Wachau Valley and Melk Abbey
The Wachau is a picturesque Austrian valley formed by the Danube river. Located midway between the towns of Krems (seen below on the left) and Melk the Wachau is 25 miles in length, the valley was settled around 4,500 B.C. The architectural elegance of its ancient monasteries, including Melk and Gottweig Abbey, castles and ruins combined with the urban architecture of its towns and villages, and the production of wines are the dominant features of the valley. A well-known tourist attraction is Durnstein, where King Richard the Lion-Heart of England was held captive by Duke Leopold V.
An interesting part of the 12th century history is the imprisonment of Richard the Lion heart, the King of England at the Kuenringerburg castle now in ruins above the Durnstein town. Richard insulted the Babenberg Duke, Leopold V by showing disrespect to the Austrian flag which he threw into a drain. Even though he was travelling in Austria (returning from the Holy Lands) in disguise (he had grown a beard to escape detection), he was identified in an inn in Erdberg, now a suburb of Vienna. He was finally released after paying a kingly ransom of 35,000 kg of silver. The king’s freedom was facilitated largely due to the efforts of his French aide Blondel. Blondel located the imprisoned Richard by traveling from fortress to fortress and singing a song known only to the two of them. When Richard answered, Blondel proceeded to ransom and rescue him.
Melk is a small town on the bank of the Danube at the Western gateway to the Wachau valley. Melk is an ancient town with its history linked to the Roman times as a border post. The current population is 5300. Melk's enticing popularity is due to the Benedictine abbey founded in 1089 AD which is perfect example of a "Baroque synthesis of the arts". Melk Abbey is located on a 200 feet high cliff. The is baroque gateway at the entrance is shown below on the left.
The abbey was founded in 1089 AD when Leopold II, Margrave of Austria gave one of his castles to Benedictine monks from Lambach Abbey. Monks have lived here since then. A school was founded in the 12th century, and the monastic library soon became renowned for its extensive manuscript collection. The library has a collection of 100,000 books including manuscripts and 750 volumes printed prior to 1500 AD. The monastery's scriptorium was also a major site for the production of manuscripts.
Today's impressive Baroque Abbey, painted in mustard yellow color, was built between 1702 and 1736 to designs by Jakob Prandtauer commissioned by abbot Berthed Dietmayer against all odds faced by him from his fellow monks. As one of the "most significant and magnificient Baroque monasteries in all Austria", this monument is inscribed on UNESCO's Heritage List.
The spiral staircase between the library and the church at Melk abbey is shown on the left. Below is the view of the town of Melk from the Abbey's Marble Hall.
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