Gurk Tourist Attractions
The little market town of Gurk nestles in the center of the Gurk valley, some 30km/20mi north of Klagenfurt and 15km/10mi northwest of St Veit an der Glan. Gurk cathedral is one of the most important Romanesque churches in Austria and attracts numerous pilgrims. Known as a Celtic settlement back in Roman times, Gurk was first mentioned in the records in 864. Countess Hemma founded a church of Our Lady and a convent here in 1043, and it became the see of a bishop in 1072. In 1787 the see was transferred to Klagenfurt, and the church has now acquired the status of a basilica. Since 1932 the buildings erected in 1637-64 have been used by a Salvatorian order.
The Gurk Cathedral (Dom), built between 1140-1200, is a three-aisled basilica with a transept and three apses. The remains of St Hemma were moved in the 12th C. to the crypt under the choir. The exterior is plain, and the twin west towers, 41m/135ft high, had onion domes added in 1682. The barrel-vaulted porch, with a doorway of 1200, has been enclosed since the Gothic period, when its interior was richly decorated with wall paintings and stained glass (1348). The paintings on the north and south wall of the porch show scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Above the south portal there are carvings of Christ the Savior, while those above the central apse to the east depict a lion and an evil reptile. The interior of the Cathedral has had reticulated vaulting since the Late Middle Ages; the nave and transept have fan vaulting and the choir a stellar-vaulted roof. The pulpit and the cruciform altar at the end of the nave, both dating from about 1740, are luxuriant Roccoco creations, with lead reliefs and a "Pietà" by the Viennese sculptor Georg Raphael Donner. The Samson Doorway, on the left wall of the nave, dates from 1200. Between the transept and the choir stands a Roccoco screen of 1740. The wall paintings are most impressive: St Christopher (c. 1250; near the sacristy door), the Downfall of Saul (c. 1380), Death and Assumption of the Virgin (c. 1390). Six painted wooden reliefs depict the legend of St Hemma, foundress of the convent. The Baroque high altar (1626-38) is divided into several horizontal sections and has 72 statues and 82 angels' heads; in its main niche rests a portrayal of The Assumption of the Virgin Mary. During Holy Week the altar is covered by a Lenten veil (1458) with 99 scenes from the Old and New Testaments.
Address: Domplatz 11, A-9342 Gurk, Austria
Opening hours: 7am-12pm, 1pm-4pm; Fri: 7am-1pm, 1pm-4pm; Closed: Sun, Sat
Useful tips: Tours: Daily at 1pm (reserve ahead to ensure availability).
The Episcopal Chapel in the Gurk Cathedral's west gallery can be seen only on a conducted tour; access is by way of the staircase in the south tower. This room has some exceptionally well-preserved frescos (c. 1200) of scenes from Paradise (including the Creation of Man), Heavenly Jerusalem, the Prophets, Symbols of the Evangelists and The Virgin Mary on King Solomon's Throne.
The Gurk Cathedral Crypt (1174) can also be seen only on conducted tours. It lies under the choir, has a hundred columns, and contains the beautifully decorated sarcophagus (the "Hemmagruft") of St Hemma (died 1045) under an altar of c. 1720.