Aside from Venice, there are only two large cities in Europe that hold for me any charm-London and Naples. Of the smaller towns, those which, while no longer villages, have yet not reached the point where charm is merged in bigness, there are, perhaps, a score that are still delightful, and of these Salzburg stands preeminent. But even so, it is too much of a city, in places too cosmopolitan, and it was only after a struggle that I yielded to the town’s undeniable fascination and recognized that, in spite of its size, it is, after all, one of the picture towns of Europe. This fascination lies partly in the wonderful beauty of its situation, strongly suggestive of Innsbruck, but more particularly in its very foreign and very Italian atmosphere. The suggestion of Italy, strong though it is, rather eludes definition. It is found, perhaps, in the many fountains, the strictly Renaissance churches, the occasional frescoes on outer walls, in the narrow, crooked streets of the old town, and in the mysterious way these streets have of vanishing through archways under buildings that are thrown boldly across them. Most of all, it depends on the bright, sunny light, and the good-natured crowds which you see in the streets.
The merely foreign effect is easy to locate and describe. It is in the carriages with, a single shaft in the middle and the horse at one side, with the outside trace of rope; it is in the queer ox-carts, guided often by peasant girls; in the women crossing-sweepers, carrying twig brooms; in the bareheaded, brown-coated friars, barefooted save for sandals; in the long pipes the men smoke, hanging far down on their vests; in the frequent shrines on the street corners, with sad-faced Christs and burning lamps before them; in the many Tyrolean costumes of the men and boys, green the prevailing color, with the little peaked hat and jaunty feather, kneebreeches of leather, and half-hose, the short little coat and waistcoat bright with silver buttons. The school children, too, are different; some of the boys trudge along bareheaded, with a long black apron reaching from neck to knee, others wear the colorful dress of the Tyrol, but all have knapsacks for luncheon or school-books strapped over their shoulders.
Salzburg lies in a rather narrow valley, stretched along both sides of a river. The view down this valley is a glorious one, ending in the dim and ragged profile of a snow-streaked mountain. On the right rises a naked peak of singular savageness of outline, while from it there sweeps a vast circle of other mountains. In the center of the picture and of the town rises a lofty rock with sheer, precipitous sides, capped with the picturesque and irregular pile of a great castle.
The old part of the city lies on the side of the river across from the station and the newer section, and is huddled under the cliff of the Monchsberg that rises straight above the labyrinth of streets to a height of two hundred feet and more. There is something curiously aggressive in the appearance of this long wall of rock that seems to be seeking to push the houses at its base into the river, and something equally curious in the way you reach the top, by spidery, Eiffel-like iron towers within which elevators run. Under its shadow the little streets turn ” everywhich-way,” as if seeking to escape, and in their narrow ways the congested traffic often comes to a deadlock, a confused and vociferous mass of struggling horses, excited drivers, impassive ox-teams and shouting peasants. One street finally gets away and, dodging through a tunnel beneath the cliff, comes out on views of green fields and gray mountains and little villages upon the other side. Many of the drinking-shops in this quarter have a character quite their own. Cavernous openings in the high, blank walls lead through dim passages into wine-rooms that have stone floors and vaulted ceilings. In no other town have I noticed this trick of burrowing into far places, where the roystering citizens may make merry, undisturbed and undisturbing.
Close under the rock, and by a Renaissance church that looks as if transported from Italy, is the market-place, crowded on Thursdays with the country people, who, under their white umbrellas, have all sorts of things for sale; flowers in heaps of vivid color, cherries, peas, onions, bits of home-made lace, fish from the river, all a mass of picturesque confusion. Some of the women have head-dresses of big bows of black ribbon, not unlike those worn by the girls of Alsace-Lorraine; some are very old, some very young, but all are laughing and chatting, and none but has a pleasant word for the passerby. The same courteous, charming manners that so distinguish the Bavarian people of all classes, just across the Austrian border, are noticeable here, and differentiate sharply these people of Salzburg from their less agreeable countrymen further to the east.
None of the churches in Salzburg is very impressive; no Renaissance church ever can be for me, not even St. Peter’s at Rome, but the church in this Austrian city that is best worth while is in the, striking square of St. Peter’s, and is the namesake of the great Italian edifice. The interior is stately, but cold, the only color being found in the gorgeous altar, and in the many paintings forming panels in the ceiling. But it is too light, too white, to carry any emotional appeal, and yet it is the best of the Salzburg churches. There is, however, altogether too much to see in and around the city to spend much time on churches, so much to see, in fact, that I shall not attempt even to catalogue the points of interest-your guide book will tell you of them, and they are all worth a visit.
