The Church Caves Of Salzburg: Why You Need To Visit

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. 

Church caves in Salzburg, Austria
The two church caves in Salzburg overlooking St. Peter’s Cemetery.

Related Reading: The Austrian Alps: 7 Best Places To See

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.

Related Reading: How to Explore the Medieval Treasures of Carinthia, Austria

Well hidden church caves in Salzburg, Austria
The Maximushöhle church cave is very well hidden and built right into the Mönchsberg.

Related Reading: 12 Things to do in Innsbruck, Austria

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

5-Star

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. 

4-Star

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. 

3-Star

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. 

I enjoyed my trip to the Salzburg church caves. It will definitely keep me thinking about their secrets for some time.

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11 thoughts on “The Church Caves Of Salzburg: Why You Need To Visit”

  1. Fascinating! I shall be interested to hear more from your subsequent visit. Many inhabited caves were used as defensive structures in earlier times. There are many examples of this in the American Southwest. And our local examples in Canada, the Diefenbunkers in Ottawa and Alberta, constructed during the Cold War to counter the threat of nuclear attack. I wonder if the history of the Church Caves have a defensive motivation from ancient times. Great post.. Excellent photos.

    Reply
  2. @Mette – Our guide mentioned it was during Roman times when Christians were being killed, but the internet sources I found dispute this. Definitely intriguing.

    @Barry – I hope I’m able to find out more, but I may just have even more questions. It would make sense that church members had to hide at certain points in history.

    @Zhu – Did you see them in the first picture as well? They’re even harder to see there 🙂

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  3. There is a church built in a cave in Budapest, as well, with a similar array of fascinating stories around it. With the long history of religious persecution, I think hiding is probably a pretty safe guess. I agree with you, though. The questions are more fun than finding actual answers.

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  4. Pingback: Church Caves of Salzburg | Expat in Germany | My Blog
  5. Structures built into stone walls/mountains/etc are so intriguing. Part of me wishes I could build a house like that… and part of me thinks it might feel a tad claustrophobic. 🙂

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  6. @Renee – Agreed, I can only imagine how long it took to build these church caves.

    @Shawna – Thanks for the tip, I’ll have to check it out when I’m in Budapest. I agree that the hiding makes sense given all the religious persecution over the years, but it sure is fun trying to piece together the details 🙂

    @Sabrina – And it’s even harder in the first picture (top left) 🙂

    @Christy – I agree, but I wouldn’t want to live in something built into a mountain either, I like my light too much!

    Reply
  7. Wow its so camouflaged in the cliff, love the leaded glass windows and arched frames. The structure built into the cliff reminds me of Mesa Verde National Park in the US, but they didn’t have glass windows.

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