The main attraction of Melk is the Benedictine Abbey.
That is a cloister palace, from unbelievable size, on a leafy rock back.
The Romans and the Babenbergs, built a castle in Melk.
In 1089 the Babenberg margrave Leopold II donated the castle to Benedictine monks, who converted it into a fortified abbey.
The fire destroyed the original edifice.
This was completely rebuilt between 1702 and 1738.
The Stift Melk attracts all attention to it, grows highly over the town.
This pink-painted slice of the Stift has a unique architecture and is a strong attraction for the tourists.
Here, romps about, delightful putts, and stone plastics, of Lorenzo Mattielli.
The splendour staircase leads into the 196 m long imperial corridor.
The central courtyard a.ka the Prelates Courtyard is your first impression of the monastery as a building where people live and work and go to school as opposed to a vast baroque showpiece. Standing here it is not much more impressive or splendid than the courtyard of any large monastery. You look around at the many windows ( there are 500 rooms at Melk) and begin to get your bearings. On one side the boarding school , opposite, the former Hapsburg wing, then the large state rooms and of course the church. Over the four central arches on each side of the courtyard are colourful frescoes which immediately stand out because of their bright colours and the fact that they are obviously new. These frescoes replace the original ones and were painted in 1989 by Peter Bishoff . They represent the values of the community: wisdom; moderation; fortitiude and justice. I didn't like the frescoes because for me they didn't blend in with the existing architectural framework but on the other hand Iwas impressd by the concept of mixing old and new in such an iconic building.The wooden pyramid in the centre of the photo is covering the fountain during the freezing winter weather.
The person who composed this song must have been dreaming of Melk and it's great reception Hall. However all is not as it seems and only some pillars and door surrounds are marble while the rest is imitation.They shouldn't bother admitting to that though because this huge ornate, baroque extravaganza looks stunning and who's to know what's marble and what's not. The ceiling appears higher than it actually is because of the use of optical illusion. Here the important functions and receptions took place and this floor was no doubt graced by Maria Therese, Franz Josep, Joseph, Leopold and other members of the Imperial family. A huge heating grill is bang smack in the centre of the floor and one can't help but imagine people lingering there grateful for the warm breezes eddying up from below.
Before you start looking up at the beautiful ceiling fresco you must also remember to look out the many windows of this room. Then you will see the panoramic view of the town of Melk and the River Danube, spread out like a magic carpet.
I'm not a huge fan of museums but occasionally you come across one so imaginatively constructed and well presented that it wins you over on the spot. The museum at Melk is just big enough to give you an overview of the monastery, its history and treasures but it's confined to eight easy- to- digest rooms to ensure your interest doesn't flag. There's something mysterious about it also and occasionally it's almost a little scary. On entering the first room off the imperial corridoor, the door was locked very carefully behind us and being a chronic claustrophopic, I actually felt panicky for a few moments. The use of special lighting contributed to that effect and it took a few minutes to adjust to being bathed in rather eerie blue and then green shades. The first three rooms deal with the progress of the Benedictine Order, from Benedicts discovery that LOVE is the most important thing, along with honour and duty, to the ups and downs of the monastery coinciding with the reformation and counter reformation. The latter is quite cleverly done with two different floor levels representing the fall and rise of catholicism. In room three there is a nice portrait of St Koloman which his Irish compatriots were very anxious to see.
In he following two tips I will mention some highlights of the other five rooms.
To enter the monastery you must come to this magnificent arched portal which leads to the first courtyard. On either side of the entrance are two huge statues, one of St Koloman and one of St Leopold , the patron saints of the monastery. If you want to buy a ticket to visit the museum and interior, you can purchase one at the ticket office just inside the archway. In the photo you can see the inner entrance also framed by pillars and Matinelli's angels. This in turn leads to the next courtyard and the central area of the monastery. You can wander through the courtyards free of charge
ENTRY FEES 2007 : EUR 8.40 with guided tour; EUR 7.00 without guided tour.
OPENING HOURS: MAY -SEPTEMBER 9.00- 5.00; WINTER 9.00-4.00.
The library is second in importance only to the church in Melk. It extends over twelve rooms, contains 1,888 manuscripts and 100,000 volumes in total. The books begin with biblical translations then proceed to theology,canonical laws, natural sciences, philosophy etc. There is an ingenious filing system and the brown leather binding was chosen to blend in with the decor of the rest of the rooms. The librarian, Brother Gottfried was happy to talk about the library and brought some of the monastery's most precious manuscripts for us to see. In a glasscase in the middle of the room are some documents of special interest such as the Chronicle of Melk with a poem about the threat of invasion by the Mongols. The library also has a magnificent ceiling fresco by Paul Troger which represents the four cardinal virtues, echoing the modern version outside in the courtyard.
