With its prime location as the nearest capital city to Prague, and rich cultural offerings on its doorstep, Vienna tops the chart as the most visited destination of NYU Prague students’ first weekend this fall. While raving about all the must-visits of Vienna, it’s easy to forget about Melk Abbey just an hour’s drive west. It might have never made it to the itinerary of a NYU Prague weekend getaway but nonetheless teems with its UNESCO World Heritage charm.
Melk Abbey was not originally part of our plan, and the heavy rain on the highway further discouraged us from reaching our destination. Thankfully, the spirit of wanderlust saved us from quitting halfway and it was still early in the morning when we arrived. The abbey completely changed the color of our morning blues. As we walked from the parking lot towards the abbey, its cheerful yellowy-orange trim gradually peeked through. High on a rocky cliff, this massive baroque building dominates the skyline, overlooking both the town and the Danube River, and beaming with pride.
The abbey has undergone a dramatic transformation. It was originally built as a fortified Benedictine abbey in the 11th century but was later destroyed by fire and rebuilt in the early 18th century in Baroque style by the great Austrian architect Jakob Prandtauer. In 1974, another fire damaged the elaborate interior of the monastery church. To this day, we can still see the scaffolding covering about half the nave, but the restoration work is almost complete.
About halfway through the abbey there is a balcony where we had a grand view of the city of Melk and we took some happy snaps.
With this stunning bird’s eye view still fresh on our minds, we found ourselves in thrall to the abbey library in the very next breath. A visit to the Melk Abbey library was a sensory overload. Upon entering, our jaws dropped and eyes opened wide. We were completely surrounded by books of countless medieval manuscripts, on every wall, from floor to celling, full of shimmering gold and glistening wood, meticulously arranged in a manner that is in sync with the room’s splendorous architectural style and ceiling frescos. Unfortunately, I can’t show you a picture here partly because photography was not allowed, and also because I don’t want to spoil too much.
As much as the library got us wide-eyed and ecstatic, it wasn’t the highest point of our visit. Our awe crescendoed to a glorious fortissimo in the Abbey Church. Gasps all around. It is tall, huge and has gilded stucco embellishment everywhere. Again photography was not allowed, but I would suggest you see and experience it yourself.
Melk is also the gateway to Wachau Valley, which is known for its picturesque landscape formed by the Danube river. If there is one spare day on your itinerary, it would be a good idea to visit Melk Abbey in the morning and cruise the Wachau Valley in the afternoon. The valley is ornamented with cute villages, blanketed with vineyards, and has a rich history of the cultivation of vines (wine enthusiasts and self-proclaimed connoisseurs, please take note).
While Vienna effortlessly became the first week’s chart slayer, Melk certainly deserves a nod as well.
TIPS FOR VISITING MELK ABBEY:
Remember to bring your ISIC or simply NYU ID card, which gives you a student discount price of €6.00 without guide, or a guided tour at €8.00
A visit of the monastery includes the Imperial Staircase, the Imperial Corridor, the abbey museum, the Marble Hall, the balcony, the library and the abbey church, the abbey park, and the Northern Bastion.