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Austria

Vienna is the capital and largest city of Austria, and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.8 million. Until the beginning of the 20th century it was the largest German-speaking city in the world, and before the splitting of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I the city had 2 million inhabitants. Today it has the second largest number of German speakers after Berlin. 

Vienna is host to many major international organizations, including the United Nations and OPEC. The city lies in the east of Austria and is close to the borders of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. These regions work together in a European Centrop border region. Along with nearby Bratislava, Vienna forms a metropolitan region with 3 million inhabitants. In 2001, the city centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Apart from being regarded as the City of Music[ because of its musical legacy, Vienna is also said to be "The City of Dreams" because it was home to the world's first psycho-analyst – Sigmund Freud.The city's roots lie in early Celtic and Roman settlements that transformed into a Medieval and Baroque city, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is well known for having played an essential role as a leading European music centre, from the great age of Viennese Classicism through the early part of the 20th century. The historic centre of Vienna is rich in architectural ensembles, including Baroque castles and gardens, and the late-19th-century Ringstrasse lined with grand buildings, monuments and parks.

Vienna is known for its quality of life. In a 2005 study of 127 world cities, the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked the city first (in a tie with Vancouver, Canada and San Francisco, USA) for the world's most livable cities. Between 2011 and 2015, Vienna was ranked second, behind Melbourne, Australia. Between 2005 and 2010, Vienna was the world's number-one destination for international congresses and conventions. It attracts over 3.7 million tourists a year.

Vienna is composed of 23 districts (Bezirke). Administrative district offices in Vienna (called Magistratische Bezirksämter) serve functions similar to those in the other states (called Bezirkshauptmannschaften), the officers being subject to the Landeshauptmann (which in Vienna is the mayor); with the exception of the police, which in Vienna is governed by the President of the Police (at the same time one of the nine Directors of Security of Austria), a federal office, directly responsible to the Minister of the Interior.

As had been planned in 1919 for all of Austria but not introduced, district residents in Vienna (Austrians as well as EU citizens with permanent residence here) elect a District Assembly (Bezirksvertretung), which chooses the District Head (Bezirksvorsteher) as political representative of the district on city level. City hall has delegated maintenance budgets, e.g., for schools and parks, so that they are able to set priorities autonomously. Any decision of a district can be overridden by the city assembly (Gemeinderat) or the responsible city councillor (amtsführender Stadrat). The heart and historical city of Vienna, a large part of today's Innere Stadt, was a fortress surrounded by fields in order to defend itself from potential attackers. In 1850, Vienna with the consent of the emperor annexed 34 surrounding villages, called Vorstädte, into the city limits (districts no. 2 to 8, after 1861 with the separation of Margareten from Wieden no. 2 to 9). Consequently, the walls were razed after 1857, making it possible for the city centre to expand.

In their place, a broad boulevard called the Ringstraße was built, along which imposing public and private buildings, monuments, and parks were created by the start of the 20th century. These buildings include the Rathaus (town hall), the Burgtheater, the University, the Parliament, the twin museums of natural history and fine art, and the Staatsoper. It is also the location of New Wing of the Hofburg, the former imperial palace, and the Imperial and Royal War Ministry finished in 1913. The mainly Gothic Stephansdom is located at the centre of the city, on Stephansplatz. The Imperial-Royal Government set up the Vienna City Renovation Fund (Wiener Stadterneuerungsfonds) and sold many building lots to private investors, thereby partly financing public construction works. From 1850 to 1890, city limits in the West and the South mainly followed another wall called Linienwall at which a road toll called the Liniengeld was charged. Outside this wall from 1873 onwards a ring road called Gürtel was built. In 1890 it was decided to integrate 33 suburbs (called Vororte) beyond that wall into Vienna by 1 January 1892 and transform them into districts no.

From 1850 to 1904, Vienna had expanded only on the right bank of the Danube, following the main branch before the regulation of 1868–1875, i.e., the Old Danube of today. In 1904, the 21st district was created by integrating Floridsdorf, Kagran, Stadlau, Hirschstetten, Aspern and other villages on the left bank of the Danube into Vienna, in 1910 Strebersdorf followed. On 15 October 1938 the Nazis created Great Vienna with 26 districts by merging 97 towns and villages into Vienna, 80 of which were returned to surrounding Lower Austria in 1954. Since then Vienna has 23 districts. Industries are located mostly in the southern and eastern districts. The Innere Stadt is situated away from the main flow of the Danube, but is bounded by the Donaukanal ("Danube canal"). Vienna's second and twentieth districts are located between the Donaukanal and the Danube River. Across the Danube, where the Vienna International Centre is located (districts 21-22), and in the southern areas (district 23) are the newest parts of the city.

