History

Salzburg had a tight grip on the region as far back as 15 BC, when the Roman town Iuvavum stood on the site of the present-day city. This Roman stronghold came under constant attack from warlike Celtic tribes and was ultimately destroyed or abandoned due to disease.

St Rupert established the first Christian kingdom and founded St Peter’s church and monastery in around AD 700. As centuries passed, the successive archbishops of Salzburg gradually increased their power and eventually were given the grandiose titles of Princes of the Holy Roman Empire.

Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau, Salzburg’s most influential prince-archbishop from 1587 to 1612, spearheaded the total baroque makeover of the city, commissioning many of its most beautiful churches, palaces and gardens. He fell from power after losing a fierce dispute over the salt trade with the powerful rulers of Bavaria, and died a prisoner.

Another of the city’s archbishops, Paris Lodron (1619–53), managed to keep the principality out of the Europe-wide Thirty Years’ War. Salzburg also remained neutral during the War of the Austrian Succession a century later, but bit by bit the province’s power waned and Salzburg came under the thumb of France and Bavaria during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1816 Salzburg became part of the Austrian Empire and was on the gradual road to economic recovery.

The early 20th century saw population growth and the founding of the prestigious Salzburg Festival in 1920. Austria was annexed to Nazi Germany in 1938 and during WWII some 40% of the city’s buildings were destroyed by Allied bombings. These were restored to their former glory, and in 1997 Salzburg’s historic Altstadt (old town) became a Unesco World Heritage site.