A basilica built on the site of a Romanesque sanctuary, this cathedral was founded in the 12th century in what was, even in the Middle Ages, the town's center.
A 1258 fire that swept through Vienna virtually destroyed Stephansdom; and toward the dawn of the 14th century, a Gothic building replaced the basilica's ruins. The cathedral suffered terribly during the Turkish siege of 1683, then experienced peace until Russian bombardments in 1945. Destruction continued when the Germans fired on Vienna as they fled the city at the close of World War II. Restored and reopened in 1948, the cathedral is one of the greatest Gothic structures in Europe, rich in woodcarvings, altars, sculptures, and paintings. The 135m (450-ft.) steeple has come to symbolize the spirit of Vienna.
The 106m-long (352-ft.) cathedral is inextricably entwined with Viennese and Austrian history. Mourners attended Mozart's "pauper's funeral" here in 1791, and Napoleon posted his farewell edict on the door in 1805.
The pulpit of St. Stephan's is the enduring masterpiece of stonecarver Anton Pilgrim, but the chief treasure of the cathedral is the carved wooden Wiener Neustadt altarpiece, which dates from 1447. The richly painted and gilded altar, in the left chapel of the choir, depicts the Virgin Mary between St. Catherine and St. Barbara. In the Apostles' Choir, look for the curious tomb of Emperor Frederick III. Made of pinkish Salzburg marble in the 17th century, the carved tomb depicts hideous hobgoblins trying to wake the emperor from his eternal sleep. The entrance to the catacombs or crypt is on the north side next to the Capistran pulpit. Here you'll see the funeral urns that contain the entrails of 56 members of the Habsburg family. You can climb the 343-step South Tower of St. Stephan's for a view of the Vienna Woods. Called Alter Steffl (Old Steve), the tower, marked by a needlelike spire, dominates the city's skyline. It was originally built between 1350 and 1433, and reconstructed after heavy damage in World War II. The North Tower (Nordturm), reached by elevator, was never finished to match the South Tower, but was crowned in the Renaissance style in 1579. From here you get a panoramic view of the city and the Danube.