Karlskirche or St. Charles Church is a magnificent example of Baroque architecture in the heart of Vienna. And let’s be honest, Vienna is no slouch where Baroque architecture is concerned. The church was built to commemorate the lives of 8,000 people who died during the 1713-14 plague epidemic in the city. It was dedicated to St. Charles Borromeo, patron saint of plague sufferers as well as personal patron saint of Emperor Charles VI, who was Holy Roman Emperor at the time. Construction on the church began in 1716 and continued for 20 years.
The church is Baroque, but it also combines classical Roman and Greek elements on the portico and arches as well as Byzantine and Ottoman architecture with the many domes and towers. The bas-relief columns at the front of the church echo back to Trajan’s Column in Rome. The interior of the church is lavish in decor with colored marble and rich paintings – Charles VI insisted regions all over the empire contribute building materials to the church, making it a votive church for the whole empire, which at that time included Sardinia, Naples, Milan, the Spanish Netherlands, and the Hungarian Crown lands in addition to Austria itself.
When I was there, the interior of the church was undergoing renovations – a temporary lift was installed in 2002 that allows you to reach a platform high above the main floor but just below the dome. It offers a unique perspective on the artwork detail that is hard to see from the ground. Suspended underneath the platform is an art installation called Palimpsest by Hannes Mlenek, a modern piece in stark contrast to its centuries-old surroundings.
Finally, a fun fact: Hedy Lamarr, the American actress of Austrian descent, was married in the church in 1933.
Title quote: Latin for “I will pay my vows in the sight of them that fear Him” Psalm XXI – inscription on the front of Karlskirche