Yet another song title that popped into my head while gazing up at the beautiful ceiling fresco in the marble hall. It's so alive with movement, detail and colour that the whole thing seemed to me to be literally dancing with vitality. The central figure in this fresco is Pallas Athena, the Greek Goddess of wisdom but there's something a little different about Athena in this context. This is because she has been given the face of Maria Therese showing once again that the monks of Melk knew which side their bread was buttered on. The fresco here and those in the library are by Paul Troger.
On a lighter (or not!) note room seven also has a single focus of attention. Now we must go back to the rule of Joseph 11 in the 18th century and hear about some of his rather startling ideas for reform. He was a philanthropist and attempted to improve hospitals, schools etc but he had also some completely off-the -wall notions about saving money. These resulted in closing down large sections of the imperial palaces which might not have been a bad thing but one which definitely did NOT catch on was his idea of the RE-CYCLABLE COFFIN. There's a replica of his prototype coffin here at Melk and this is how it worked. The body was to be placed in a plain wooden casket and brought to the cemetery as normal. Then it was placed on top of the grave and when the prayers were finished, a lever opened, dropping the corpse unceremoniously into its final resting place. Then, hey presto, the coffin was taken away for re-use. Not surprisingly, the idea was not accepted by the people.
Leaving the Marble Hall, we come out onto a Balcony which leads us to the library.
It gives us magnificent views of both the church facade and the town.
The church dominates the entire monastic complex with its towers and dome. Between the towers , a statue of the risen Christ, flanked by two angels.
At this stage I had become accustomed to going from light to dark so the fourth room called ' The Dark Chapel' was not a surprise. All the lights are totally dimmed here to ensure focus on the room's single object. This is a cross dating from the 12th-13th century and originally hung in Rupert Kirche in Vienna. It's made from Linden wood , is about 4 feet high and is one of the oldest crosses in Austria. It's a particularly beautiful cross and what is special about it is that it minimises the agony and suffering of Christ because it is pre-15th century. From this time on there was an emphasis on crucifixes which were more graphic and brutal in order to instruct the masses on Christ's martydom. This one is peaceful and meditative and you definitely feel the urge to just stop and reflect on the bigger picture.
Once you start the guided tour the word 'imperial' crops up very frequently. At the top of the imperial staircase, the experience really kicks off with the 'Imperial Corridoor'. I absolutely loved this and had to struggle with the urge to run up and down its long gleaming parquet floors and shout out loud to hear the echoes bounce off the pristine arcaded ceiling. This was the imperial guest wing reserved for visiting Hapsburgs and consequently wasvery frequently empty for many many years. Now it runs parallel with the Melk museum and is a bright, white , shiny expanse with a richly polished golden parquet floor. At almost 200 m long it is really impressive and apart from the obligatory Hapsburg portaits it's an astonidshingly minimal feature in an abbey bursting with overblown decor. The beginning of the corridoor has of course a huge portrait of Maria Teresa who loooks incredibly well for a woman who gave birth to 16 children. There is also a portrait of Mozart who we will hear more about later.
On leaving the marble hall you must now go outdoors to the terrace connecting the hall to the library . This is a very pleasant interlude because at this point you will have been indoors for at least an hour and some fresh air will be very welcome. It's also a great spot for taking photos because now you are overlooking Melk and on two sides, the broad sweep of the Danube. You also get a chance to admire the facade of the Abbey Church and see the monastery from another angle.
On top, a reproduction of the Melk Cross - one of the monastery's treasures. An inscription in the gable says "absit gloriari nisi in cruce" ( glory only in the cross ).
The statues are from the leaders of the apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul ( patron saints of the monastery church ). In between them, a small balcony from which the abbot used to greet guests shows the monastery's coat of arms - two crossed golden keys on a blue background.
Given the year of Mozart celebrations that's in it, the abbey at Melk have their own little exhibition in the library to remeber the great musician's connetions with the monastery. There is a portait of him at the top of the imperial staircase and here in the library they have some interesting documemts on display. One of these is the Abbot of the day's journal in which he mentions the visit of Mozart and the other is a copy of the 1792 Coronation Mass manuscript which Mozart composed. On 28/29 December 1768 Mozart came to the abbey with his mother,father and sister. The family arrived ina carriage drawn by four horses, had lunch with the Abbot and Prior, stayed overnight and and left the next morning en route to Linz.