Hofburg Palace is the former imperial palace in the centre of Vienna. Part of the palace forms the official residence and workplace of the President of Austria. Built in the 13th century and expanded in the centuries since, the palace has housed some of the most powerful people in European and Austrian history, including monarchs of the Habsburg dynasty, rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was the principal imperial winter residence, as Schönbrunn Palace was their summer residence. The Hofburg area has been the documented seat of government since 1279 for various empires and republics. The Hofburg has been expanded over the centuries to include various residences (with the Amalienburg), the Imperial Chapel (Hofkapelle or Burgkapelle), the Naturhistorisches Museum and Kunsthistorisches Museum, the Austrian National Library (Hofbibliothek), the Imperial Treasury (Schatzkammer), the Burgtheater, the Spanish Riding School (Hofreitschule), the Imperial Horse Stables (Stallburg and Hofstallungen), and the Hofburg Congress Center.

The Hofburg faces the Heldenplatz ordered under the reign of Emperor Francis Joseph, as part of what was to become a Kaiserforum that was never completed. Numerous architects have executed work at the Hofburg as it expanded, notably the Italian architect-engineer Filiberto Luchese (the Leopoldischiner Trakt), Lodovico Burnacini and Martino and Domenico Carlone, the Baroque architects Lukas von Hildebrandt and Joseph Emanuel Fischer von Erlach (the Reichschancelry Wing and the Winter Riding School), Johann Fischer von Erlach (the library), and the architects of the grandiose Neue Burg built between 1881 and 1913.

 

Schönbrunn Palace

Schönbrunn Palace is a former imperial summer residence located in Vienna, Austria. The 1,441-room Baroque palace is one of the most important architectural, cultural and historical monuments in the country. Since the mid-1950s it has been a major tourist attraction. The history of the palace and its vast gardens spans over 300 years, reflecting the changing tastes, interests, and aspirations of successive Habsburg monarchs. In the year 1569, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II purchased a large floodplain of the Wien river beneath a hill, situated between Meidling and Hietzing, where a former owner, in 1548, had erected a mansion called Katterburg. The emperor ordered the area to be fenced and put game there such as pheasants, ducks, deer and boar, in order to serve as the court's recreational hunting ground. In a small separate part of the area, "exotic" birds such as turkeys and peafowl were kept. Fishponds were built, too.

The name Schönbrunn (meaning "beautiful spring"), has its roots in an artesian well from which water was consumed by the court. During the next century, the area was used as a hunting and recreation ground. Especially Eleonora Gonzaga, who loved hunting, spent much time there and was bequeathed the area as her widow's residence after the death of her husband, Ferdinand II. From 1638 to 1643, she added a palace to the Katterburg mansion, while in 1642 came the first mention of the name "Schönbrunn" on an invoice. The origins of the Schönbrunn orangery seem to go back to Eleonora Gonzaga as well. The Schönbrunn Palace in its present form was built and remodeled in 1740—50s during the reign of empress Maria Theresa[2] who received the estate as a wedding gift. Franz I commissioned the redecoration of the palace exterior in neoclassical style as it appears today.

Franz Joseph, the longest-reigning emperor of Austria, was born at Schönbrunn and spent a great deal of his life there. He died there, at the age of 86, on 21 November 1916. Following the downfall of the Habsburg monarchy in November 1918, the palace became the property of newly founded Austrian Republic and was preserved as a museum. After World War II and during the Allied Occupation of Austria (1945—55), Schönbrunn Palace was requisitioned to provide offices for both the British Delegation to the Allied Commission for Austria and for the Headquarters for the small British Military Garrison present in Vienna. With the reestablishment of the Austrian republic in 1955, the palace once again became a museum. It is still sometimes used for important events such as the meeting between U.S. president John F. Kennedy and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1961.

