Abbey on the hill

We left freezing Bratislava and sailed for about 18 hours to the beautiful little town of Melk in Austria where the weather was just perfect. The first thing one see is the huge imposing Baroque-style Abbey up on the hill.

Like Esztergom’s Basilica, the Abbey at Melk is central to the town and everything in the Old Town section is directly related to the Franciscan Abbey. We had 3½ hours to explore this little town and we filled every minute, especially as it was the last day of such a wonderful tour.

Abbey on the hillMelk Abbey on top of the hill

From the dock where the boat was berthed there was a circular road into town and we chose to go to the right past some lovely homes with lots of wild flowers growing in the lawns. To enter the village we had to cross a beautiful bridge, as most are in this area of Europe, across the river that runs between the Danube and the entrance to the town.

flowering trees and daisiesFields of flowering trees and wild flowers

Bridge from Melk to the boatBridge we crossed to get into town

At the town entrance is a metal structure about 20m high showing the levels of floods in the town since 1501 which ranged from 20m in that year to as low as 10m in 1779. As can be seen in the photo, each slat of metal gives the year and height of the flood. Looking at the building behind gives a good idea of the actual height. Damage is still visible on some of the buildings in the town. In 2002 there were devastating floods all along the Danube and in Melk the river rose 15m. Following these floods it was arranged for a set of flood defence systems to be built for the town.

Flood measure from 1501 2The flood measure with the slat for 1501 just visible at the top

entering the townEntrance to the town

 Stone sculptures in memory of those who died in WWII siege

Memorial stone sculptures on the river bank

 As in Bratislava, one enters the town in the Old Town area. Here most of the buildings had been painted white and the space between the cobblestones cemented making walking much more comfortable. There were many buildings still intact from the 13th Century but again many had been destroyed and rebuilt following a devastating fire in the 17th Century.

bldgs in the Old TownSome buildings in the Old Town with the Abbey behind

Lane between homes 2A narrow lane with homes

The Benedictine Abbey was founded in 1089 when Leopold ll of Austria gave one of his castles to the monks. A monastic school was founded and a library, containing many medieval books and writings, was added making it famous for academic study. This was probably why it was not destroyed by Emperor Joseph ll when he arranged for most of the abbeys in Austria to be destroyed in the1780s. In the 18th Century it was reconstructed and extended in its current Baroque style but it took 3 decades to complete.

Abbey towerThe original tower of the Abbey

A path to the abbeyA path we took to the Abbey

Walking around the Old Town one realises that the Chief of the Abbey had an enormous amount of power. All the land and buildings of the town belonged to the Abbey and the Chief and he made the decisions on land use. Many of the buildings have signs on them telling of who lived there or for what the building was used as well as the date. It made it so interesting and gave a real feeling of the humanity over the ages.

Around 1390 this house was the vicarage of MelkPlaque on house which was Melk Vicarage in 1390

St Stephan Parish Church 2St Stephan’s Church

Within the Old Town there were no big shops but lots of small niche ones as well as a number of places to eat and drink. Halfway up the main street was the original town well built in 1722 with a statue set in the centre. Interestingly this well is not mentioned in any of the references which I Googled.


We walked right through the Old Town ending by going up a very narrow street where we discovered buildings which some of the original murals dating back to the 14th Century. Clearly this must have been a farming community as the painted pictures were mainly of cattle. We continued right up to the modern part of town and found a complete contrast by the division of just one street. It started with a small shopping centre with a “Everything for a Euro” name. Although this was not absolutely true everything was for an excellent price with lots of things costing one Euro. It was a large place with just about everything you can imagine for purchase with the exception of groceries.

Mural of a lionLion mural on a wall from 15th Century

We walked up the hill further into the new part of town and it could not have been more different – modern homes, petrol stations, traffic lights and a very large shopping centre with a Spar as its anchor store. What a contrast between the old and new towns. We were surprised when we later returned to the boat that no one else had ventured there.

Having walked all of the Old Town and a small part of the new we stopped on a bench under a shady tree to eat our picnic lunch before making our way to the Abbey. We made our way up the small lanes and then turned a corner to see another long hill of steps to the Abbey itself. After so much climbing in Bratislava and Budapest over the past 2 days I decided to take a seat at the bottom of the steps and Trevor did the long climb.

While waiting at the base of the stairs I discovered a most fascinating wooden structure. It was approximately 1mx1.5m balanced on a pole on either side. The oblong structure was divided into a number of squares each with wooden pieces fitted into them. These bits of wood were filled with holes? At the top of the structure were the words, “Nürslings (sp) Hotel”. I took a photo of the words and asked our cruise tour guide what they meant and discovered that it is an Insect Hotel. Go to the link to find out more about these interesting structures.

After a half hour Trevor returned and his face showed that he had seen something truly magnificent. I was sorry that I did not get up the hill to the Abbey but my legs just did not want to know about it. He took wonderful pictures which gave me some idea of what it was like ‘up on the hill’.

After a half hour Trevor returned and his face showed that he had seen something truly magnificent. I was sorry that I did not get up the hill to the Abbey but my legs just did not want to know about it. He took wonderful pictures which gave me some idea of what it was like ‘up on the hill’.

Having finished our tour with such a wonderful memory, we returned to our boat by the other half of the circular route. This one was actually more beautiful as it took us through a lovely piece of woodland to the river. We met up with a few others returning to the boat so it was a lovely social ending to our visit to a beautiful town.  There were many cyclists out using the allocated path but, at the time we were the only ones walking. It was hard to leave such a beautful place but we did so with very special memories.