St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna
The oldest remaining parts of Saint Stephen's, the Giant Gate (Riesentor) and the Towers of the Heathens (Heidentürme) are in Romanesque style and date from the 13th century. Duke Rudolph IV of Habsburg ordered the complete restructuring of the church in Gothic style (this and the establishment of the University earned him the sobriquet the Founder) and, in 1359, laid the cornerstone of the nave with its two aisles. The South Tower (Südturm), 448 feet high, was completed in 1433 (the Viennese have given it the nickname Steffl, which also denotes the whole cathedral). In 1469, Emperor Frederick III, who was later buried in the cathedral, persuaded the Pope to make Vienna, until then under the spiritual guidance of Passau, an independent diocese. After 1511, building of the North Tower (Nordturm), 224 feet high, ceased; the unfinished Gothic tower was capped with a makeshift Renaissance spire from 1556 to 1578.
During the 17th and 18th century, the cathedral was decorated with Baroque altarpieces - the panel of the main altar shows the stoning of its namesake St. Stephen, the first martyr of Christendom. In the final days of World War II, the church was virtually gutted by fire. The people of Vienna and all of the Austrian states contributed to the reconstruction, and the cathedral was reopened in 1948.
St. Stephen's Cathedral, Austria's most eminent Gothic edifice, houses a wealth of art treasures, some of which can only be seen during a guided tour: the red-marble sepulcher of Emperor Frederick III, sculpted from 1467 to 1513 by Niclas Gerhaert van Leyden; the pulpit, a work from 1514-15 by Anton Pilgram (who put his own relief portrait underneath it as his signature); the Altarpiece of Wiener Neustadt (Neustädter Altar), a Gothic winged altar from 1147 - and the tomb of Prince Eugene of Savoy, dating from 1754.
In the North Tower, Austria's largest bell, known as the Boomer Bell (Pummerin), has found its home (there is an express elevator to the observation platform - skip this great view if you are afraid of heights!): the forerunner of this giant bell was cast from the material oft the Turkish guns left behind in the retreat ending the siege of 1683 and was suspended in the South Tower; in the fire of 1945, it fell and shattered; the new bell, with a diameter of more than 10 feet and a weight of more than 47,000 pounds, is only rung on very special occasions, such as to mark midnight on New Year's Eve.
Next to the North Tower elevator is the entrance to the catacombs, underneath the cathedral, an underground burial place which contains the mausoleum of the bishops, the tombs of Duke Rudolph the Founder and 14 other members of the Habsburg family, and 56 urns with the intestines of the Habsburgs which died between 1564 and 1878. Imperial Burial Vault.
In the South Tower, the 343 steps of a tight spiral staircase lead up to the watchman's lookout 246 feet above street level; it was once used as a fire warden's station but now serves as an observation point.