Friday, July 21, 2017

Mincing in Melk and Dancing in Dürnstein

Cruising down the Danube brought us through some lovely country with
Castles and churches along the Danube River
scenic towns, churches, and castles in various stages of disrepair. This is a swiftly moving river, which really surprised me since I had always imagined it as a languid, barely moving stream. Around the towns were vineyard covered hills, thick forests, and a few outcrops of rocks. All in all it was a charming trip through an amazing riparian landscape. The two small Austrian towns we were off to explore were a step back in time to the days when the church was not only the religious center, but the guardian of the law, culture, and government. The religious leaders were also involved in business, with the church being able to levy tolls and people bringing goods up and down the river.

Melk is the home of a massive baroque Benedictine monastery named Melk Abbey that was founded in 1089. It houses the tomb of Saint Coloman of Stockerau as well as those of several members of Austria's
Top L to R: Melk Abbey, Spiral staircase
Bottom L to R: Library, View from the Abbey
first ruling dynasty. About 100 years before, Margrave Leopold I used the area around Melk as a barrier between the Magyars to east and Bavaria (see Along the Rhine) to the west. This kept marauders at bay and the town remained relatively safe until about 1938. Where the abbey currently stands was originally the Babenberger castle; it was given to the Benedictine monks from nearby Lambach by Margrave Leopold II in 1089. The abbey was successful and in the 12th century the Stiftsgymnasium Melk, a monastic school, was founded; their monastic library quickly became renowned for its extensive manuscript collection and the production of manuscripts. Because the abbey was so well known, it has survived political threats during the Napoleonic Wars; however, the abbey and the school were confiscated by the state just after annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany (Anschluss) in 1938. The school was returned at the end of World War II and now is a co-educational institution from almost 900 students.

The views of the river and town from the abbey were spectacular, as was
Left: Walking in the gardens (by Tony Chin)
Center T to B: Smelling the roses (by Tony Chin), Crows
Right: Rabbit
the abbey, itself. Although we were not allowed to take pictures inside, there were postcards with images of what Barb and I were most interested in, the library. These manuscripts are hundreds of years old and badly in need of curating to protect the moldering pages and cracked covers. Once outside, we discovered that the gardens that are attached to the abbey were quite fanciful. The lawns had been decorated with imaginary creatures, and the hedges had ceramic birds that made us smile. The rose bushes made us want to see if they smelled as sweet and the hedges made us want to take a walk.

Down in town the streets are as rough and narrow as they were when the town was built. A visitor trying to park a van was caught between two
Left: Down the steps into town
Center T to B: Ceramics, Melk
Right: Yarn shop
buildings, a giant flower pot and a tree. Some town folk and several visitors gave him lots of advice. After about 15 minutes of machinations he successfully parked the van and received a round of applause. Meanwhile, several of us were adding to the fiscal stability of Melk. Barb and I found a potter who had some delightful goods; she had to take a crow home and I needed just one more bowl. We also found a yarn shop and even though it was hot and humid we bought yet another few skeins of the fluffy stuff. There were lots of other interesting shops we visited, but nothing else came back to Texas with us, so it was back on the ship and on to our next port of call: Dürnstein.

This small town is in a well-known wine growing area and is one of the
Day and night views of the castle
most-visited tourist destinations in the Wachau region. The town was first mentioned in manuscripts in 1192 when Dürnstein Castle became infamous as the prison for King Richard the Lionheart. Duke Leopold V suspected that King Richard ordered the murder of his cousin Conrad of Montferrat in Jerusalem, so he captured him and gave him to Emperor Henry VI. Of course, this angered Pope Celestine III who excommunicated Leopold for capturing a fellow crusader.

Down the hill and near the center of town is Stift Dürnstein (Dürnstein Abbey). This Baroque monastery was created in 1410 and reconstructed at the beginning of the 18th century. Since 1788 it has belonged to the Herringburg Augustinian choristers who have maintained and renovated the structure as needed. The Augustine exhibition and views from the Danube terrace made this a wonderful place to visit. We were turned loose to wander through the abbey by ourselves, so we took the opportunity to poke into all of the rooms and go out onto the terrace. There was a winding staircase that was blocked off with a flower pot, but that was about the only place we didn’t explore.
Exterior and Interior scenes from the abbey

The town is tiny, but there are lots of picturesque shops, interesting streets, and great views. We wandered up and down, literally, since this is
Top L to R: Vineyard, City gate
Bottom L to R: View from the terrace,
Narrow streets
a very hilly town. One of its highlights was an artist who made jewelry from rocks polished by the Danube. There were also people making their own candy, wine, and schnapps out of apricots, and while these were interesting, they simply wouldn’t fit in our luggage.

Bratislava is the topic of next week’s blog – stay tuned!
Purple flowers along the street
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