Since 1992 the palace and gardens are owned and administered by the Schloss Schönbrunn Kultur- und Betriebsges.m.b.H., a limited-liability company wholly owned by the Republic of Austria. The company conducts preservation and restoration of all palace properties without state subsidies.[3] UNESCO catalogued Schönbrunn Palace on the World Heritage List in 1996, together with its gardens, as a remarkable Baroque ensemble and example of synthesis of the arts (Gesamtkunstwerk). The sculpted garden space between the palace and the Sun Fountain is called the Great Parterre. The French garden, a big part of the area, was planned by Jean Trehet, a disciple of André Le Nôtre, in 1695. It contains, among other things, a maze.

The complex however includes many more attractions: Besides the Tiergarten, an orangerie erected around 1755, staple luxuries of European palaces of its type, a palm house (replacing, by 1882, around ten earlier and smaller glass houses in the western part of the park) is noteworthy. Western parts were turned into English garden style in 1828–1852. The area called Meidlinger Vertiefung (engl.: depression of Meidling) to the west of the castle was turned into a play area and drill ground for the children of the Habsburgs in the 19th century. At this time it was common to use parks for the military education of young princes. Whereas the miniature bastion, which was built for this purpose, does not exist anymore, the garden pavilion that was used as shelter still does. It was turned into a café in 1927 and is known as Landtmann’s Jausen Station since 2013. At the outmost western edge, a botanical garden going back to an earlier arboretum was re-arranged in 1828, when the Old Palm House was built. A modern enclosure for Orangutans, was restored besides a restaurant and office rooms in 2009.

 

Salzburg

Salzburg is the fourth-largest city in Austria and the capital of the federal state of Salzburg. Salzburg's "Old Town" (Altstadt) is internationally renowned for its baroque architecture and is one of the best-preserved city centers north of the Alps. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The city has three universities and a large population of students. Tourists also frequent the city to tour the city's historic center and the scenic Alpine surroundings. Salzburg was the birthplace of 18th-century composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In the mid‑20th century, the city was the setting for the musical play and film The Sound of Music.Traces of human settlements have been found in the area, dating to the Neolithic Age. The first settlements in Salzburg continuous with the present were apparently by the Celts around the 5th century BC.

Around 15 BC the separate settlements were merged into one city by the Roman Empire. At this time, the city was called "Juvavum" and was awarded the status of a Roman municipium in 45 AD. Juvavum developed into an important town of the Roman province of Noricum. After the collapse of the Norican frontier, Juvavum declined so sharply that by the late 7th century it nearly became a ruin. The Life of Saint Rupert credits the 8th-century saint with the city's rebirth. When Theodo of Bavaria asked Rupert to become bishop c. 700, Rupert reconnoitered the river for the site of his basilica. Rupert chose Juvavum, ordained priests, and annexed the manor Piding. Rupert named the city "Salzburg". He traveled to evangelise among pagans. The name Salzburg means "Salt Castle" (Latin: Salis Burgium). The name derives from the barges carrying salt on the Salzach River, which were subject to a toll in the 8th century and was customary for many communities and cities on European rivers. The Festung Hohensalzburg, the city's fortress, was built in 1077 by Archbishop Gebhard, who made it his residence.[5] It was greatly expanded during the following centuries.

Independence from Bavaria was secured in the late 14th century. Salzburg was the seat of the Archbishopric of Salzburg, a prince-bishopric of the Holy Roman Empire. As the reformation movement gained steam, riots broke out among peasants in the areas in and around Salzburg. The city was occupied during the German Peasants' War, and the archbishop had to flee to the safety of the fortress[6] It was besieged for three months in 1525. Eventually, tensions were quelled, and the independence of the city led to an increase in wealth and prosperity, culminating in the late 16th to 18th centuries under the Prince Archbishops Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau, Markus Sittikus, and Paris Lodron. It was in the 17th century that Italian architects (and Austrians who had studied the Baroque style) rebuilt the city center as it is today along with many palaces.

On 31 October 1731, the 214th anniversary of the 95 Theses, Archbishop Count Leopold Anton von Firmian signed an Edict of Expulsion, the Emigrationspatent, directing all Protestant citizens to recant their non-Catholic beliefs. A total of 21,475 citizens refused to recant their beliefs and were expelled from Salzburg. Most of them accepted an offer by King Frederick William I of Prussia, traveling the length and breadth of Germany to their new homes in East Prussia.[8] The rest settled in other Protestant states in Europe and the British colonies in America. In 1772-1803, under archbishop Hieronymus Graf von Colloredo, Salzburg was a centre of late Illuminism. In 1803, the archbishopric was secularised by Emperor Napoleon; he transferred the territory to Ferdinand III of Tuscany, former Grand Duke of Tuscany, as the Electorate of Salzburg. In 1805, Salzburg was annexed to the Austrian Empire, along with the Berchtesgaden Provostry.In 1809, the territory of Salzburg was transferred to the Kingdom of Bavaria after Austria's defeat at Wagram.

