There are more legends surrounding the Salzburg church caves than there are facts, which makes them even more intriguing.
You won’t find the church caves on the main attraction list when visiting Salzburg, Austria, but that doesn’t mean that this isn’t one of the best attractions.
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What Are The Church Caves?
At the base of Mönchsberg (a mountain named after the Benedictine monks) are two church caves overlooking St. Peter’s Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in Salzburg dating back to 1627. The first cave, Gertraudiskapelle is more church, less cave with the mountain forming just the back wall of the church that was consecrated in 1178.
The second cave, Maximushöhle is more cave less church and is built right into the mountain and remarkably dates back to Roman times in the third century. It would be easy to miss if you weren’t looking for it. Today, Maximushöhle is accessible by stairs carved into the mountain but in earlier times was only accessible by a precarious small rock ledge.
We also know that they have been used since the middle ages for worship and hermitage. But that’s virtually where the facts end and the questions begin.
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Why Were The Church Caves Built?
One of the biggest questions is why were these churches built in the first place? Was it because it was easier to dig out rock rather than to build a building from scratch? Perhaps it was because the cliff back wall was sturdier than anything that could have been built? It’s also curious that the church caves are often referred to as the “Salzburg Catacombs” since “catacomb” usually refers to a place where many people are buried, of which there are not many buried at the Salzburg Catacombs.
A catacomb is also a place typically used for hiding. My tour guide of Salzburg clearly stated that the Salzburg Catacombs were used for hiding throughout their long history, while other internet sources dispute this. From my own personal observation, I can’t help but think the Maximushöhle was used as a hiding place.
I mean, just look at it. The caves are very well integrated into the mountain and is not meant to stand out. But perhaps this was not the original intention of its design. Regardless of why the church caves of Salzburg were built the way they were, I find them absolutely fascinating and like that there are more questions than answers.
I will be in Salzburg again in a couple of weeks. And I plan to ponder these questions and perhaps develop some of my own theories. Adding further to the existing legends at the nearby St. Peter Stiftskeller, the oldest restaurant in Central Europe dating back to 803. What can I say, I think better on a full stomach!
Where To Stay In Salzburg
Hotel Sacher Salzburg opened in 1866 and is privately owned. The hotel is grand and offers a mixture of elegance and tradition with beautiful, spacious rooms. Guests can enjoy views of the old town and the Hohensalzburg fortress. The hotel is located on the banks of the Salzach River.
Hotel Bristol Salzburg is located in the heart of Salzburg, a few steps away from the Mirabell Palace. The hotel has been family-run for 3 generations and offers great individually decorated rooms which are spacious. Guests can also enjoy an award-winning restaurant, concierge, library, and massages.
IMLAUER HOTEL PITTER Salzburg is a superior hotel with a central location. The hotel was first opened in 1864 and is family-run. It offers panoramic views of the city from the roof bar and restaurant. Guests can enjoy the sauna and fitness facilities with a view of the mountains.
Hotel & Villa Auersperg is located a 15m walk from the center of Salzburg. The hotel includes a charming garden terrace and a roof terrace. The rooms are comfortable and range from classic to modern, each with an individual style. The hotel offers vegan, gluten-free and lactose-free breakfast options.
Altstadt Hotel Hofwirt Salzburg is located next to Linzer Gasse near the pedestrian zone in the center of Salzburg. The hotel offers free wifi as well as modern or traditional rooms with a shower and toilet. The hotel also offers a breakfast buffet.
Star Inn Hotel Premium Salzburg Gablerbräu, by Quality,is located in the Linzergasse pedestrian zone, 200m from Mozart’s residence. Each room also has its own refrigerator and espresso machine. Guests can enjoy comfortable rooms and are just a few minutes away from a local supermarket and restaurants and bars.