Sacred Sunday: Austria’s Melk Abbey

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Melk Abbey (German: Stift Melk) was originally a palace, and it shows. Located on the bank of the Danube River between Salzburg and Vienna, Melk Abbey stands crowned by towers and resplendent in a golden hue.

The impressive Baroque ensemble at Melk was built in 1702-1736 by architect Jakob Prandtauer. Especially noteworthy is the church with magnificent frescoes by Johann Michael Rottmayr and the library containing countless medieval manuscripts.

The monastic community of Melk is over 900 years old and black-robed Benedictine monks still stroll amidst the marble sculptures and frescoed walls. It is now also a prestigious coed monastery school with more than 700 students.

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History

Melk has played an important role in the Danube region since Roman times, when a fortress was built on the promontory overlooking a tiny “arm” of the Danube. Melk also appears in the German epic poem Nibelungenlied, in which it is called “Medelike”. The rock-strewn bluff where the abbey now stands was the seat of the Babenbergs, who ruled Austria from 976 until the Hapsburgs took over.

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In the 11th century, Leopold II of Babenberg presented the palace at Melk to Benedictine monks, who turned it into a fortified abbey. Its influence and reputation as a center of learning and culture spread throughout Austria, as reflected in Umberto Eco’s popular novel The Name of the Rose. Eco researched his novel in the abbey’s library.

Melk Abbey suffered damaged during the Reformation and the 1683 Turkish invasion, but it was spared direct attack when the Ottoman armies were halted outside Vienna. Reconstruction of the abbey began in 1702 in full Baroque style and was completed in 1736. The abbey church was damaged by fire in 1947, but is now almost completely restored.

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What to See

The design of the present abbey ensemble (1702-36) is primarily the work of architect Jakob Prandtauer. The Marmorsaal (Marble Hall) contains pilasters coated in red marble and an allegorical painted ceiling by Paul Troger.

The library rises two floors and also has a Troger ceiling, along with around 80,000 volumes of priceless works. The Kaisergang (Emperors’ Gallery) stretches for 198m (650 ft.), decorated with portraits of Austrian royalty.

The highlight of the abbey, though, is certainly the Stiftskirche (Abbey Church). The church has an astonishing number of windows and is richly embellished with marble and frescoes by Johann Michael Rottmayr with help from Troger.

There are fine views of the river from the abbey’s terrace, which Napoleon probably used as a lookout when he used Melk as his headquarters for his campaign against Austria.

The abbey restaurant (Stiftsrestaurant Melk) located near the entrance serves hot meals and monastery wine in beautiful Baroque and outdoor surroundings.

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Image credit © Jon Trover/Wikipedia Commons

Quick Facts on Melk Abbey

Site Information
Names: Melk Abbey
Categories: monasteries
Styles: Baroque style
Dates: 1702-36
Status: active
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates: 48.228790° N, 15.331163° E
Address: Abt Berthold Dietmayrstraße, 1 A
Melk, Austria
3390
Phone: +43 (0) 2752 555225
Email: kultur.tourismus@stiftmelk.at
Hours: May-Sep: 9am-5:30pm (last admission 5pm)

Apr, Oct: 9am-4:30pm (last admission 4pm)

Nov-Mar: only open on guided tours

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