A friend of mine once joked, "If it ain't Baroque, don't fix it." Well, I tend to like Baroque architecture, even if it is a bit frilly, and I would definitely recommend leaving it just the way it is. When I was in Austria this year, I took the opportunity provided by a free day to get out of Vienna and see someplace new, and I decided on Melk, a small town with a grand Benedictine monastery pretty much due west of the capital in the Wachau Valley along the Danube. This will be a photo heavy post, as I can only describe so much about the monastery. Melk itself is a very pleasant town however, and there seemed to be some great opportunities for walking and biking in the surrounding countryside.
Melk is just a short train ride through pleasant country from Vienna. When I got there, I wandered through town up to the monastery, Stift Melk, which looms over the landscape, dominating the horizon and demanding your attention from seemingly everywhere in and around the town. Upon reaching the main entrance (above), it doesn't disappoint up close either.
The strategic position and sheer immensity of the monastery speaks much about the power of the church in medieval Austria... too much about the monastery screams palace-fortress.
The monastery has benefited from a facelift in recent years thanks to some European Union heritage funding.
My favorite part of the self-guided tour: the library. The stacks took up several rooms, with classic books in many different languages. Two massive globes, one of the Earth and one of the celestial heavens (night sky) were off-center pieces in the main hall too. It was a beautiful part of the monastery, and one that definitely made me wish I could spend some hours there reading and studying.
The complex really is enormous. As an abbey school, Stift Melk is still in use too, supposedly catering to ~900 students.
One of the spiral staircases inside the complex...as with much German and Austrian architecture, a lot of the intricate detailing is actually just painted on flat or plain surfaces.
The facade of the monastery's church, which really is the centerpiece of the complex.
Inside, the church boasts some incredible frescoes. This one depicts St. Benedict's ascent to heaven.
I don't know the name of this one, but it is very interesting. I particularly like the skeleton, who I'm guessing is Death from the sickle he holds.
A lot of the museum contains monastery relics and works of Christian art and displays of wealth, like this golden statue. It really is quite incredible how wealthy and powerful the church was, and still is.
Most creepy of all, are the glass sarcophagi in the church. Seriously, who does this? These are apparently the bones of saints (or otherwise ordained dead), and they have been dressed up in glitzy garments, which seem to be decaying much like the bodies themselves once did. Most disturbing of all, the bones are posed in just really awkward positions for skeletons. Really, really weird...
Less creepy, back outside with another view up at the church and monastery balcony.
A view of the surrounding country through one of the balcony's archways.
The Wachau Valley and the Danube. As I mentioned above, this looked like a very pleasant place for walking or biking. I can just imagine taking a peaceful stroll through these woods and fields from one town to the next, maybe stopping for a local brew and some snacks in each place. The countryside is definitely pleasant...and it is probably beautiful in the Autumn when those trees start changing colors!
Stift Melk on its high perch
I took a stroll through the woods outside of town... very pleasant indeed, quiet and peaceful.
Melk is also a very pleasant town. It has only a few thousand people living in it, so it is very small by modern standards. It is also wonderfully preserved, with most of the buildings being very old and the meandering maze of medieval lanes and streets still being in use today. It is obviously quite touristy, but in what I consider to be the mostly acceptable, small-town, non-Disneyland or Niagara Falls way.
I might also be biased by the fact that I was there in April, the off-season. So, needless to say, the town wasn't inundated with tourists, which just made it that much more peaceful and pleasant.
Melk's post office...also highly decorated.
And a great little cafe/wine house where I had lunch: The Piccolo down by the river. This place had fantastic character, good food and wine, and a great balcony with a view.
Ahhh, delicious gulasch, plenty of bread to soak it up, and a white wine spritzer. Good times!
Melk was a nice little place...definitely worth a day trip. I wouldn't highly recommend it for any extended time, as I'm sure there are some other quaint, well-preserved towns that are much less frequented by hordes of tourists and thus better for escaping to for a few days of peace and quiet. However, for a day, the monastery alone is worth the day trip...plus, as you can hopefully tell from this post, not only Stift Melk but the town and surrounding countryside too are definitely picturesque.