At the point where the Danube enters the valley of Wachauabout an hour’s drive from Vienna, is found the picturesque town of Melk, known for its massive Benedictine abbeyone of the most beautiful monastic structures inAustria and important religious center. Originally it was born as Roman castrum fortified but soon a castle was built in Melk which had the task of defending the border. In 1089, the building was handed over to the Benedictines and in 1113, the bones of San Colomano they were transferred there, giving rise to a continuous pilgrimage of the faithful. From the 13th century Melk had become an important market town and after the original abbey was repeatedly damaged by fire, the present splendid abbey was built between 1702 and 1738. baroque structure. But Melk Abbey in Austria remains a pleasant place to explore, especially its old town which has retained many of its original old buildings.
Melk Abbey in Austria: the seven courtyards
The different buildings that make up the Melk Abbey are arranged around seven courtyards and the most important part of the complex, which has a total length of 325 meters, is the western end with its church from the particular shape with the two towers in evidence. The front door of the abbey, flanked by the statues of San Colomano and of San Leopoldo, leads to the square (Torwartlhof) with splendid views of its splendid eastern facade. Inside, there are grandiose stairways: the most imposing is the Imperial staircase (Kaiserstiege) richly decorated that allows you to get to the imperial chambers which now house the abbey museum which incorporates the 196 meter long imperial corridor with its portraits of the rulers of Austria. Other points to visit are the exquisite Hall of the Marbles with the ceilings painted with mythological scenes which exalt the virtues of the ruling house of Austria and the library with beautiful ceiling paintings and, above all, the rich collection of more than 90,000 volumes and many rare manuscripts. It is no coincidence that Umberto Eco baptizes one of the protagonists of the famous “The Name of The rose” just like Adso from Melk and he says that his story, written in the library itself, is at the origin of the story of the novel.
The abbey church is considered one of the most beautiful baroque churches north of Alps and is famous for its twin towers and stunning interiors with stunning 18th century ceiling paintings. Inside, the choir and pulpit are worth seeing, as well as the frescoes of the main altar. If possible, also visit the gardens and find out about the dates of the organ concerts which are organized on a regular basis.
Melk Abbey in Austria and the city around it
The old city which is located a short distance from the abbey and deserves a stop for a pleasant stroll along the streets, such as the Kremser Strasse and the Wiener Strasse, that starting from the Town Hall square reach the main square called Hauptstrasse. Not far away, in the Rathausplatz the old asylum for pilgrims dates back to 1657, recognizable by the painted windows, and the Rathaus which bears the coat of arms of the city. In Sterngasse there is an old abbey dating back to 1736, with the stone statue of the coronation of Our Lady, while in Kremser Strasse you can still see some parts of the old city wall. Don’t stop there, though. Continue up to the banks of the Danube where you can enjoy beautiful views of the river and some old houses and end your journey in Linzer Strassewhere you can visit the old post office built in 1792 which is now a local museum.
Beyond the abbey: discovering Schloss Schallaburg
Just five kilometers south of the abbey of Melk in Austria it is located Schloss Schallaburg considered one of the most important examples of Renaissance architecture in southern Austria. It is a strange mix of Romanesque palace and Gothic chapel and the castle features elegant suspended passageways over the courtyard with terracotta decorations depicting characters from mythology – especially the legendary Hundefräulein, a woman with a dog’s head – along with the ancient gods and strange animals. Guided tours are also available in the evening and a stop here cannot overlook a walk in the manicured gardens full of plants and flowers.
Not far from the abbey there is another castle that deserves a detour: Schloss Schönbühel. It is a building built on a forty meters high cliff above the river built in the twelfth century on the site of an ancient Roman fort: obviously what we see now is very different from the ancient castrum and its current shape, which incorporates the ancient walls, dates back to the early nineteenth century. The visit of the castle will focus on a particular representation of the Last Supper and on the remains of a convent built in 1674 which is located next to it. At the foot of the castle then do not miss the opportunity to stop in the town of Schönbühel, a pleasant location overlooking the Danube.
The Wachau Valley
So far we have talked about the Melk abbey in Austria and the castles that are not far away but all around Wachau valleythat is the stretch of about thirty kilometers of the Danube flowing between the cities of Melk and Krems it is a magical place. Here the river cuts a narrow and rocky valley between the hills of the Bohemian Forest and it is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful stretches of the river course also because the area is known for its numerous ancient villages (including the picturesque Dürnstein). In the Renaissance in this area there were over thirty monasteries and at the end of 1700 a primitive form of tourism developed thanks to a capillary network of inns wanted by the emperor Joseph II.