Vienna is a city I know well. I’ve been there five times and I lived in the sixth district for six months in 2002. It is a fun but misunderstood city: many think it’s all Classics and Kuchen; a strong image – the result of successful PR. After all, Austrians have convinced the world that Beethoven was Austrian and that Hitler was German. Me, I blame Ultravox and their world’s best number 2 single.
But I digress. This is a post about buildings and baroque.
My favourite building in Vienna is the Karlskirche. It’s those twisted columns outside that do it for me. They make it look like a baroque version of the Taj Mahal. If you add the space in front (Karlsplatz) the church must be one of the most photogenic monuments in Europe. The Christmas market outside is the most atmospheric in Vienna. Believe me, I’ve been to about a dozen.
It’s the inside I want to talk to you about. In 2004 an internal temporary lift was constructed in order to restore the cupola. The lift goes up for 32 metres and the scaffolding continues for another 25. But then something happened. Everyone rushed to see the cupola frescoes up close. It’s not very often anyone can, in any church, and the Karlskirche is up there with the best of them. It was so popular, the lift is still there. And let me tell you, the experience is overwhelming.
Some hate it, of course. It detracts from the religious atmosphere. It has turned the church into a commercial attraction. It is ugly. It is likely that at some point the lift and the scaffolding will disappear.
In case it does, I’ve documented it for you.
The artist was the Austrian Johann Michael Rottmayr, who started work at the age of 70 and finished four years later, one year before he died.
It is not often that you reach the top of a dome. These are right at the top.
Finally – some details. Notice how unstylised and rather unreligious the frescoes look close up.