Karlskirche, Vienna. The most outstanding baroque church in the city

Wherever you are in Vienna, Karlskirche never seems to be far away. The magnificent copper green baroque dome towers above the skyline and dominates the city. Located on the Innere Stadt, just 200 metres (3.72 yards) or so from the Ringstrasse, it’s one of the city’s finest examples of baroque architecture.

The church was originally commissioned by Emperor Charles VI. In 1713, when the Black Plague was sweeping through Vienna, Charles vowed that if the plague left the city, he’d build a church in the name of St Charles Borromeo – an Italian bishop who helped plague victims. That’s exactly what happened, and we have Karlskirche to thank for it.

A tale of two architects

Charles VI ordered a competition to pick Karlskirche’s architect. The famous baroque architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach won. But that’s where his luck ran out. He started construction, but died during the work in 1723. Thankfully his son Joseph was able to carry on the project. He couldn’t help changing the plans though, and adding ideas of his own.

Mixing it up

Do you get the feeling that the Karlskirche is a bit of a mash up? Certain people would agree. Those towering columns are based on the Roman Trajan column. That portico, well, that’s ancient Greek. And the dome, that’s classic Viennese Baroque. It really is a bewildering collection of styles and the truly impressive thing is that Karlskirche manages to pull it off.

Other interesting facts about Karlskirche:

  • The church originally had a direct line of vision to Hofburg Palace
  • The dome rises 70 metres above the Viennese streets
  • The two columns portray scenes from the life of Charles Borromeo
  • This is where the Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr got married – she was called Hedwig Kiesler back then