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Together with its 137 metres (448 ft) high south tower, the coloured roof of St. Stephen’s Cathedral is one of the symbols of Vienna. It is considerably tall too (reaches 38 metres, or 125 feet, above the ground) and very steep. Thanks to its steepness the roof is rarely covered by snow and is very clean compared to roofs of other cathedrals, as rain can wash is easily. It is 111 metres (361 ft) long, but it is not its size what makes the Cathedral’s roof so popular.
The roof of the Viennese Cathedral is not as boring as roofs of some other churches. It is an artwork by itself. The roof is made of 230,000 glazed tiles of different colours which form various mosaics and patterns. On the south side of the roof (above the choir) the mosaics represent the double-headed eagle, symbol of the Austrian empire under the rule of the Habsburgs. On the north side there are another two eagles, this time each with only one head. These eagles carry the coats of arms of the City of Vienna and of the Republic of Austria, respectively.
The original roof was destroyed in the great fire of St. Stephen’s Cathedral at the end of Word War II. The fire got to the Cathedral from the nearby houses over the north tower and damaged the wooden framework of the roof, eventually causing it to collapse.
Restoration works started soon, but were facing a difficult task. Steel bracing was used instead of wood to replicate the original bracing of the roof. The new roof was completed in 1950.
You can take a closer look at the coloured tiles of the Cathedral’s roof from one of the towers. You’ll have to climb the south tower on your own (343 stairs) or take a lift to the north tower of the Stephansdom.
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