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You can easily get around Würzburg on foot, though you may want to board the nunber 9 bus for the uphill climb to the Marienberg Fortress. The town center is the Marktplatz (marketplace), where vendors sell produce and dispense sausages in the shadow of lovely red-and-white Marienkapelle (St. Mary’s Chapel), built in the 14th and 15th centuries and dedicated to the city’s patron saint. A few blocks to the south is another gathering spot, Rückermainstrasse, where an 18th-century fountain enhances the appearance of the distinctively tall and slender Rathaus (Town Hall). Just to the west, the Alte Mainbrücke (Old Main Bridge), completed in 1543, crosses the Main River with a flourish, adorned as it is with twelve enormous Baroque saints sculpted out of sandstone. From the end of the bridge a well-marked footpath climbs through the vineyards to the Marienberg Fortress. The Residenz is a short walk east from the Marktplatz.

Würzburg’s master Carver

Tilman Riemenschneider (1460–1531) lived and worked in Würzburg for 48 years, serving as both a councilor and mayor while gaining considerable fame for his sculptures and carvings. He married four times, oversaw a household of nine children and stepchildren, and owned several houses as well as vineyards. During the Peasants’ Revolt of 1525, this master woodcarver sided with the rebels and incurred the wrath of the prince-bishops. As a result of his political views, Riemenschneider was imprisoned and tortured, and his hands were broken, ending his artistic career. He died shortly after being released from prison, leaving behind his incredibly expressive wood sculptures that adorn churches and museums in Würzburg and elsewhere along the Romantic Road.

Fighting the Protestant Menace

Würzburg remained faithful to the Roman Catholic Church throughout the Reformation, partly through the efforts of Julius Echter von Mespelbrunn, a 17th-century prince-bishop (you’ll see an elaborate tapestry tracing his family line in the Fürstenbaumuseum in the Marienberg Fortress). Von Mespelbrunn staunchly defended Würzburg against protestant incursions by banishing Lutheran preachers and demanding that public officials be Catholic. Würzburg still has a large Catholic population and is known as “the town of Madonnas” because of the more than 100 statues of its patron saint that adorn the house fronts. The best known is the baroque “Patrona Franconiae,” the so-called Weeping Madonna, standing among other Franconian saints along the buttresses of the 15th-century Alte Mainbrücke.

 

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