Salzburg – Mozart’s birthplace

By | Category: Travel destinations

a panoramic view looking down over Salzburg

The city of Salzburg, (it means “Salt Castle”) is a UNESCO World Heritage site, the birthplace of Mozart and is the fourth largest city in Austria.

It nestles in the mountainous alpine foreland along the Salzach River. The setting of the old town with stylish medieval architecture and gentle decorative facades has kept the soul of the city tuned like a calm, peaceful musical composition. Salzburg is an attraction not just because of its most famous son, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, because there is music in the air in every lane and passage, but because of the diverse cultural heritage throughout the city.

preparing for a performance

The city hosts one of the biggest European music festivals – the Salzburg Festival – each summer and people from many parts of the world visit with some returning year after year. This year it runs from the 20th of July until the end of August. There is also an Easter festival – Osterfestspiele – which begins on the 17th of March with an afternoon children’s concert and then properly runs from the 24th of March until the 2nd of April.

There were irregular music festivals in the nineteenth century until it was officially established in 1920. The festival has been revived in the twenty-first century with many new productions, but its spirit remains the same as that of 1920 when it was officially opened with the famous performance of ‘Jedermann’, a play by the Austrian playwright Hugo von Hofmannsthal, in front of Salzburg Cathedral. (Mozart was christened in the cathedral.) Today, ‘Jedermann’, is always one of the highlights of the festival and I was lucky enough to have a ticket! Although, the medium of the show was all in German with no English subtitles, it is easy to follow the story and the performance.

the Mirabell Palace and Gardens

To tour the city, walking is an obvious choice. I walked to the Mirabell Gardens where the Mirabell Palace, built in the early 17th century by Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich Raitenau, was located. This monumental landmark of Salzburg is surrounded by the fountains, pools and beautiful gardens decorated with colourful flowerbeds and a rose garden in front of the palace.

The mysterious setting of the Mirabell gardens, with the enigmatic backdrop of the old town and the stunning features of Hohensalzburg Castle overlooking the river has become one of the most visited attractions in Salzburg. Its popularity is not just because of its history and beauty, but also because several scenes of The Sound of Music were filmed around the garden. Visitors gather around the horse fountain re-enacting of those scenes where Maria and children were singing and dancing there. The true fairy tale story of Maria and the Von Trapp family has intrigued many visitors, particularly tourists from USA, to visit Salzburg and to go on tours to see locations related to the story. These tours have become very dominant and keep Salzburg dynamic and popular throughout the year.

Hohensalzburg Castle dominates the surrounding skyline

From there I went to Makartplatz on the right bank of the Historic Quarter where several fine monuments are located. At the upper end of the square stands the Catholic Church of the Holy Trinity (Dreifaltigkeitskirche), built in 1702, a magnificent piece of baroque architecture ornamented with a large dome and twin towers. The façade of the church is the dominant feature in the square.

The Mozart Wohnhaus – his last home in Salzburg

In the corner of the square you will find the Mozart Residence. (Mozart-Wohnhaus.) He lived here for just eight years of his short life until, in 1781, he moved to Vienna. The building was restored after WWII and, today, houses a museum about his life. The museum holds masterpieces from Mozart’s compositional work, original documents, paintings and several musical instruments. There are frequent lectures and concerts held here as an added attraction for visitors.

The Christian Doppler House – his contribution to science is almost as great as Mozart’s is to music

In the lower end of the square, there is the house of a lesser-known son of Salzburg, the physicist, Christian Doppler whose discoveries related to the shift in the frequency of waves have made a major impact on technology. His inventions have been applied to applications such as velocity measurement and radar technology. After years of neglecting him, a number of places in the town have been named after him and at the Museum for Nature and Technology you will find an exhibition of his discoveries.

Nearby as I crossed the river over the Makartsteg footbridge you will see hundreds and hundreds of lovelocks clamped to the bridge as a token of the romantic life of the couples. Don’t concentrate on the lovelocks. This bridge is a vantage point to see the beauty of the river with Hohensalzburg Castle and the peak of Altstadt in the background.

Getreidegasse in the old town

Continuing along the side of the river, I strolled myself in a small courtyard comprising small boutiques, florists and shops on both sides. On the other side of the courtyard a passageway leads you to Getreidegasse, the busiest shopping street in the heart of Salzburg’s Old Town. Here, the traffic is restricted and a pedestrianised zone is one of the main attractions of the city as it has kept its traditional authenticity and character. The colourful, narrow and alluring five to six storey buildings have been harmoniously decorated. Iron guild signs hang over the shops and even McDonalds had to adopt an ancient guild sign to match the style of city. The architectural charm of the pathways is an amazing old town attraction as are the convenient little cafes, delicatessens and shops selling local organic products and perfumes.

