To see a little more of Austria and learn more of its history, we had a field trip to the Mauthausen Concentration Camp, the Monastery of Saint Florian, and the little village of Hallstatt. I will write a separate article on the experiences from the concentration camp and the Holocaust survivor we heard a few days later.
First documented in 819, this monastery was founded after Saint Florian, who suffered martyrdom in the river Enns because of his Christian faith. It has also been the home of the famous boy’s choir for over 1,000 years.
The first room we toured was the library; a massive room possessing a total of 150,000 volumes, of which 108,000 date back before 1900. Not simply a collection, visitors can request to study these books for scientific purposes (under supervision of course). Painted on the ceiling is a fresco by Bartolomeo Altomonte from 1747, showing the marriage of virtue and science under the protection of religion.
The next room we entered was the Marble Hall, originally meant for entertaining guests, particularly royalty, but now is often reserved as a concert space. Another fresco by Bartolomeo Altomonte is shown here, this one focusing on Austria (the colour scheme of the entire room is based on the red and white from the Austrian flag; this includes the floor tiles, the fresco, and even mirrors to reflect the floor’s pattern).
We then headed to the Basilica, which was reconstructed in 1686. The organ, called the Bruckner-organ since 1930 after Anton Bruckner, the famous composer and organist who played and was later buried here, is the highlight of this section. It has 4 manuals, 103 sounding organ-stops, and 7343 pipes, creating a rich and resounding sound, though we were not lucky enough to hear it. Once again, frescoes adorn the ceiling, however these were created by two painters from Munich, and show the martyrdom of Saint Florian.
Lastly we entered the Crypt, located right underneath the Basilica. Anton Bruckner is buried here in a simple coffin. Many of the tombstones date from the Gothic period and in the niches are the coffins of abbots. All throughout, the foundations of the Gothic church and walls from Roman times can be seen. In the very back, the bones of 6,000 people are stored, which were discovered in 1291.
Our last of the day was Hallstatt, a picturesque if now overly touristy village on the eastern shore of the Hallstätter Lake. Until the late 19th century, it was only possible to reach the city by boat or small trails. While I did find the town beautiful, an hour was enough to walk the length, take some pictures, and have a coffee before heading back to the bus and to Salzburg.