Mondsee Lake

Last updated on May 17th, 2021 at 08:32 am

The Mondsee is an attractive lake in the Salzkammergut region of Upper Austria.

Sometimes referred to as ‘Moon Lake’ (the German word for ‘moon’ is ‘Mond’), the name actually originates from a corrupted version of a noble family name (‘Mannsee’) in the Middle Ages.

It is part of a group of lakes which form the ‘lake region’ near the city of Salzburg – the Wolfgangsee, the Attersee, the Traunsee, to name just a few – and has developed into a popular holiday destination in the summer months.

The main town on the lake – also called Mondsee – is renowned for the former monastery and especially the Mondsee Basilica, the location for the wedding scene in the Sound of Music film.

History of the Mondsee

Human settlement at and on the Mondsee can be traced back to prehistoric times. The discovery of the remains of pile dwellings on the lake in the late 19th century enabled researchers to discover more about a Neolithic culture, which was given the name Mondseekultur (or ‘Mondsee group’).

The Mondsee group culture was not only found in the Mondsee and the neighbouring Attersee and Traunsee lakes, but also in Bavaria and Lower Austria. The Austrian Lake Dwelling Museum was established in Mondsee after numerous finds were recovered and archaeological research carried out.

The pile dwellings at the Mondsee are protected as part of the UNESCO Cultural World Heritage, along with similar dwellings on the Attersee, on Lake Constance and other countries in Europe.

Remains of buildings from the Roman period were found during excavations in the area of the former Mondsee monastery, which are thought to belong to an estate from the Imperial period.

Several Roman stones with inscriptions or reliefs have also been preserved, four of which are embedded in the wall next to the portal of the Stiftskirche.

Mondsee monastery, founded as a Benedictine institution in the 8th century by the Bavarian Duke Odilo, was the centre of the political and cultural power in the region. It became an Imperial abbey and was, for many centuries, a centre of education and religious influence. It is one of the oldest former monasteries in present-day Austria.

The Mondsee area became part of Austria in the 16th century and, not long after it celebrated 1000 years of existence, was dissolved by the Austrian Emperor during the ecclesiastical reforms of the late 18th century.

It reverted to Bavarian control for a short period during the Napoleonic wars. The former abbey was given to a Bavarian military commander by Napoleon, who then turned it into a castle: Schloss Mondsee. His descendants were the owners of Mondsee Castle until 1985.

Tourism had started in the area in the early 19th century and increased as more hotels and transports links were constructed.

A view of the lake and mountains at the Mondsee
A view of the lake and mountains at the Mondsee

Don’t miss

  • Explore the history of the prehistoric pile dwellings on the lake shore at the museum next door to Mondsee Basilica – it also includes historical information about the former monastery
  • Take a look inside the former monastery church – now the Mondsee Basilica and famous for the wedding scene in the Sound of Music film
  • Cycle the flat but very scenic 25 kilometres around the lake shore (use an e-bike to make it even easier!)

How to get to the Mondsee

Those arriving at the Mondsee by car will find few problems as the main A1 motorway connecting the cities of Salzburg and Vienna passes the northern shoreline of the lake, with an exit just above the town of Mondsee.

Public transport is a little more problematic. Mondsee was once connected to Bad Ischl by a rail link but that line was closed down in the Fifties. (There is a museum dedicated to it in Mondsee.) Now the easiest way to get to the Mondsee is the regular bus service between Salzburg railway station and the lake.

Salzburg airport is the nearest option for those arriving on a flight, at a distance of just over 30 kilometres.

The Basilica of St Michael at Mondsee
The Basilica of St Michael at Mondsee

The town of Mondsee

The small town of Mondsee is located at the northern end of the lake and sprawls between the lake promenade and the A1 motorway exit a couple of kilometres away. Further north is the smaller Irrsee lake, which is entirely protected as part of a nature reserve.

The famous Basilica of St Michael is part of the medieval building complex at the town centre – the former monastery is now a hotel – the Schlosshotel Mondsee. The complex also houses one of the town museums – this particular museum is dedicated to the UNESCO-protected prehistoric pile dwellings at the lake and the history of the buildings.

Much of the Basilica dates from the late Gothic period although the distinctive double towers were a later addition. The impressive high altar was a feature of the Sound of Music wedding scene but not too many viewers noticed the skeletons of former abbots integrated into the altar.

The town also has four museums which cover different aspects of the town’s life and history. As well as the previously-mentioned ‘Mondseeland and Austrian Museum of Lake Dwellings’ next to the church, there is a farmhouse museum, a museum of the former rail line between the lake and Bad Ischl and a museum dedicated to the traditional local costumes.

The local tourist board like to market the Mondsee region as a place where the mountains meet the water, and the town is a centre both for watersports and for walking trails.

Sailing, windsurfing and kitesurfing are all popular pastimes on the lake but care should be taken of the surrounding mountains, which can cause some tricky wind patterns.

The hiking trails are as varied as walkers may wish – from the easy hikes into the summer meadows between the Mondsee and the Irrsee through to the challenging ascent on the Drachenwand via ferrata (not forgetting the black hiking trail down from the summit).
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