The roots of the Salzburg Museum lie in the nineteenth century. After Salzburg had finally been annexed to Austria (1816), it was resolved to stop the exodus of cultural assets. The founding of the museum followed in 1834 as a private collection; the City of Salzburg took over the collection in 1849, with Empress Caroline Auguste, dowager of Emperor Francis I, as patron. The museum additionally received the name of "Carolino Augusteum" in its title.
The museum building was destroyed by a bomb attack in the Second World War, many exhibits were lost; losses were also suffered in the outside storage locations through looting in May 1945. After the war, the Folklore Museum Hellbrunn and the reconstructed former aviary near Mirabell Palace were available as exhibition buildings, where special exhibitions were regularly shown. The Burgmuseum (Fortress Museum) was opened in 1952, and then in 1967 the museum opened in its former location, followed by the Toy Museum in 1978.
After long discussions, in 1997 the Neue Residenz was resolved upon as future location for the museum. The winner proceeding from the negotiations for the reconstruction of the Neue Residenz was the Salzburg architectural team of Kaschl/Muuml;hlfellner. Rebuilding of the museum began on Mozartplatz in autumn 2003. A strikingly attractive space for the new Salzburg Museum was created on three storeys arranged around the first inner courtyard and in a special exhibition hall underneath. Federal President Dr Heinz Fischer opened the large-scale special exhibition "Viva!MOZART" in the Neue Residenz on 26 January 2006. After the end of this show and the finishing touches to the exhibition space, around 3000 square metres, the "Salzburg Museum", as it was now called, was opened on 30 May 2007. It is now presented in the resplendent Neue Residenz on Mozartplatz with an entirely new concept. Valuable works of art, aesthetic presentation, interesting contents and multi-media installations form a harmonious whole. The Salzburg Museum is the proof that a modern museum can be informative and simultaneously entertaining.
On 19 September 2008, Federal Minister Dr. Claudia Schmied handed over the main prize of the Austrian Museum Award 2007 to the Salzburg Museum.
On 5 May 2009 Salzburg Museum got the "Museum of the Year award 2009"
The Salzburg Museum is a museum for art and art history for the City and Land of Salzburg. It provides a service to society, also as active administrator of Salzburg's heritage in cultural history. The museum develops its concepts and programmes out of a productive dialogue between phenomena of the present and their historical roots. It approaches local and regional themes in an supra-regional context.
The Salzburg Museum has various priorities - evolving from its history - in its collecting policy. It covers the following departments: archaeology, paintings, sculpture, graphics, folk art, decorative arts, everyday culture, photography, toy collection, musical instrument collection, weaponry and currency/numismatics, and the library holdings. It presents its collections in permanent and special exhibitions.