Is it a fortress, castle, or what? The giant Stift Melk in Austria

melk abbey in austria from the street below. photo by arihak.

I saw it from a distance of about 10 km as I drove along a winding country road that followed the Danube (Donau) river in Austria. A massive building, shining in the sun rose above the surrounding fields. My problem was that I couldn’t determine if it was a medieval fortress, a castle, a walled village, or something else. Soon, I was about to discover Stift Melk, a monastery built on a rock above the village of Melk.

Once I was inside the gates of the monastery, I also discovered why I hadn’t been able to categorize the massive building. Originally, it had been a fortress, but during its long history it had been rebuilt and repurposed for religious use as we find it today.

In addition to the main building that features a large library (books can’t be accessed by tourists), church (visitors allowed), museum, shop, and much more, there is also a large garden to explore.

melk monastery, austria. photo arihak.

The original building, the fortress of Melk was constructed in 976. About 100 years later, in 1089, the entire property was handed over to monks who have lived and worked there ever since. The reason for giving up the fortress was that it wasn’t required for military purposes anymore.

a long corridor in melk abbey, austria. photograph by arihak.

During more than 1000 years of its existence, the monastery has been hit by fires, plagues, natural disasters, and wars, all affecting its character. In the 18th century, the building – more or less – got the Baroque look that we see in Melk today. In 1960, the monastery was open for tourists for the first time. It was an instant success. More details about the history, the building and events at the Stift Melk home page.

When you plan your visit to Melk, consider choosing your travel route so that you have an opportunity to see other ancient towns and villages along Danube on the way. Campervan and motorhome travelers may stay a night at a car park located between the Melk village and Danube. Other accommodation choices in there are limited (staying in the monastery is possible if you are looking for an alternative to a hotel room). Make sure you have enough time – a few hours – to walk around the village, the monastery and its gardens, and perhaps along paths that follow the Danube.

a tiny section of the stift melk garden. image by arihak.

Melk is easy to find on a map. Find Vienna (Wien), and follow the Danube towards west for about 100 km / 65 miles.