The only female ruler of the Habsburg empire -- presiding over Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Transylvania, Mantua, Milan and more for 40 years -- this is a woman accustomed to European grandeur and majesty.
The baroque masterpiece of Melk Abbey overlooks the Danube River and is one of Europe’s largest and most revered monasteries. Leopold II, Margrave of Austria, gave the land to Benedictine monks who founded the church in 1089. After a devastating fire which burned the original church to the ground, it was rebuilt by architect Jakob Prandtauer in the early 18th century (his nephew continued work on the project after his death and worked on the abbey in Dürnstein). With its stunning architectural details, views of the serene Wachau Valley below, countless incredible frescoes and religious artifacts, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most popular destinations in Austria.
Originally constructed in the Middle Ages, Melk Abbey is still a working monastery and school. Monks continue to move about the gardens, statues and spiritual artifacts. Over 700 co-ed students attend the prestigious school, sometimes mingling with tourists and worshippers. Its dazzling Baroque design is captivating, with a 200-foot-tall dome and symmetrical towers that dramatically reflect the desire to be closer to the Lord. The entire abbey was recently restored to its full majesty in 1996, financed in part by its sale of its Gutenberg Bible to Harvard University. The abbey also contains the remains of several of Austria’s first noble dynasty, the Babenbergs, and Saint Coloman of Stockerau – along with three of its biggest attractions: the library, the staircase and the church.
Gilded-gold with stunning frescoes by Johann Michael Rottmayr, an allegorical painted ceiling by Paul Troger and the words “Absit Gloriari Nisi Incruce” (“Glory is found only in the cross”) inscribed over the Benedict Hall – the church is a spiritual offering towards the heavens themselves. With its stucco marble, grand pipe organ and intricate paintings, the church is not to be missed!