Stephansdom: History (1600 – 1900)

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Wars, fire alarm, and Pummerin (16th-18th century)

Stephansdom and especially its south tower served an important role as a watch tower both for military and fire prevention purposes. There was a watchman who operated on the tower and even had his apartment there (Türmer Stube). Tourists can climb the south tower up to the Türmer Stube today (the fee is EUR 3.50 and there are 343 stairs).

Watchman’s usual job was to warn citizens as soon as he sees a fire. In wars the tower was a good observation point. During the unsuccessful siege of Vienna by the Turks in 1529 St. Stephen’s Cathedral served as the informal headquarters of the defenders. Capturing Vienna was a long term strategic goal of the Ottoman Empire, as it would provide them with an access to the Danube and other important trade routes. The Turks were besieging Vienna again in 1683, when they were eventually defeated in the Battle of Vienna. This battle stopped the Ottoman expansion and started more than two centuries of Habsburg hegemony in Central Europe. As the capital of their vast empire Vienna became one of the most important cities in Europe. Under the reign of Karl VI Vienna was promoted to archbishopric in 1722 by Pope Innocent XIII.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral benefited directly from the won battle. 208 out of the 300 cannons captured from the Turks were used to cast a big bell, called Pummerin. Though the bell was damaged after falling onto the ground in a big fire in 1945, it was recast from the same metal and still rings today on special occasions as the biggest bell of the Stephansdom and one of the biggest bells in the world.

Mozart and Napoleon in St. Stephen’s Cathedral (18th-19th century)

Yes, both these famous people have been there, though they missed one another by a few years. In case of Mozart, Stephansdom played an important role in his whole life, especially when he lived in the nearby Figaro House. He had his wedding here in 1782, two of his children were baptised here, and eventually Mozart’s funeral took place in the Chapel of the Cross in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in 1791. Shortly before his death Mozart was appointed an adjunct music director here. Details about Mozart’s relationship with the Cathedral can be found inside at a memorial tablet.

Napoleon’s ties to Stephansdom were not that close. Nevertheless, his farewell edict was posted on the Giant’s Gate when he was leaving Vienna in 1805.