The west facade, the Stephen's tower, medieval symbols of fertility and the significance of the numbers 05
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E-01 St. Stephen’s Cathedral
Here you can see the west facade of saint Stephen’s Cathedral.
St Stephen’s cathedral is the Landmark of Vienna. It dominates the old city panorama and with it’s 137m high spire, it towers above the city centre.
Generations of architects have worked on this building. The various building styles can still of course be seen today.
Here you can see the western façade of the cathedral: This is the oldest part , in Romanesque style and is around 750 years old. The western part was originally part of another church . The parts located behind it were later built on to it, in Gothic style. Parts of the western façade were also changed , like for example the window high up in the middle with the Gothic filigree ornamentation.
In the middle of the façade, you can see what is today the main entrance to the cathedral ,the Giants Door. Earlier this door was only opened on special occasions.
At that time you entered the cathedral through the side door entrances which were separated between men and women . The men entered the cathedral from the right-hand side and women from the left-hand side. On the Giants door you can see niches with Romanesque sculptures which seem to be arranged at random .
To the left and to the right you can see 2 towers which rise above the façade , those are the Heathen Towers: They are named the Heathen Towers because of the circular turrets on the spires. As a result, the Viennese were reminded of oriental and pagan Minarets. This is how part of a Christian church came to have such an unusual name.
In the lower area of the façade , to the left and right-hand side, you can still see old tombstones. Earlier, the cathedral was surrounded by a Cemetery. Of course, the cemetery doesn’t exist any more. The tombstones however, are still a reminder of it.
Another few interesting details can still be seen,
Around 2m near the door you can see 2 pillars. Nearly as high as the door. They have 2 small highly stylized sculptures. Do you see them ? They are around as high as the metal roof , underneath the smaller rounder alcoves in the wall. The left one represents a male stylized sex organ and the right one is the female counterpart. Medieval symbols of fertility?
Well, and another detail:
It can only be seen when you are standing directly in front of the Giants Door.
On the left –hand side of the giants door there are 2 iron bars , around one meter high, which can be found embedded in the stone. They were the standardized linear measurement or yard stick measurement in old Vienna at the time. The shorter one is the yard measurement the longer one is the double foot. So, if for example you had bought 7 yards of cloth and wanted to be sure that the sales- man hadn’t pulled a fast one on you then you could come here and measure the 7 yards again.
Oh yes and there’s something else to be seen , and that is, on the other side of the door on the façade , underneath the old tombstones. The numbers 0 5 can be seen engraved in the stone. That was a code of the Austrian resistance movement during the 2nd world war .0 stands for O and 5 stands for E, the fifth letter of the alphabet. So, 05 or OE as code for Österreich .Ö? The name Österreich was forbidden during the 3rd reich, at that time it was called Ostmark.
If you go from here , past the Tombstones , on the right hand side of the façade, then you have an view of the impressive South tower, Stephen’s tower. Stephen’s tower is 137m high and was built in the 13. and 14. century in Gothic style. The construction work lasted 200 years at that time. Actually –unthinkable nowadays!
Stephen’s tower has a quadratic ground layout but changes into an octagonal shape. It tapers off continuously towards the top.
It is the most representative Austrian building and the most important Viennese landmark. A late Gothic masterpiece.
The locals even gave the tower a nickname , they call it –Steffl or little Steve!
In front of the tower there is a front porch, the vestry. You will find a side entrance to the cathedral beside the vestry. The men’s entrance could be found on this side , the south side. The ladies had their own separate entrance on the opposite side.
Oh and by the way if you’re in good shape , you can climb up to the top of the Stephen’s tower . The entrance can be found in a little house behind the tower. Of course you have a wonderful view of the city from up here.
That was why Stephen’s tower was used as an observation post during the second Turkish siege of Vienna. From up there you were able to have a perfect view of the Turkish army’s movements in front of the city wall.
Later on the tower was used by the fire brigade.
The cathedral was damaged during the 2nd world war, although not by the attacking Red Army but by the defenders themselves. The roof was completely destroyed by fire. The timber framework of the roof was replaced by a modern steel construction. If you are interested, there is an exhibition in the light colored house opposite Stephen’s tower. Here you can view photo’s of the destruction.
Here you will find additional Information about St. Stephan´s Cathedral in Vienna. (wikipedia)