again up to the mouth of the cave.
The cave is accessible only by guided tour and they don’t allow photos. We were given gas fired torches to help guide our way, but they immediately went out when the door to the cave opened. The temperature differential was so severe that it nearly blew me off my feet. My little torch flame didn’t stand a chance. Our guide dutifully stood inside and relit all the lamps.
Inside is wonderful. Eisriesenwelt is German for “World of the Ice Giants,” and the cave lives up to the name. Snow from the alps melts and flows into cracks in the rock. Inside, the cave is always freezing, so the water turns to ice, creating some magnificent structures.
The tour was about an hour and a half and there were quite a few stairs to climb, so if you’re having knee trouble this might not be for you. I do wish they’d have allowed photos, but I understand they want to protect the cave.
On our way back down the mountain we stopped in at the Hohenwerfern Castle. It was built in 1075 by Archbishop Gebhard. Yes, you read that right. A church official built a defensive castle. While the Holy Roman Emperor had been naming his own archbishops for a lot of years, the Pope in Rome had become quite put out by it. The question of whether the Emperor or the Pope could seat bishops of the church is diplomatically known as the Investiture Controversy. Gebhard sided with the Pope. There was some violence.
The tour of the castle is given by a German-speaking guide, but English audio guides are provided. You can skip it if you’re pressed for time, or have a weak stomach – a lot of what’s here is a remembrance of the torture that took place in its walls. If you do have time, the views are good:
I’m a little sad that we only had a few days in Austria before we moved on. It’s a beautiful country with a rich history. We’ll have to come back and really get into the meat of it someday. Next up: Fussen and the Castles of Mad King Ludwig.
*I’m guessing it’s still pretty good to be a prince or a bishop. But, frankly, most of us live like royalty already and we have a lot more freedom of movement.