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Salzburg’s Getreidegasse and its through-houses | © Veronika Zangl MMPR
Salzburg’s Getreidegasse and its through-houses – a unique liaison!
Did you know? The Getreidegasse has more holes in it than a wheel of Swiss cheese! This makes everybody happy, and not just the locals who are prone to take shortcuts through the narrow passageways – Salzburg visitors have also been known to go into raptures about these through-houses.
When we get down to ranking Salzburg’s most popular streets, one of them has its nose just ahead of the rest: We are talking, of course, about the famous Getreidegasse. And its appeal isn’t just because this is where you will find Mozart’s Birthplace and an array of exclusive shops. To discover the reason, you need to do a bit of local-spotting: You see, Salzburgers possess the remarkable ability to disappear behind the thick walls of the Getreidegasse and somehow miraculously appear one street over, behaving nonchalantly as if nothing untoward had happened. What, does Harry Potter suddenly have some serious competition? That might be the explanation, of course. Though actually, this particular superpower of the Salzburgers has far more to do with the phenomenon we know as through-houses – the public passageways that lead off the Getreidegasse.
And who invented them?!
… the Salzburgers, of course! Until the mid-16th century, there was actually an extensive green space between the Getreidegasse and the Mönchsberg, known as the Frongarten. Located outside the walls of St. Peter’s, this area was used by nuns from the convent to grow vegetables, herbs and medicinal plants. Since, even back in the Middle Ages, all signs were pointing towards expansion, the archbishops permitted a second row of houses to be built – and the Frongarten shrank until it disappeared completely. However, there was one small problem with these new buildings: They were jammed in so tightly next to each other, it looked like it was going to be quite impossible to squeeze in any cross-streets. A less-than-ideal situation for commerce. But that’s when they decided to create these thoroughfares, essentially right through the middle of these rather opulent private homes.
A Hint of Pomp & Circumstance
The minute you step into one of the 13 through-houses off the Getreidegasse, you also embark on a journey back in time. Next stop: the Middle Ages! The ground is paved with Untersberg marble, a vaulted roof provides shelter. In between, wrought-iron doorways and narrow, steep stairways leading to the upper floors. There, the buildings also fascinate with their ornate fittings that have nothing – absolutely nothing – in common with the gray concrete blocks that people are so often crammed into today. The hoi polloi of Mozart’s day liked, for the most part, to maintain their distance from the “rabble” and invest instead in their own private realm. If you would like to take a closer look at this extravagant architecture, even though you might not happen to know any of the tenants in these buildings – not a problem, a stroll through the passages will suffice. Most of them feature an inner courtyard, which used to serve as a kind of community garden. In these areas where, today, small restaurants put out their tables and boutiques have set up shop, you can still see the splendid arcades, marble balustrades, stone reliefs and sometimes rather pompous cornices from various eras.
The decorative basics of the through-houses include lettering, engraved emblems and family crests. However, we find one particular treat in the so-called “Treasure Through-House” (No. 3 Getreidegasse): There, near the entrance, the rib of a whale hangs from the roof. And attached to this is a small, dried-out shark. But if you are about to yank out your mobile phone and give Greenpeace a call, please just hold on for one second. Both of these accessories are actually all that’s left of a clever marketing campaign run by the Mayr‘scher Kolonialwarenhandel. It was located at No. 3 Getreidegasse back in the 14th century, before Josef Schatz, a wood turner, eventually bought the building in the 19th century. The whale bone and shark were allowed to stay and would even be used later as props in the Salzburg Festival by Max Reinhardt.
If you’re a little bit confused by all of those passages, let us help: the even-numbered through-houses lead to a part of downtown on the River Salzach known as the Griesviertel, while the odd-numbered ones bring you to Universitätsplatz. See, that wasn’t too complicated now, was it? So, think it’s about time for a shortcut?