St Pölten, the youngest capital of Austria
For the longest part of its history, St Pölten was a sleepy village in Lower Austria. This changed a little bit in 1860, when the rapidly developing Austrian Empire (soon to become the Austro-Hungarian Empire) built a railway network that connected St Pölten with the rest of the World (meaning: Vienna). In the late 20th century, another boost made of the town what it is today: A peculiar mix of a historic core with some late 19th century houses and a brand-new, super-modern government district.
St Pölten became the capital of Lower Austria, after the people of the province had decided that Vienna did not meet their standards of a proper provincial centre. Background information for foreigners: People from Lower Austria and Vienna typically get along as well as Scottish and English do, or Irish and English, or Welsh and English. Meaning: Not at all.
Equipped with the new administrative responsibility and a whole lot of money, the rulers of the province hired several important architects and ordered the construction of the new Landhaus governmental district. But let us start with the more historical attractions of the town.
A mix of History & Modern Architecture
Starting from the station, you will be in the part of St Pölten shaped in the 19th century. See the Stöhr House on the Kremsergasse, the "shopping lane" of the town. The house was built in elaborate Jugendstil. If you have been to Vienna before, you probably saw the secession building with its famous leaf-cupola. The Stöhr House was built by the same architect: Joseph Maria Olbrich. The name-giving Stöhr (Ernst Stöhr, to be precise) was a local artist who also influenced the Secession Movement in its early days.
Diving deeper into the history of the town (and Kremsergasse), you will end up at the cathedral or Dom. The building is located on a 13th century square and was originally associated with a now dissolved Augustinian monastery. The architect in charge with the construction of Melk Abbey is also responsible for the extremely elaborate Baroque interiors of the cathedral: Jakob Prandtauer re-modelled the building in the early 18th century. It is famous for a large fresco on the ceiling, painted by Daniel Gran and Bartolomeo Altomonte. A small part of the medieval church is preserved in the Rosenkranzkapelle ("rosary chapel").
If that was not enough Baroque yet, you should walk down Linzergasse until you see church and court of the "Institut der Englischen Fräulein" ("Institute of the little English Women"). Don′t be scared away by the rather interesting name, it simply refers to the fact that the convent was founded by nuns from England. Here, too, you will find the architectural fingerprints of Jakob Prandtauer as well as Altomonte frescos.
Some of the usual bits lead to the "Landhausviertel"
Other attractions of this part of St Pölten include the obligatory Rathaus or Town Hall in Renaissance style with a Baroque setting of burgher houses surrounding it on the Rathausplatz or Town Hall Square. There is also a small town museum (Stadtmuseum") which features a Czech Mig 21, and a tiny "Museum am Hof" ("Museum on the Courtyard") with an interesting account of the town′s left-wing heritage and socialist resistance against the Nazis. Speaking of these: The synagogue was originally built in 1912, but seriously damaged in the Reichskristallnacht in 1938. The beautifully decorated Jugendstil building was re-stored in the 1980ies. The building is now used by the "Institue for the History of Jews in Austria".
Finish your excursion to St Pölten with a visit to the brand-new, shiny and modern Landhausviertel Quarter. This is a bit like a zoo for friends of ultra-modern architecture and comprises of several noteworthy buildings alongside with shopping centres and other let-downs. The most outstanding feature is the 67-metre high "Klangturm" or "Sound Tower" that uses a lot of glass to look nice and a lot of sound-related events to justify its name. At night, it is lit up with fancy colours.
This also applies to the similarly modern FestSpielHaus or Festival Hall. Furthermore, you can marvel at the rather bleak and uninviting Landhaus Boulevard and the associated Landhaus (Lower Austria′s provincial parliament), the Landhaus park and a "Waterpark" by the river Traisen. More attractive is Hans Hollein′s Shedhalle and the associated building of the Landesmuseum, the regional museum of Lower Austria.
St Pölten makes a good stop-over destination with links to the monasteries of Melk, Herzogenburg and Lilienfeld. You can also cross the border to Styria and visit the church of pilgrimage in Mariazell, accessible with one of Austria′s most scenic railway connections that is highly popular with tourists (for good reasons).