We rose early again this morning, after getting an earful of some awful screeching during the very early hours. It sounded like a bad saxophone player trying to blast a high note. I finally decided the racket must have been coming from the cables and/or winches as we tied up to the dock at Melk, but still not sure. All I know is, a few days later, Jeannette in our ship newsletter, apologized for “any noises that might be caused by sailing overnight.”
We had to be on board a bus by 8:00 a.m. for our transfer up the hill to see the beautiful Melk Abbey, which overlooks and dominates the small city. Our tour was scheduled early because the Abbey would have been too busy and crowded had we waited any later.
This 11th-century Benedictine Abbey is one of the largest monasteries in Europe. “Vast and monumental,” reads our ship newsletter, “it’s hard to believe that this was designed as a retreat for Benedictine monks sworn to poverty and a simple life. Instead, this monastery epitomizes the ebullient confidence and extravagance of the Baroque style, in which modesty and restraint were generally conspicuous by their absence.”
Benedictine monks were invited by Leopold II to found an abbey at Melk in 1089. In the 16th and 17th centuries, however, Turkish invaders burned and reduced the abbey to virtual ruins. So in 1702, Abbot Berthold Dietmayr hired an architect to completely reconstruct the abbey. The reconstructed Baroque Abbey of Melk was completed in 1746. In 1805 through 1809, Napoleon I stayed in Melk and established his general headquarters there.
The Abbey consists of the impressive Stiftskirche (Abbey Church), which “spans the full gamut of frescoes, marbling, gilding, sculptures, stucco-work and a stunning high altar,” according to our ship newsletter. “It is crowned by a 210-foot-high cupola.” The Abbey also houses the Stiftsmuseum, where Empress Maria Theresa, in addition to Napoleon, once stayed. “Priceless reliquaries and ecclesiastical vessels along with outstanding arts and crafts (including historic musical instruments) are among the most interesting exhibits.” Our tour guide showed us a gold gem-encrusted cross, inside which a “splinter” of wood, supposedly saved from the very cross of Jesus, is hidden.
It was cold inside the Courtyard, especially since it was shaded. We were all anxious to go in and see the Abbey. There were a lot of people in our group, so we couldn’t all go in at once.
We then entered the Museum area of the Abbey. The Museum consisted of a series of very colorfully-lit rooms.
The Abbey’s Marble Hall features red marble door frames and gables above the doors. The walls also appear to be marble, but they are actually made of “stucco marble.” The wonderful ceiling fresco was painted by the Tyrolean Paul Troger in 1731.
Leaving the Marble Hall, we walked outside onto the massive balcony which connects the Marble Hall on one end to the Library on the other. From here we had a good view of the city of Melk and the river beyond.
We walked along the balcony and entered the beautiful Melk Abbey Library. The Library features another ceiling fresco painted by Paul Troger. This one is “the thematic counterpart to the fresco in the Marble Hall,” according to the Abbey brochure. The Melk Abbey Library “contains approximately 100,000 volumes, 1200 manuscripts from the 9th to 15th century, 600 manuscripts from the 17th to 18th century, and 750 incunabula.” Due to the delicate nature of the works displayed here, we were told not to take any photos in the Library, especially with flash photography. (Of course, to my amazement, that didn’t stop some people from trying. As usual, there are always a few who don’t listen to directions!)
We exited the Library and headed for a beautiful spiral staircase. It seemed to spiral down so far, it reminded me of falling “down the rabbit hole” in Alice and Wonderland. But then I noticed the staircase didn’t really go down that far–it when up even further! There was apparently a mirror at the bottom that reflected everything from the top (note the face of the woman who was in front of me looking down).
Once we returned to the bottom floor, we entered the Abbey Church. According to my Abbey brochure, “the ceiling fresco in the nave (of the church) is by the Salzburg master painter Johann Michael Rottmayr (1722). A plan retained from the Baroque period describes the theme: Benedict’s triumphant ascension to heaven.”
