10 Sounds of Music Film Locations in Salzburg
There can be few other cities as closely associated with one film as Salzburg is with The Sound of Music based on the life of the Von Trapp family. The film uses the memoirs of family matriarch Maria Von Trapp as its source material but is severely condensed for dramatic effect. The West Germans also made a film version of the Von Trapp story in 1956, but of course, it’s the big Hollywood production of 1965 starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer that is so famous. Here we list 10 Sounds of Music film locations in Salzburg to help navigate your way around the city environs when you visit.
1/ Mirabell Palace and Gardens
The scenes shot here in the Neustadt are among the most iconic in the film, providing as it does much of the background for the multiple shots that formed the ‘Do Re Mi’ montage. It’s here that Maria and the children stomp around on top of the Pegasus fountain (after they miraculously change out of their window curtain clothing), run up through the ivy-laced garden tunnel, mimic the fencing statues with the palace in the background as they sing the line ‘sew: a needle pulling thread’, and march past the bespectacled gnome while patting him on head. The song’s finale takes place outside the palace with Maria and the children jumping up and down the steps, using it as a musical scale, in front of the Rose Hill. At the very end of the scene as they’re all lined up along the top step and Maria is belting out the final note you get a great view of the city castle, Hohensalzburg, in the background.
2/ Salzburg Puppet Theatre
The theatre itself doesn’t feature in the film, but its marionettes do when they’re used to perform the puppet theatre ‘The Lonely Goatherd’ in the family home for the Captain, Max and the Baroness. It’s hard to think of any other film sequence that features the main characters performing a marionette show apart from the famous Dance of Despair and Disillusionment scene in ‘Being John Malkovich’.
There are no timetabled tours of the Salzburg Puppet Theatre where you can view the marionettes used in the film, but you can purchase tickets for a theatre performance most days of the week. The theatre also stages its own puppet version of The Sound of Music from time to time.
3/ The Horse Pond (Pferdeschwemme)
The Horse Bath lies directly under Mönchsberg Hill in the Altstadt very close to the road and pedestrian tunnel that leads through to the Riedenburg quarter of the town. As its name suggests, it literally served as a horse bath in the Middle Ages. Its muraled facade was added in 1693 when the Archbishop built the new Royal Horse Stables next door. You see it in the film when Maria and the children dance past in the ‘My Favourite Things’ sequence.
4/ The Rock Riding School (Felsenreitschule)
Another memorable backdrop in the film is the arcaded Felsenreitschule where the Trapp family sing at the Salzburg Festival. Built-in 1693 by Archbishop Johann Ernst von Thun with three tiers of 96 arcades hewn into the walls of a disused quarry so that people could watch equestrian displays and animal baiting events, the Felsenreitschule was first put to use as a theatre venue for the Salzburg Festival in 1926, i.e. just one year before the real-life marriage of Maria and Georg Von Trapp. It’s here that the entire Von Trapp family perform the song ‘So Long, Farewell’ and the Captain almost breaks down during an emotional rendition of ‘Edelweiss’ until Maria and the family step in to help out before the audience joins in, much to the discomfort of the Nazi who’s come to make sure the Captain follows his orders to report for naval duty, Herr Zeller. It’s from the Felsenreitschule that the family escapes to a nearby cemetery crypt and finally over the Alps to safety (though in reality, they caught a train to Italy).
5/ St Peter’s Church Cemetery
The actual scene was filmed in a Hollywood studio, but the crypt of St Peter’s Church cemetery is where the family hid behind headstones while being hunted by the Nazis after escaping the Felsenreitschule, The family is discovered by postman-turned-Hitler-youth Rolf, but his love for eldest daughter Liesel ensures that he keeps his silence and doesn’t betray the family.
Although the cemetery served as inspiration only for the Nazi search scene, it’s still well worth visiting and is instantly recognizable. And it’s interesting to know that the real cemetery is unlike most others in that you must rent a burial plot rather than purchase one. Family members must pay a rental fee every ten years and maintain the grave of their dearly departed. If not, the body will be disinterred and ejected from the cemetery. The church is also home to the Stiftskeller Restaurant, which is thought to be the oldest in Europe. It is reputed that Emperor Charlemagne ate here in 803 AD.
6/ Residence Square (Residenzplatz)
The Altstadt’s Residenzplatz features in the film while Maria sings ‘I Have Confidence’ on her way from her convent to the Von Trapp family home to take up her new position as a governess. Maria enters through the Domplatz arches on the Southwest corner of the Square and if you watch very carefully as she does so you’ll three people crossing from left to right in the background dressed in traditional costume – these are the real Maria Von Trapp with one of her daughters and granddaughters. After passing through the arches Maria (Julie Andrews) splashes the horse in the 14m (45ft) tall Residence Fountain (Residenzbrunnen), considered to be among the most magnificent Baroque monuments in Europe today. Residenzplatz appears in another scene in the film where the Old Residence Palace (Alte Residenz) has a Nazi flag draped over it.
