Names can be deceptive. Take, for example, the Maria am Gestade church, which really ought to be serving river folk on some pebbled shore and not sitting on a rise in the centre of Vienna.
- Gothic church (second-oldest in Vienna)
- Known for its unique tower and structural kink
- Named for a location that no longer exists
- Also starred in The Third Man
- See also: Churches in Vienna
(Not) down by the river
In German, the Gestade is the shore of a river or sea. So the Maria am Gestade translates to something like Maria by the Shore. Which comes as a surprise when you stand next to the church, as there’s no shore (or water) anywhere in sight.
To be fair, a small arm of the Danube (the Donaukanal) lies only a couple of streets away. But the church’s location still hardly counts as by the riverbank. Only two possibilities can explain the confusion: either the church moved or the river did. And it turns out, it was some part of the Danube river complex that decided to change course midstream (literally and figuratively).
In centuries past, the lack of waterway regulatory infrastructure meant rivers would often shift position after floods or similar hydrological events. The Danube, for example, used to pass along the very edge of Vienna’s old town, but the main arm shifted away leaving the rather meagre Danube canal behind.
(The early 15th-century Gothic tower seen from the distance)
The shoreside location explains the church’s tall and narrow design. And accounts for the kink, too. Stand at one end of the church and something feels wrong. Turns out there’s a kink in the structure. The nave and choir do not line up. It almost feels as if they merged two churches together by knocking down a wall between them.
The Gothic look is part genuine, part renovation. Nobody knows quite when the church first appeared, but sometime before the 1130s seems likely. Various rebuilding and extension works followed as well as a checkered history that included a short period as a stables for Napoleon’s troops and total disuse and disrepair shortly afterwards.
Today, the Redemptorist catholic order runs the church, which serves Austrian, French and Czech congregations.
Church as film star?
Maria am Gestade may be the second-oldest church in Vienna (after the Ruprechtskirche) but it still enjoys a little contemporary fame as a Hollywood location.
For example, Holly Martins runs down the steps leading away from the church in The Third Man. And the young lovers in Before Sunrise visit the building (exterior shot) as they wander through Vienna.
How to get to Maria am Gestade
Subway: the church manages to be just about equidistant to five stations without being immediately close to any of them. It’s a bit of a walk from Schottenring (U4 and U2 lines), Schottentor (U2), Stephansplatz (U1 and U3), Schwedenplatz (U1 and U4) and Herrengasse (U3).
Tram/bus: tram 1 to Salztorbrücke or Börse (the D and 71 also serve the latter stop). Buses stop very close indeed. For example the 3A (Concordiaplatz or Schwertgasse), 2A (Tiefer Graben), or 1A (Schwertgasse).
Address: Salvatorgasse 12, 1010 Vienna | Website