The original organ was built by the Viennese organ builder Gottfried Sonnholz, but it was destroyed in 1929 during church reconstruction. So in 1970, “a purely mechanical pipe organ…was built by organ builder Gregor Hradetzky from Krems,” and this is the one you see in the photo.
Here are more of my photos of the Church, taken on 10-25-14.
Interestingly, there were two “martyrs from the Roman catacombs” displayed inside their sarcophagi, one of which you can see in the above and below photos.
And here is the other “martyr.”
After leaving the Abbey, we walked down the hill to see the small city of Melk. There weren’t many people around because it was still fairly early, and it was quite cold besides. The town was very quaint and clean. The first thing Bill and I wanted to do was find a small restaurant in which to go and have a nice cup of hot coffee. Bill G., Fox, & Lois soon joined us.
It didn’t take long to walk through the town. We headed toward the river and the bridge, which would take us back to our ship. We enjoyed our time in Melk, and we were happy we were able to see the beautiful Melk Abbey.
Melk marks the beginning of the beautiful Wachau Valley along the Danube. The valley, which is about 30 miles long, features “a landscape where vineyards and orchards are picturesquely set below steep, craggy hillsides jutting out above verdant forests,” says our ship newsletter. “Add a few adroitly placed ruined castles, romantic chapels and quaint villages, and the picture becomes irresistibly charming.” As we sailed on from Melk toward Dürnstein, our cruise director, Jeannette, gave a talk in the main lounge about the Wachau. She told us that, in addition to grapes, they grow lots of apricots around here. Shops in the area sell all kinds of products made with apricots, from soaps and lotions to jams, to cakes and puddings, to apricot schnapps. The Wachau was inscribed as “Wachau Cultural Landscape” in the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites in December 2000.
We arrived at Dürnstein after lunch. The tiny town of Dürnstein (with only about 800 residents) is sometimes called, “The Pearl of the Wachau,” because of its outstanding Baroque Augustinian Abbey with its beautiful blue tower. It is called the Collegiate Church of the Augustinian Convent. High above the town on the hill is the ruined castle, the Kuenringerburg, which dates from the 12th century. It was here in this castle that Richard I of England (“Richard the Lionheart”) was held prisoner by Leopold V, Duke of Austria, from 1192 to 1193, during Richard’s return from the Third Crusade. Unfortunately, Swedish troops destroyed the castle and set much of the town ablaze during the Thirty Years’ War in 1645.
Dürnstein Abbey was established in 1410. In 2001, Dürnstein itself became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Those of us who wished to take the guided city tour scrambled out onto shore and began our walk up to the town.
After the short tour was over, we meandered along the main street and looked in a few shops. Bill and I bought some apricot schnapps and some apricot brittle in one shop. Then Bill, Lois and I each ordered a nice glass of wine from another and drank it outside on the sidewalk. We didn’t have very much time in Dürnstein, so after taking more photos, we made our way back down to the river and the ship.
After we all boarded from touring Dürnstein, our ship glided just across the river to Rossatz, another small town.
Here, in keeping with our music-themed cruise, we were scheduled to hear a community band concert in the Parish Church of Rossatz. The musicians, who were all very good, ranged in ages from high school to some in their eighties. It was very crowded in the church and difficult to see the musicians for those of us who had to sit towards the back, but we could all hear the music, and we had a good time.
After the concert, we were invited to go outside into the courtyard and partake of some special local bread (delicious!) and some Gluehwein. Jeannette had been mentioning this Gluehwein for a few days, and we couldn’t figure out whether she was saying “Blue wine” or “Glue wine,” nor did we have a clue what it was. Now we learned that it was mulled wine or, “hot spiced wine,” as many people call it. Anyway, it was really good and, being warm, was just the thing to drink on a cold evening in Rossatz.
By now it was dark, so the buses took us back down the hill, though they had to drop us some distance away from the river. So we were pleasantly surprised to find that all of the ship’s crew members were standing at intervals along the curving walkway down to the ship with large candles in hand! It was so much easier to see where we were going, and it was also nice to see the hardworking crew get off the ship and have some fun. It made for a perfect ending to such a special evening!