Affectionately known by the Viennese as the "Steffl", this city emblem is Austria's most important Gothic building. Its history reaches back to 1147, when the first, Romanesque church was consecrated.
Vienna's imposing landmark on Stephansplatz -- the Viennese simply call it "Steffl." The 350-foot-long St. Stephen's Cathedral dates from the 12th Century. Its 449-foot south tower is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture; in the 15th century it was Europe's tallest building for more than 50 years. In the former Austria-Hungary, it was forbidden for any taller church to be built. The oldest, late Romanesque parts of the cathedral can be found on the west side: the "Giant Gate" and the "Heathen Towers" date from the 13th century. The Gothic reconstruction of the church occurred in the 14th century -- from this era stems the impressive Gothic choral hall.
In all, 15 Habsburgs are buried in the cathedral catacombs. In the unfinished north tower hangs the 21-ton "Pummerin," the second-largest church bell in Western Europe. It is said that they poured the bell originally from melted-down cannonballs from the successful rebuff of the Turks from Vienna in 1683. In the last days of the war in 1945, the roof and bell tower of St. Stephen's burned completely out; the reconstruction lasted until 1962. The roof, on which the imperial eagle, the Austrian federal eagle, and the Vienna crest are emblazoned, is covered with roughly 230,000 glazed tiles. Today, St. Stephen's Cathedral is the site of state funerals and daily masses as well as an irresistible tourist magnet in the city's center. Hike to the top of the South Tower, and you will see the most spectacular views of Vienna, of course the 343 medieval steps may argue against that undertaking.