And, perhaps, most interesting of all is the man in the street. One Sunday afternoon I was sitting on a bench on the shady side of the road watching the crowd, when by-and-by down the length of the highway came a strange procession. First a crucifer, his white cotta belted tightly around him, holding aloft the cross and Christ, then, in full and gorgeous vestments, a priest who, as he walked, read aloud from a book, then several hundred bareheaded men, and then, perhaps, a thousand women and children, and all of them -men, women and children-were reciting something in a weird monotone, not in unison, but each independent of the other. It was not a song, nor was it a chant; it might have been a creed or a prayer, but it was endless, and as, with the passing of the people, the great sound came fainter and fainter, the effect was curious in the extreme.
One of the most singular and interesting places in the city is the Capuchin monastery that stands upon a densely wooded hill directly over against the castle. You enter the domain from one of the main streets through an archway under a fourstory building that is built directly over the way. Thence hundreds of steps wind up the mountain side, with shrines at short distances containing life-size figures that tell the story of the crucifixion. Presently you come to an ancient, frowning gateway through which the way still leads upward, until it culminates in the final act of the passion. On a grassy knoll, approached by wide steps, stands a temple-like structure, open on all sides, the roof supported by time-worn columns of stone, beneath which three tall crosses stand, the center one upholding a greater than life-size figure of the Crucified, upon the other two the thieves. At the foot are kneeling the women and that Apostle Jesus loved. I know nothing of the art involved, but whether crude or whether really good, these figures make their story very vital. While I looked, two boys came by and knelt in a reverence that was real, and after a time went their way, the better, I am sure, for that brief prayer.
But the monastery lies still beyond and still upward. At a gate, strong enough to have answered for defense in the troublous days that sometimes came to Salzburg in the olden time, a pull at a long rope hanging from the wall sets a bell to jangling and brings a brown-clad brother to admit you to the dense and beautiful forest that lies within. Under the great trees paths lead in every direction, and some go higher to the very top, and some go down to quiet hollows, one to the monastery itself, and others to open spaces from which are seen the most beautiful views in Salzburg. From these places the mountains seem very near, with the mists continually forming and reforming about them in a wonderful way, rolling along their deep ravines, closing upon their peaks, and melting again to nothing. Between the mountains and the monastery hill the river runs, and Salzburg lies dominated by the castle on its rock.
More charming, however, than the view, are the forest paths. I know no other city where the magic of the woods is brought so close, for as you loiter on, with only the squirrels and the birds for company, from far below you can hear through the leafy barriers the clang of trolley cars, and the dull, steady roar of the city’s life. I had wandered far into the green depths of the woods where there was final silence from the noise, when suddenly, and with startling clearness, came the sound of an organ and the chant of a choir; the monks were at prayer. It was very impressive, listening to the sweet sound of that hidden service alone in the woods at Salzburg.
Not only is the town full of interest in itself, but there are few places in any country from which so many fascinating excursions can so easily be made. There are mountains to be scaled in a few hours by funicular railway, and others involving real climbing, requiring guides and several days to achieve. There are beautiful castles in lonely places, on little islands in green lakes, on lofty crags, or amidst the verdure of flower-painted pastures. There are historic chateaux surrounded by rare gardens, where fountains play from unexpected corners. And there are walks and drives through romantic mountain scenery, or along still waters and through tree-set villages.
But most wonderful of all is the trip to the Konigsee, perhaps the very strangest and most impressive lake in Europe, and certainly the most beautiful body of water in either Germany or Austria. Even the way thither is an experience one will never forget. The little train follows the valley that leads toward the snow-streaked mountain which becomes tremendously imposing in its massiveness as you come nearer. Almost at the valley entrance we pass one great peak that steps out into the plain in splendid aloofness from the range behind. Clouds lie along its sheer sides, but the summit shows out vividly against the blue. Through little villages, eminently Swiss in character, with stones weighting the roofs of the houses, and crossing and reerossing the foamy river, the railroad steadily climbs, and soon, though mid-July, the snow is close at hand upon the mountain sides. I can recall no journey more replete with savage grandeur than this road among the mountains from Salzburg, and nowhere in Switzerland or the Tyrol is a more exquisite village than the clean little town of Berchtesgaden, where you change cars, and where, if you are wise, you will stay for a day on your return to Salzburg. Overhanging the place is a snow-girdled peak strongly suggestive of the Matterhorn, and from every foot of the attractive streets are views of exceeding loveliness. Close by the station is a tiny chapel, the smallest I have ever seen, with just four seats, and an altar that completely fills one whole side. At almost every corner of the town are shrines where someone is always kneeling, and which add not a little to the charm of this gem village among the peaks.
