The Melk Abbey: A 900-Year-Old Masterpiece

By Don Heimburger
Photos by Don and Marilyn Heimburger

Situated on a hill overlooking the small village of Melk, Austria, is the Melk Abbey, a Benedictine monastery with twin church towers that reach for the heavens.

The imposing Baroque abbey, high above the Danube, has two wings that project around the chapel, curving towards one another and connected by a balcony, framing the inset of the church. The builders succeeded in combining the natural surroundings with the structure.

Designed by Jacob Prandtauer and built between 1702 and 1736, the abbey monks provide pastoral care (the monastery oversees 23 parishes), and schooling (with 900 students). The theme of the abbey is “Ut In Omnibus Glorificetur Deus” (so that God is glorified in everything).

Melk staircase

Visitors to the abbey can walk up steep steps to the entrance (walking through the small village of Melk) or drive up or take a taxi to the entrance. An abbey museum is located in the former Imperial Rooms and contains the exhibition “The Path from Yesterday to Today” which tells the story of the 900-year history. Beyond the museum, the must-see Marble Hall and library are two highlights of the structure.

In Marble Hall, Paul Troger’s beautiful frescoes (1731) adorn the ceiling; it is this room that was used as a guest room and dining hall for festive occasions, mostly for the imperial court. From the balcony, a grand view of the surrounding rivers, and town and fields is available.

Hundreds of inlaid bookshelves line the library room, which features similarly-bound books. A Paul Troger ceiling fresco is a counterpoint to the painting in the Marble Hall. On the upper floor of the library are two reading rooms, reached by a spiral staircase. The library contains 1,800 works, the oldest of which is a transcription of works by Venerable Bede from the early 9th century. Two-thirds of the manuscripts are from the reform period of the 15th century.

Gold, orange, ocher, gray and green combine to form a warm color accord in the church. In 1701 the church was completely rebuilt, and is now recognized as one of the most significant structures of the Baroque era. In its full light, its grandeur can take one’s breath away. The interior of the church has been shaped by the hand of Italian architect Antonio Beduzzi, with other artists actually doing the work.

Besides the abbey itself, there is also Abbey Park and the Baroque Garden Pavilion, and the abbey restaurant.

The whole Melk Abbey package is at least a two-hour visit, but to soak in everything, three hours seems more appropriate. Once there, you will undoubtedly want to stay longer.

The Melk Abbey is open all year. Admission is charged, with a reduction when other area attractions are combined. Guided tours are also available at the ticket office. The abbey is wheelchair accessible. For more information, go to or email

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