What’s Doing in Austria’s Wachau Valley

Dürnstein, Melk, and the Danube Welcome Visitors with Wine and and the World’s Best Apricots

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The Danube, as viewed from the Burgruine

The Danube, as viewed from the Burgruine

The main attraction in Melk is Melk Abbey, a Benedictine monastery located on a rocky bluff above the town. The abbey was formerly a castle owned by the Babenburg monarchy, but was given to a group of Benedictine monks as a gift by Leopold II in 1089. The building, a striking example of Austrian Baroque architecture designed by architect Jakob Prandtauer, has been carefully restored after a fire partially destroyed the interior of the monastery church in 1974. The abbey is the setting of Umberto Eco’s popular mystery novel, “The Name of the Rose.”

Notable rooms of the abbey include the Emperor’s Gallery, which accommodated visiting Austrian nobles and monarchs; the Marble Hall, an ornately decorated banqueting chamber featuring an allegorical work by Baroque era painter Paul Troger on the ceiling; and the library, which is housed in a separate building adjacent to the church and contains over 85,000 books and 1,200 manuscripts dating between the 9th and 15th centuries. The church is the abbey’s most splendid feature, and contains a gold pulpit, brown marble pillars, and ornate ceiling frescoes.

Today, the abbey houses an active Benedictine monastery as well as a boys’ school. Guided tours of the building are available to the public.

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Other significant landmarks in the Wachau region are the Artstetten Castle, the summer home of the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg dynasty in the 19th and early 20th centuries and the final resting place of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, whose assassination by Gavrilo Princip marked the beginning of the First World War in 1914.

The castle now houses a museum with numerous exhibits documenting the lives of the Habsburgs, as well as a room containing artifacts related to the assassination including photos of Princip and a model of the Belgian pistol used to kill the archduke and his wife.

Located just outside the eastern city of Krems is the Göttweig Abbey, a Benedictine monastery established in 1094 and rebuilt after it was destroyed in a fire in 1718. The restored monastery features an imperial staircase decorated with a Baroque fresco painted by Paul Troger, as well as a library containing 130,000 books and manuscripts, old coin collections, and religious engravings.

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