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Vienna Cathedral’s highest point, the south tower, is 136.7 metrers (448 ft) tall, which makes St. Stephan’s Cathedral the 8th tallest church in the world (among those still standing) and the tallest in Austria. Number nine is also located in Austria; it is the Neuer Dom in Linz with 134.1 metres (440 ft). When the churches which were destroyed or demolished are included, Stephansdom is number 13th worldwide of all time.
The construction of the south tower started in 1368 and took 65 years. Upon its completion in 1433 St. Stephen’s Cathedral was the 3th tallest church worldwide, but dropped to number 4 after only six years, when the north tower of the Strassbourg Cathedral was completed (144 metres, 472 ft, completed in 1439). Throughout its history the highest tower of the Stephansdom served as an important watch tower for the whole city and helped protect Vienna from great fires. The watchman, who had an appartment directly inside the tower, rang the bells when he saw a fire to warn the citizens. The Cathedral served this important function till as late as 1955. It also served military (observation) purposes when enemy armies laid siege to Vienna in 1529 or during the Battle of Vienna in 1683.
The tower, also referred to as “Steffl” by the Viennese, is considered one of the most beautiful Gothic towers in the world and is decorated with sculptures, but the ones which can be seen on the tower today are actually copies. The originals are stored in the Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien (Historical Museum of the City of Vienna).
There is the Austrian imperial emblem, the double-headed eagle, standing at the spire, with the Habsburg-Lorraine coat of arms and a patriarchal cross on its chest.
You can climb the south tower as high as to the watchman’s appartment (Türmer Stube). The cost is EUR 3.50 for adults (there is a discount for children) and 343 stairs. The tower is open every day all year round from 9 am to 5:30 pm and no registration is required in advance. The tower offers a great panorama of the city, although renovation works may restrict the view a bit. Read more about climbing the tower.
As the south tower of the Stephansdom exceeds all the nearby buildings by a good margin, it is well visible from most parts of the city and serves as a good orientation point for those who get lost when walking around in Vienna city centre. This is also valid at night, when the Cathedral is lit. Following the tower would bring you to Stephansplatz, a busy metro station.
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