At the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Salzburg was definitively returned to Austria, but without Rupertigau and Berchtesgaden, which remained with Bavaria. Salzburg was integrated into the Salzach province and Salzburgerland was ruled from Linz. In 1850, Salzburg's status was once more restored as the capital of the Duchy of Salzburg, a crownland of the Austrian Empire. The city became part of Austria-Hungary in 1866 as the capital of a crownland into the Austrian Empire. The nostalgia of the Romantic Era led to increased tourism. In 1892, a funicular was installed to facilitate tourism to the fortress of Hohensalzburg. Following World War I and the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; Salzburg, as the capital of one of the Austro-Hungarian territories, became part of the new German Austria. In 1918, it represented the residual German-speaking territories of the Austrian heartlands. This was replaced by the First Austrian Republic in 1919, after the Treaty of Versailles. The Anschluss (the occupation and annexation of Austria, including Salzburg, into German Third Reich) took place the 12 March 1938, one day before a scheduled referendum about Austria's independence. German troops moved to the city. Political opponents, Jewish citizens and other minorities were subsequently arrested and deported to concentration camps. The synagogue was destroyed. Later after Germany invaded the Soviet Union, several POW camps for prisoners from the Soviet Union and other enemy nations were organized in the city. During the Nazi occupation, a Roma camp was built in Salzburg-Maxglan. It was an Arbeitserziehungslager (work 'education' camp), which provided slave labour to local industry. It also operated as a Zwischenlager (transit camp), holding Roma before their deportation to German extermination camps or ghettos in German-occupied territories in eastern Europe.

Allied bombing destroyed 7,600 houses and killed 550 inhabitants. A total of 15 strikes destroyed 46 percent of the city's buildings especially around Salzburg train station. Although the town's bridges and the dome of the cathedral were destroyed, much of its Baroque architecture remained intact. As a result, it is one of the few remaining examples of a town of its style. American troops entered Salzburg on 5 May 1945. In the city of Salzburg, there were several DP Camps following World War II. Among these were Riedenburg, Camp Herzl (Franz-Josefs-Kaserne), Camp Mülln, Bet Bialik, Bet Trumpeldor, and New Palestine. Salzburg was the centre of the American-occupied area in Austria. After World War II, Salzburg became the capital city of the State of Salzburg (Land Salzburg). On 27 January 2006, the 250th anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, all 35 churches of Salzburg rang their bells a little after 8:00 p.m. (local time) to celebrate the occasion. Major celebrations took place throughout the year.

 

Lakes and Cities around Salzburg

St. Wolfgang im Salzkammergut is a market town in central Austria, in the Salzkammergut region of Upper Austria, named after Saint Wolfgang of Regensburg. It is on the northern shore of the Wolfgangsee lake (close to the towns of Strobl and St. Gilgen, both in the State of Salzburg) at the foot of the Schafberg mountain. It is famous for the White Horse Inn (Hotel Weißes Rössl), the setting of the musical comedy and for its pilgrimage church with a late Gothic altarpiece by Michael Pacher.A destination spa, St. Wolfgang is also a popular skiing resort during the winter. A rack railway, the Schafbergbahn runs up the mountain.

Saint Wolfgang erected the first church at the shore of the Wolfgangsee after he withdrew to the nearby Mondsee Abbey in 976. According to legend he threw an axe down the mountain to find the site and even persuaded the Devil to contribute to the building by promising him the first living being ever entering the church. However Satan was disappointed as the first creature over the doorstep was a wolf. After Wolfgang's canonization in 1052, the church became a major pilgrimage site, as it was first mentioned in an 1183 deed by Pope Lucius III. In 1481 it was furnished with the famous Pacher polyptych. There had been several places for lodging around the church since medieval times, while the Weißes Rössl hotel was not built until 1878. During World War II, a subcamp of the Dachau concentration camp was located here.