The Konigsee itself is a curious, narrowlake of bottlegreen water. At one side of the little landing-place strange, flat-bottomed boats, each with a crew of a man and a woman in native costume, wait for passengers, and at a pier a short distance away a rival motor-boat bids for traffic. The round trip in the boat with the rowers takes five hours. Around this marvelous lake the mountains leap perpendicularly from the water, many of them rising a mile into the air. Patches of snow lie white against their gray sides, and fleecy clouds occasionally band their stern flanks. It is a lake of incredible loneliness. There is no room for any house along these cliffs, lifting so abruptly from the water’s edge; no man can ever scale their tremendous sides; no beach can fringe the rocks that plunge directly down far into the transparent depths; no roads can ever descend to these shores save at the head and the foot of the lake. Only at one or two places do the mountains give back even for a few feet, and at one of these clusters the little hamlet of St. Bartholomew, where the voyagers stop for luncheon on their return.
The middle-aged man and woman who constituted my crew chatted like lovers for the entire voyage, and I would have given much to know what these isolated peasants found to talk of so pleasantly, and so long. They were dressed in Tyrolean costume, and took turns at the heavy oar, only occasionally rowing together. When about half-way down the lake the man produced a pistol of astonishing antiquity, and, pouring into it some powder, set it off, awakening the most marvelous series of echoes I have ever heard.
But the real wonder waits at the end of the voyage. As you land, an amphitheater opens in the mountains and a path leads towards it. Going forward, the giant walls narrow upon you; straight ahead might be the end of the world. Over a mile high, and perpendicularly above you, tower the naked rocks, and then suddenly you come upon a painted lake, the Obersee, lying rippleless at their base. So extraordinary and so vivid is the color that I believe it to be without parallel. The shelving shore is copper-green, visible far out from the beach, and blending on this color and wonderfully intensified are the browns, yellows and purples that, in long streaks, stain the cliffs. The marvelous picture is completed by a ribbon of a waterfall that tumbles from a shelf a thousand feet up the mountain side. Nowhere have I ever experienced such a sense of remoteness. There is nothing but the overwhelming mountains and the strange, still lake.
The history of Salzburg is written in the grim walls of its castle. Rome, of course, was here, and after the barbarian invasion had left the city a heaped-up pile of ruins, a desolation settled down upon it that remained undisturbed for a century. Then, when order and religion came creeping back, the Church acquired the ruined town and gradually made of it, under the rule of bishop princes, the dominant power of the eastern Alps, a power that steadily grew until, after a long siege of its almost impregnable citadel, the Emperor Barbarossa captured and destroyed the town in 1167. But time brought back the ecclesiastical rule, and with years of peace, alternating with savage and sometimes successful rebellion, the city remained in the hands of its priestly rulers until Napoleon came, when, on March 11th, 1803, the then archbishop resigned his temporal power, and Salzburg became part of the Empire. After the passing of Napoleon the city became eventually incorporated into the empire of Austria, as it still remains, though yet preserving a local government and parliament of its own. These soldier monks maintained a great magnificence in the castle on the hill, a splendor that is still easy to realize when in the sumptuous rooms of state.
An inclined railway carries the traveler up from the town and leaves him upon a platform backed by the lofty ramparts of the fortress, and fronting a magnificent view that embraces the city, the wooded hill of the Capuchin monastery and to the left the far, misty plains of Bavaria. The Germans and Austrians have a most reprehensible passion for inserting a restaurant into the most sublime of landscapes, so here, at eleven o’clock in the morning, crowds are seated on the platform eating sausages and onions and things, and blowing froth from schooners of beer, a11 of which effectually prevents one getting in very great harmony with the romantic past, or the beautiful landscape.
You are taken into the courtyard through a long, vaulted entrance, and thence by narrow and twilit corridors, where all sorts of things might have happened, and up dark stairs that circle steeply within the thickness of the walls, to the state apartments, splendid with their ceilings of red and blue and gold, but otherwise empty and deserted. In the great hall the roof is upheld by four spiral columns of red granite, and the hinges to the various doors are wonderful examples of iron work, spreading their delicate and elaborate scrolls clear across the panel. In what must have been a bedroom the ceiling has the effect of being upheld by numerous wooden pillars along the walls, at the top of each a little shrine with a carved or painted figure of the Virgin or the Christ.
Down below are the dungeons and torture chambers found in every medieval castle, and their grimness and the splendor of the rooms above, and the thick walls and massive towers, bring out from the past a perfect picture of a feudal fortress, and help to visualize vividly the fierce and yet luxurious life that long ago was lived there.