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Stift Melk - A Monastery in a Magnificent Barocco Palace

Join us for a visit to Stift Melk - one of the monasteries without which no tour round the history of Austria would full.

Melk Abbey is one of the most impressive uniform Baroque buildings north of the Alps. It sits on a granite rock almost exactly halfway between Vienna and Linz and looking over the Danube, it is visible from afar like a true fortress. The building has 1365 windows in 500 rooms that cover some four hectares - and all this for the 22 monks today…

The abbey is one of the centrepieces of Austria’s founding history. It was founded in 1089 when Leopold II, Margrave of Austria donated a castle to the Benedictine monks. In the eighteenth century Stift Melk became one of the centres of Enlightenment. A bit surprisingly, there was also a Masonic lodge as many monks were freemasons at the time. Perhaps this is why Melk escaped dissolution under Emperor Joseph II between 1789 and 1790 when many Austrian abbeys were dissolved. The lucky abbey also survived the Napoleonic Wars and, other than the school, the Anschluss in 1938.

The monastery school at the abbey was first mentioned in 1160. It was confiscated by the Nazi government following the Anschluss in 1938, but reopened after WWII and it still goes strong - today as the largest private Catholic school in Austria with almost 1000 pupils.

The most important part, like in any Benedictine monastery is the church. Designed by the most important Baroque masters, the result is breathtaking. You will also find the tombs of Saint Coloman of Stockeray and the remains of several members of Austria’s first ruling dynasty, House of Babenberg in the abbey.

As for the museum, the core site is the library with 16,000 volumes in a room with one of the most fabulous ceiling frescoes you have ever seen. A spiral staircase leads you to another set of twelve rooms with more than 100,000 volumes - unfortunately, you cannot take the stairs and check this part. The manuscript collection and production, including a lot of musical compositions, were crucial for the Melk Reform that reinvigorated the monastic life in Austria in the 15th century. As late as in 2019, the Austrian Academy of Science found a previously unknown strip of parchment that bears 60 partial lines of the poem Der Rosendorn that was called the first Vagina Monologue.

The library was probably the reason why Umberto Eco placed his novel The Name of the Rose in a monastery library and named one of the Medieval protagonists Adso of Melk. The abbey is also the metaphorical climax of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s autobiographical account of his walking tour across Europe A Time of Gifts “a peak in a mountain range of discovery”. Today, the abbey is part of Wachau Cultural Landscape on the World Heritage Site.

The tour can be done with a wheelchair but you should register at the cash desk as you will not be able to enter some parts of the museum through their main entrance. Also, the garden pavilion and mineral collection are not accessible. The gravel paths in the park can be difficult for a visitor in a wheelchair.

The former orangery has been turned into the Melker Stiftsrestaurant with a typical Austrian cuisine. In addition, there is a self-service café in baroque pavilion in the park.

The two stores at the abbey offer a large variety of religious literature and produce from the monastery’s garden which are definitely worth a visit but do not expect gift items for kids or relatives.

The street-level loo of the wing next to the entrance to the museum is fully accessible.

For those who are interested, there is a daily midday prayer in the church at noon.

Benediktinerstift Melk

Abt-Berthold-Detmayr-Straße 1, 3390 Melk


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