Mozart’s birthplace – one of the most visited attractions in Salzburg

Mozart was born in 1756 in the “Hagenauer Haus” at 9 Getreidegasse in Salzburg. Today, Mozart’s Birthplace is one of the most visited museums in Austria.  The museum exhibits different stages in Mozart’s life from his childhood to just prior to adulthood and his interest in music and passion for opera. On display are precious artifacts including furniture, portraits, paintings and exhibits of original documents and letters, which belonged to the Mozart family. You can also see Mozart’s childhood violin, concert violin and his clavichord, a medieval keyboard that he used to play. The museum setting is an educational platform to learn not only about the life of Mozart but also about music and opera in Salzburg.

The Getreidegasse (it means ‘Grain Lane’) has been commercialised with many boutiques, cafes, jewelry shops, antiques, fashionable clothing and traditional costumes sales but you can still find some of the historical residential buildings which belonged to the past noble residents of Salzburg such as August Bebel (politician) and Ludwig Richter (painter).

Kollegienkirche in University Square

From the Getreidegasse I took the Schatz Kondieterei pathway where you can find luxury jewellers and designer clothing and which leads to University Square. On the other side of the square are the walls of Salzburg University and the Kollegienkirche (Collegiate Church) or Universitätskirche (the church of university). The square is also the place of a colourful market stalls selling souvenirs, handicrafts and local products.

The seventeenth-century baroque, Kollegienkirche is not always open for visitors because it closes in preparation for the music festival program so check in advance with your hotel concierge to see if it will be open but I was lucky to attend a concert there that evening.

Hellbrunn Palace, gardens and lake

The next day my guide took me to the Hellbrunn Palace, a 17th century baroque villa surrounded by gardens and which is to be found about eight kilometres from the city centre. Built by Markus Sittikus von Hohenems, Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg in 1619, it wasn’t really a residence as it was only used in the summer by the Archbishop. Possessing a sense of humour, he would please his guests by showcasing several water games including hidden fountains that spray water from the stone seats and a musical theatre operated by water mechanisms. He also initiated fancy decorated hollows and caves housing more varieties of water amusements.

The gardens are also on the radar of fans of The Sound of Music as the white glass gazebo was another set in the Sound of Music.  In the main building is a museum displaying several paintings and art works.

panoramic view from the cable car on my ascent up the Untersberg Mountain

I spent my afternoon in Untersberg Mountain which requires an ascent by cable car to reach the peak. The highest point is 1,972 metres and from where you can get a 360-degree view of not just the surrounding mountains and valleys but also a distant view of Salzburg and Berchtesgaden in the German state of Bavaria.

There are many palaces and homes in the Salzburg area that can be visited but few of us have the time to visit more than one or two. But the Leopoldskron Palace should be on anyone’s visiting list. Surrounded by a beautiful lake and parklands in the foothill of the mountains this eighteenth century was a family residence. Guess what? It also featured in that film that I have already mentioned!

the Grosses Festspielhaus

You cannot visit Salzburg without an evening at the opera. At the Large Festival Hall (Grosses Festspielhaus) in Hofstallgasse was Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, by Shostakovich, a variant of the famous Shakespeare lay and subsequent Verdi opera. This opera, – in four acts – is the story of a lonely Russian woman who falls in love with one of her husband’s workers, leading to a murder. Performed in Russian – a language of which I have no knowledge – the drama kept me entranced although I gave thanks for the English subtitles.

The Grosses Festspielhaus is one of the largest opera houses in the world seating 2,179.

Mozart – Salzburg and Moxart are forever linked

I met several people who had journeyed from cities in Germany and other parts of Austria, some of whom have been coming to the festival for over 40 years. It is magical for them to sit and watch their favourite performances in a venue designed with a state of the art sound system unlike so many opera houses.

And that seemed a perfect way to conclude my visit to Salzburg. With such a musical heritage that also included Hayden’s elder brother as well as Josef Mohr, (the composer of Silent Night,) Klaus Ager and Herbert von Karajan, a visit to one of the musical centres of Europe is a must.

For more about Salzburg, click here or go to

Images and story © Mohammed Reza Amirinia

For more of Reza’s images of Salzburg,  go to


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