Hexenturm (Witch Tower) in Salzburg

The Hexenturm was a tower-like prison and defence building in the district of Schallmoos, but in a very central corner of it. It was used for all sorts of purposes, but most famously as a prison to lock up people who were suspected of witchcraft. It was hit by bombs in the course of World War II and severely damaged. It was demolished after the war and the site is now occupied by a building with a mosaic on the fašade depicting the silhouette of a person burning at the stake.

You can find the site of the old Hexenturm witch tower on the crossing between Paris-Lodron-Straße and Wolf-Dietrich-Straße. The tower was built between the years 1465 and 1480 in the course of the construction of the "Zweite Stadtbefestigung" ("Second Fortification" of the city). It was later incorporated into the "Third Fortification" of the mid-17th century. In 1678, the Hexenturm was made a prison with 14 cells and a flat for the prison guard.

Witch persecution was not a very common phenomenon in Salzburg, but a strangely lasting one. It climaxed under Prince Archbishop Max Gandolf von Kuenburg. There were instances of torture, executions and waves of mass-persecution especially among poor and homeless teenagers. The most famous case was the "Zauberer Jackel" trial that led to the execution of dozens of young vagabonds.

The main suspect, a boy called Jakob Koller from the village of Mauterndorf could escape the execution on the stake, some 160 members of his supposed wizard gang were less fortunate. Allegedly, suspects of witchcraft were kept in the Hexenturm in copper kettles to "neutralise" their magic powers. The Hexenturm was then decorated with an iron woman riding a stick, a piece of art that you can now see in the Festungsmuseum (Fortress Museum). The Zauberjackel trial is still seen as a particularly dark hour in the history of Salzburg. The obsession with witchcraft did not end with this case, though.

As late as in 1750, a 16 year old girl was killed on grounds of witchcraft - causing a public outcry in much of the Western world. It was one of the last with-trials in Europe. Meanwhile, the Hexenturm with tower had been converted into a storage facility in 1706. It first housed gun powder and arms, later building material, later still it was re-converted into a prison. In 1804, the public sold the Hexenturm Tower to a private individual. Between 1897 and 1910 it was used as a storage facility for the company Josef Anton Zezi. Its end came with the Salzburg air raids of 1944.

Further Reading

The story of the witch tower in German (on a pdf)

The Hexenturm witch tower on SalzburgWiki (in German)

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