St. StephenвЂ™s Cathedral, or Stephansdom, is the central landmark of Vienna, both literally and figuratively. It is much beloved by the Viennese and is truly an awe-inspiring masterpiece. It is located in the heart of the city, where the most prestigious quarters and apartments in Vienna can also be found.
At the initial stages of its existence (it was build in 1144) the Stephansdom had stood outside the city boundaries and had been ready to be completed with matching spires over 135 meters tall. The Catholic Church, however, was unable to see the project to its end financially. The only finished tower Stephansdom possesses today is its south tower that gives the cathedral its asymmetrical and readily identifiable look. There are also lower bell towers, and you can climb one of them all the way up or simply pay for a ride in a tiny elevator: the magnificent bird-eye view of Vienna is worth the effort or the money. Like many other European churches, the Stephansdom did not make it to the end of the World War II unharmed, but reconstruction worked its magic вЂ“ now only minor repairs require covering the breathtaking architecture with scaffolds from time to time.
The architectural blend of the cathedral is not quite Viennese, as it mixes Romanesque style with Gothic, while the interior borrows heavily from Baroque. The interior passes on crushing Gothic structure, preferring most remarkable decorative sculpture instead. One especially worthy ensemble can be found around the second pier on the left of the nave: look for the stone pulpit with five sculpted figures carved around the proper. The four of them are the Church Fathers, if exactly, St. Augustine, St. Gregory, St. Jerome, and St. Ambrose. What sets them apart from other sculptures is the distinct personality of each, so readily identifiable thanks to the masterвЂ™s skill and precision that you canвЂ™t help but suspect satire. The fifth figure is a self-portrait: Anton Pilgram portrayed himself peeking out a window - no hint of irony here, just mastery, complimented by delicate ornaments and carved reptiles and other living creatures climbing the pulpitвЂ™s stairs.
The catacombs of the cathedral keep the internal organs of Habsburg dynasty. This eerie fact will turn plain bone-chilling when you go down the stairs into the cold underground labyrinth and witness thousands of human bones and skulls belonging to over 11 000 people buried here prior to 1783, when burying within city limits was outlawed. The catacombs can be toured, and these tours are extremely popular despite (or thanks to) their rather macabre atmosphere.