Göttweig Abbey may not be as well known as Melk Abbey, its fellow religious institution at the other end of the Wachau, but this Benedictine monastery near the towns of Krems and St. Pölten is well worth a visit.
Like Melk Abbey, it has a spectacular hilltop position, with distant views of the Danube winding through the fertile farmland and vineyards of the Wachau region. In fact, the position is so stunning, that the tourist leaflets refer to Göttweig as ‘the Monte Cassino of Austria’.
The monastery at Göttweig dates back to the 11th century, when it was founded by the Bishop of Passau. It was originally run by the Augustinian order before switching to the Benedictines after the first abbot died.
Although it was an important religious centre through the Middle Ages, it also suffered from the wars in central Europe, the Black Death and the bitter struggles of the Reformation.
Elements of the architecture from the 14th and 15th centuries remain, but the abbey as we see it today is renowned for its Baroque style, created by the reconstruction in the 1700s. This became necessary because of a catastrophic fire in 1719.
In addition to the Baroque appearance of the exterior, visitors to the abbey museum enter via the famous staircase with its ceiling frescoes from the same era. The museum offers an interesting view into the life of the institution through the ages, as well as some of the historic guest rooms with antique decorations and furnishings.
The abbey church shows traces of different architectural periods. Built on the fundament of the original design, the interior has Gothic, early Baroque and Baroque elements which combine to create an impressive whole.
The easiest way to get to Göttweig Abbey is with a car. A road winds up the hill to the terrace with its spectacular view. Entry is next to the terrace restaurant and tickets for the museum can be purchased at the abbey reception (which also deals with guests checking in for overnight stays).
The walk up through the interior ends in the courtyard in front of the abbey church, with the entrance to the other buildings which house the museum to the right. Church services are held early in the morning and at midday. The museum is open every day.
More information: www.stiftgoettweig.at (German only)