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Wednesday 5 October 2016

Passau: the beautiful baroque city where three rivers meet

St Stephan's Dom, Passau

Passau is a city in Bavaria, in the south-east of Germany. It is not far from the borders with Austria and the Czech Republic. 

The city has a long history and it stands on the strategically important junction between three large rivers: the Donau (known in many countries as the Danube), the Inn and the Ilz. These rivers join at a point called the drei flüsse eck (three rivers corner) at the end of the promontory on which the old town stands. From there, the river becomes the Donau (Danube).

Danube (Donau) at Passau

The town is first mentioned in Roman times and was the residence of a bishop from 739 CE. Bishops became the rulers of the small independent city state of Passau in the 13th century. The town was devastated by fire in 1662 and was rebuilt shortly after, using designs by Italian masters, in the baroque style. Passau became part of Bavaria in 1803 and the baroque had a big influence on Bavarian architecture, even through to the nineteenth century palaces of King Ludwig II.

The most impressive example of this baroque architecture in Passau has to be the Cathedral of St Stephen, in the centre of the old town and surrounded by cobbled alleyways and courtyards. It was designed by Carlo Lurago, with stucco work by Giovanni Battista Carlone and frescos by Carpoforo Tencalla. The overall effect can be seen in the first image above and in these below: the floor and lower parts of the pillars of the nave are fairly sedate, rising overhead to a tumult of colour and form.

The cathedral also houses the Europe's largest cathedral organ.

Passau cathedral organ

Even though most of the decorative sculpture is made from stucco (which is a mixture of lime, sand, water and sometimes a binding agent such as horsehair) there is some carving in wood. The organ has carved and gilded decoration and there is a large crucifix and some smaller statues. 

Perhaps the most impressive woodcarving is on the pulpit, which was constructed from carved and gilded lime wood. Designed by Vienna-based Antonio Beduzzi, with figures carved in the workshops of Lorenzo Mattielli, it was made between 1722 and 1726:

This cathedral replaced an earlier, medieval, one which was destroyed in the fire of 1662. Now, one of the few remaining identifiable pieces of the original cathedral is a carving that has become a symbol of the town and is displayed nearby - a large face carved in stone and now known as 'Der Passauer Tölpell'.

As well as the incredible work in the Dom, more beautifully-made pieces could be seen in many of the streets and alleyways around the old town. Some were statues..

...but more impressive to me were the stunning doors leading into many of the houses and courtyards. 

I wonder if these also date to the mid-late seventeenth century?

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