I visited Melk Abbey on December 24th, 2016, almost five months ago. Two days later I flew to China to visit my sister, and was therefore preoccupied with China for a while afterwards. However, I think Melk Abbey deserves a post, so I am writing one retroactively.
“Melk” is not just the way some people from Michigan pronounce “milk.” It is also the name of a town in Lower Austria and is the residence of about 5,250 people. Melk is located in the Wachau Valley, which is situated on the Danube River and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, listed under the title “Wachau Cultural Landscape.” The town of Melk is well-known because it is home to Melk Abbey, a large Benedictine abbey that sits on a hill above the town and overlooks the river. It is the largest baroque structure in Austria and is one of its most important sites.
The abbey in Melk was founded in the 11th century in what was then a castle. Leopold I of House Babenberg (Austria’s first ruling dynasty), who was the margrave of Austria (basically governor), had constructed a castle in Melk in 976 and made it his residence. In 1089, Leopold’s great-grandson Leopold II gave the castle to Benedictine monks from nearby Lambach. Ever since, the abbey has been home to Benedictine monks. In the 12th century a monastic school was founded at the abbey and it began to collect valuable manuscripts, eventually forming the monastic library, which grew famous for its collection. The baroque construction seen today was built between 1702 and 1736, and because of the abbey’s fame and prestige it was not dissolved by Emperor Josef II, who dissolved many other abbeys in Austria between 1780 and 1790.
After the Anschluss in 1938, much of the abbey, including the school, was confiscated by the Nazis. This was all returned to the abbey after WWII. Today, about 30 monks live at the abbey and 900 students of both sexes attend school there.
Melk Abbey also plays a role in Umberto Eco’s book The Name of the Rose. The novel’s main setting is at a fictional abbey in Italy, but the main character and narrator writes the story from his lodgings in Melk Abbey.
I found Melk Abbey breathtaking and it is one of my favorite places I have visited in Austria. The building is very impressive and the inside is marvelous, especially the library, though unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures in the library. Even though I went in December when it was cloudy and cold, I still thought everything was beautiful. For tourists who visit Austria, Melk Abbey is a must-see.