Salzburg-Mozart’s Hometown

The  Salzach has always been flood – prone, and as climate change, deforestation, and melting Alpine glaciers make rivers throughout Europe flood more frequently, Salzburg is increasingly at risk. What’s more, its pedestrianized historic center—known as a stage-set perfect collection of 17th- and 18th-century baroque architecture—sits right on the lower-lying left bank of the Salzach.

Every  August,  the  picturesque  Austrian town  of  Salzburg  is  flooded  with  music lovers,  paying  tribute  to  Salzburg’s  most famous  son,  Wolfgang  Amadeus  Mozart. In  2002,  however,  tourists  weren’t  the only  thing  flooding  Salzburg’s  cobbled streets. Swollen by several days of extraordinary  rainfall,  the  Salzach  River  burst  its banks  just  south  of  the  city.  Bridges  and roads  were  closed  for  hours,  and  1,000 buildings were partly or totally submerged. For  several  tense  hours,  it  appeared  the flood would wash the old town away.

Salzburg has always been a little unusual. Though it was never a royal capital, its medieval  power  and  prestige  were  based  on  a succession of prince-archbishops, who were urbane  power  brokers  rather  than  dour monks.  Compare  the  gloomy  Hohensalzburg Fortress, their first stronghold on the rocky heights of the Mönchberg, to the luxuriously  decorated  Residenz  down  by  the river  where  they  moved  later;  across  the river you can also see the French-style confection of Schloss Mirabell, built for one of the prince-archbishop’s mistresses (you may recognize  the  splendid  gardens  from  The Sound of Music). The archbishops’ summer retreat  at  Schloss  Hellbrunn,  20  minutes southeast  of  the  city,  is  positively  lighthearted, especially its elaborate gardens, full of exotic grottoes, water-powered automata, and so-called “water jokes” (apparently the bishops  weren’t  above  spritzing  a  visiting dignitary  in  the  eye  to  get  a  good  laugh). Their  home  church,  Salzburg  Cathedral, has been praised as the finest Renaissance Italian church ever built north of the Alps.

Mozart,  as  it  happens,  couldn’t  wait  to leave  his  provincial  hometown  and  get  to  Vienna ,  but  today  he’s  Salzburg’s  main tourism  draw.  A  statue  of  Mozart  was erected in 1842 in the center of town, in a cafe-lined plaza renamed, naturally, Mozart-platz;  the  town’s  premier  music  hall  is named  the  Mozarteum.  Head  through  the narrow  shop-lined  streets  of  the  historic district  to  the  composer’s  birthplace,  the Mozart Geburthaus, Getreidegasse 9, the cramped apartment where the Mozart family lived until he was 17; his boyhood violin, his concert violin, and his viola, fortepiano, and clavichord are on display. In 1773 the family moved across the river to the roomier  Mozart  Wohnhaus,  Makartplatz  8, bombed  in  World  War  II  but  rebuilt  as  a Mozart  museum  in  1996.  While  Mozart’s music is performed all year round, the sum-mer Salzburg Festival is the premier event: For   tickets,   contact   the   box   office   at Hofstallgasse 1, A-5020 Salzburg.