The Wachau is an Austrian valley with a picturesque landscape formed by the Danube river. It is one of the most prominent tourist destinations of Lower Austria, located midway between the towns of Melk and Krems that also attracts "connoisseurs and epicureans". It is 40 kilometres (25 mi) in length and was already settled in prehistoric times. A well-known place and tourist attraction is Dürnstein, where King Richard the Lion-Heart of England was held captive by Duke Leopold V.
The architectural elegance of its ancient monasteries (Melk and Göttweig Abbey), castles and ruins combined with the urban architecture of its towns and villages, and the cultivation of vines as an important agricultural produce are the dominant features of the valley. The Wachau was inscribed as "Wachau Cultural Landscape" in the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites in recognition of its architectural and agricultural history, in December 2000.
Even before the Neolithic period brought in changes in the natural environment of the valley, Palaeolithic's records of the valley have been identified in the form of “figurines” in Galgenberg and Willendorf stated to be 32,000 years and 26,000 years old respectively that testify to human occupation in the valley. It has been inferred that Krems and Melk were well settled establishments in the early Neolithic period between 4500 BC and 1800 BC.
Wachau Valley’s ancient history in the Neolithic period started with deforestation by the people of the land for cultivation and settlement. The name "wachu" as such was recorded as "locus Wahowa" in 853 AD and the name of "Krems" was recorded as Urbs Chremisa in 995 AD, marking it as the oldest Austrian town.
Melk is a small town on the bank of the Danube at the start of the Wachau region at an elevation of 228 metres (748 ft). An ancient town with its historicity linked to the Romans (as a border post) and also to Babenbergs' times (as their strong fortress), known then as the Namare Fort, which the residents call as the Medelke of the Nibenlunggenlied or the Babenberg fortress.
Its present population is reported to be 5300. Its large enticing popularity is on account of the Benedictine abbey (founded in 1089 AD), perfect example of a "Baroque synthesis of the arts" which forms the western gateway to the Wachau, which is located on a 200 feet (61 m) high cliff. There is baroque gateway at the entrance.
Krems, which includes the town of Stein, an old town located between Kremser Tor (15th century) and Gottweigerghof (13th and 14th century) has many historical buildings, and also "pedestrian only" streets of Obere and Untere Landstrasse. From historical times, Krems has been popular for wine trade due to its terraced vineyards.
The Minorite Church was the parish church in the old town, and is now used to hold art exhibitions. Apart from this Gothic church, the town also has the Pfarrkirche St. Nikolaus Church that depicts paintings on the altar and the ceiling, which are credited to the famous painter Kremser Schmidt, who lived in Linzer Tor from 1756 until his death.
Spitz is a small but appealing town with cobbled streets amidst vineyards, offering spectacular views of the Danube valley. It is 17 kilometres (11 mi) from Krems. Occupied since Celtic times, it was first mentioned in 830. To the south of Spitz is the fortress of Hinterhaus.
Dürnstein town established in 1019 AD on a rocky premonitory on the bank of the Danube River, on a gentle curve of the river, in the midst of the Wachau valley, known then as Tirnstein, described as the “most romantic place for the picturesque ancient terraced vineyards and monuments, in the Wachau,” was built at an elevation of 630 feet (190 m) with fortifications for the settlement and protection against floods.
The historical monuments in the Wachau valley are more than 5000. Some of them are: The Benedictine abbeys of Melk (Stift Melk a massive baroque Benedictine monastery) and Göttweig (a monastery of canons regular), at the beginning and end of the scenic Wachau section of the Danube Valley from where one gets a visual feast of the city of Melk; the Schallaburg Castle, a Renaissance style castle 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) from Melk; the Steiner Tor in Krems or Krems an der Donau, the late-Gothic Piarist church; Dürnstein for its wine growing area and the Durnstein castle; and the Burgruine Aggstein.
Melk Abbey or Stift Melk is a Benedictine abbey, and one of the world's most famous monastic sites. It is located above the town of Melk on a granite rocky outcrop at an elevation of 228 metres (748 ft) overlooking the river Danube in Lower Austria, adjoining the Wachau valley, about 40 km upstream of Kremms. It is built over an area of 17,500 square metres (188,000 sq ft).
Today's impressive Baroque abbey, seen painted in mustard yellow colour, was built between 1702 and 1736 to designs by Jakob Prandtauer commissioned by abbot Berthed Dietmayer against all odds faced by him from his fellow monks. As one of the "most significant and magnificent Baroque monasteries in all of Austria", this monument including Machau and others such as Krems and Gottweig are inscribed in UNESCO Heritage List.
Schallaburg Castle, located in the municipality of Schollach, is one of the best-known Renaissance style castles in Lower Austria north of the Alps. Schallaburg Renaissance Castle is located 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) from Melk, in the region known as Mostviertel. The central part of the castle was built in the Middle Ages, in 1572, by the Lose Steiner dynasty. It depicts a unique combination of a Romanesque residential castle and the Gothic chapel, patterned on the Italian palazzo style, which was in vogue then.
Steiner Tor is a-preserved gate in the city of Krems, originally built in the late 15th century but refashioned in the Baroque style. It is considered the symbol of the city. Until the last third of the 19th century, the city of Krems was surrounded by a wall. This was systematically razed, and three gates were also removed. From 2005, celebrating the 700-year anniversary of the city rights, the Steiner Tor was restored as much to its original as possible.
Gothic Piarist Church
Gothic Piarist church in Krems was built in 1014. It was refurbished in mid 15ht century. Its choir was consecrated in 1457 and later sanctified again in 1508 following the adaptations. Its frescoes and altar are credited to the famous artist M. J. Schmidt in Baroque architectural style. The church was also the theological college of the Piarists between 1636 and 1641.
Burgruine Aggstein is the remnant of a castle on the right bank of the Danube, north of Melk. It is 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) from Melk. According to archaeological excavations of the foundations of the castle it has been inferred that the castle was built in the early part of the 12th century.