Possibly the best views in all Salzburg are from the top of the cliffs of Mönchsberg just outside the Museum der Moderne – sometimes known as Winkler Terrace. This is where we see Maria start out after leaving the convent to visit the Von Trapp family for the first time before she enters Residence Square. It’s also where the beginning of the ‘Do Re Mi’ montage was filmed. There’s a beautiful walk you can take to get there from Hohensalzburg all the way along Mönchsberg Hill, or you can get there more quickly by simply taking the elevator up from behind the Salzburg Museum. Alternatively, you can climb the stairs from Toscaninihof (behind the Festival Hall) to the top of Mönchsberg.
8/ Nonnberg Convent
Although the abbess of Nonnberg Convent refused permission to film inside, resulting in the interior scenes being shot in a studio, the outside of the convent nevertheless features several times in the film, such as when Maria leaves to begin her governess duties for the first time with the words “What will this day be like?”. The real-life Maria entered the convent as a postulant in 1924 and remained there for two years before agreeing to act as a tutor to one of the Von Trapp children. The film version of the Von Trapp wedding did not take place in the Nonnberg Abbey church but in the Collegiate Church outside Salzburg in nearby Mondsee.
9/ Hellbrunn Palace
The gazebo where the 21-year-old Charmian Carr, playing the Trapps' eldest daughter Liesel, performed the song "I am 16 going on 17" with postman Rolf, and where Maria and the Captain profess their love for each other, is these days found at Hellbrunn Palace on the outskirts of Salzburg. It was purpose-built for the filming and originally located at Leopold Palace, which served for the exterior shots of the Von Trapp family home, while the lake outside Leopold Palace was where Maria and the children went boating and fell into the water. You don’t have to pay to enter Hellbrunn Palace to see the gazebo, as it’s found in the palace garden which is free to enter. But it’s well worth purchasing a palace ticket anyway to experience the wonderful trick fountains (Wasserspiele).
10/ Gschwandtanger Meadow
This field above the village of Werfen isn’t where Maria twirled in the opening sequence of the Sound of Music, but rather where she started to teach the children how to sing ‘Do Re Mi’ while accompanying them on her guitar. In reality, the Von Trapp children already knew how to sing and were constantly engaged in musical activities with their father, Georg, although Maria did teach them how to sing madrigals. In the background, you can see Hohenwerfen Castle, which might also look familiar to action movie fans as it served as Schloss Adler where Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood ran amok in ‘Where Eagles Dare’.
The meadow was once off-limits to tourists and Sound of Music fans alike, but the village of Werfen opened up a Sound of Music Trail in 2015 for those who wanted to re-enact the picnic scene. The meadow is a 1.4km hike up from the village below.
Fact versus Fiction
As noted above, the film version of the Von Trapp story is condensed from 11 or 12 years to the year of 1938 when Austria was forcibly merged with Germany in the Anschluss of that year. While tutoring one Von Trapp child during recovery from illness in 1926, the real-life Maria fell in love with and formed a close bond with all seven children. Captain Georg Von Trapp, who was born in Zadar in modern-day Croatia and lived with his family in Pula on the Istrian Peninsula (then part of Italy) until the death of the first wife in 1922, fell in love with Maria and recognising that she’d make an ideal mother to his children made a proposal of marriage to her. He was 47 to Maria’s 22 (Christopher Plummer was 34 and Julie Andrews 28).
Maria was not in love with him and ran back to the convent to seek advice from the abbess. The abbess suggested it was God’s will that she marry the Captain and so she acceded to his request. She later wrote in her autobiography published in 1949 that on her wedding day she was furious at both God and her husband because what she really wanted was to be a nun: "I really and truly was not in love. I liked him but didn't love him. However, I loved the children, so in a way, I really married the children. I learned to love him more than I have ever loved before or after.
Maria and Georg had three children together, so finally there were 10 Von Trapp offspring and not seven (though the last was born in 1939 in the USA). Georg was not the cold and aloof father portrayed in the first half of the film, but rather a gentle, warm-hearted parent who encouraged and participated in his children’s love of music. As a protective parent, he was reluctant to allow the family to perform publicly but permitted them to do so out of financial necessity when the family’s money was lost in the aftermath of the Great Depression. The family won the Salzburg Music Festival in 1936 and subsequently became famous all across Europe singing Renaissance and Baroque music, madrigals, and folk songs.
Georg was an Austro-Hungarian naval hero from the First World War and was indeed offered a commission in the German navy after the Anschluss. As an opponent of the Nazi regime, however, Georg refused to fly the Nazi flag on their house and declined a request to sing at Hitler's birthday party. Despite considerable enticements offered by the Nazi regime, Georg and Maria eventually decided they couldn’t compromise their principles, especially in light of the Nazis’ anti-religious policies, and so they decided to leave for America. They didn’t escape over the Alps though; instead, they freely told everyone they were going to tour Europe and openly caught a train to Italy. They eventually arrived in the States at the start of 1939 and settled there for good. George died of lung cancer in 1947 and Maria died in 1987.
If you’d like to visit these 10 Sound of Music film locations in Salzburg either by yourself or with a guide then our travel consultants at Go Real Europe will be more than happy to help you out.
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