 

Sankt Gilgen is a picturesque village by the Wolfgangsee in the Austrian state of Salzburg, in the "Salzkammergut" region. St. Gilgen was first mentioned in documents in 1376. In 1863, shipping on Lake Wolfgang started and brought attention to the little village. The construction of the Salzkammergut-Lokalbahn in 1893 led to another increase in tourism. Rich Viennese, such as the surgeon Theodor Billroth, started to build summer residences there. Sankt Gilgen is situated in the north-western shore of the lake Wolfgangsee, close to Strobl and to the Upper Austrian municipality of St. Wolfgang. It has 3,784 inhabitants, lies 545 metres above sea level and covers an area of 98.67 square kilometres.The parish church is dedicated to Saint Aegidius (Latin), in English Saint Giles, which is reflected in the name of the town, Sankt Gilgen.

St. Gilgen is a well-known travel destination. Boats from St. Gilgen sail around the Wolfgangsee, providing transport and views of the surrounding mountains. The hermitage of the original St. Gilgen may be seen, behind a chapel, in the Falkenstein cliffs west of St. Wolfgang and east of Fürberg. In 2005 St. Gilgen was promoted as the "Mozart Village" by the Wolfgangsee Tourist Board. Although Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart never visited St. Gilgen (as he had intended to), his grandfather worked in the town, his mother was born in St. Gilgen, and his sister Nannerl moved there after her marriage. The village now boasts a first-class international school, the St. Gilgen International School.

 

Hallstatt

Hallstatt is a village in the Salzkammergut, a region in Austria. It is located near the Hallstätter See (a lake). At the 2001 census, it had 946 inhabitants. Alexander Scheutz has been mayor of Hallstatt since 2009. Hallstatt is known for its production of salt, dating back to prehistoric times, and gave its name to the Hallstatt culture, a culture often linked to Celtic, Proto-Celtic, and pre-Illyrian peoples in Early Iron Age Europe, c.800–450 BC. Some of the earliest archaeological evidence for the Celts was found in Hallstatt. Situated in the south-western shore of the Hallstätter See, the town lies in the geographical region of Salzkammergut, on the national road linking Salzburg and Graz.

Salt was a valuable resource, so the region was historically very wealthy. It is possible to tour the world's first known salt mine, located above downtown Hallstatt. The village also gave its name to the early Iron Age Celtic Hallstatt culture and is a World Heritage Site for Cultural Heritage. Hallstatt is a popular tourist attraction owing to its small-town appeal and can be toured on foot in ten minutes.There are to date no recorded notable events that took place in Hallstatt during Roman rule or the early Middle Ages. In 1311, Hallstatt became a market town, a sign that it had not lost its economic value. Today, apart from salt production, which since 1595 is transported for 40 kilometres from Hallstatt to Ebensee via a brine pipeline, tourism plays a major factor in the town's economic life. Tourists are told that Hallstatt is the site of "the world's oldest pipeline”, which was constructed 400 years ago from 13,000 hollowed out trees. There is so little place for cemeteries that every ten years bones used to be exhumed and removed into an ossuary, to make room for new burials. A collection of elaborately decorated skulls with the deceased's name, profession, date of death inscribed on them is on display at the local chapel.

Until the late 19th century, it was only possible to reach Hallstatt by boat or via narrow trails. The land between the lake and mountains was sparse, and the town itself exhausted every free patch of it. Access between houses on the river bank was by boat or over the upper path, a small corridor passing through attics. The first road to Hallstatt was only built in 1890, along the west shore, partially by rock blasting.However this secluded and inhospitable landscape nevertheless counts as one of the first places of human settlement because of the rich sources of natural salt, which have been mined for thousands of years, originally in the shape of hearts owing to the use of an antler pick. Some of Hallstatt's oldest archaeological finds, such as a shoe-last celt, date back to around 5500 BC. In 1846 Johann Georg Ramsauer discovered a large prehistoric cemetery close by the current location of Hallstatt. 

Ramsauer's work at the Hallstatt cemeteries continued until 1863, unearthing more than 1000 burials. It is to his credit and to the enormous benefit of archaeology that he proceeded to excavate each one with the same slow, methodical care as the first. His methods included measuring and drawing each find, in an age before color photography, he produced very detailed watercolors of each assemblage before it was removed from the ground. In the history of archaeology Ramsauer's work at Hallstatt helped usher in a new, more systematic way of doing archaeology. In addition, one of the first blacksmith sites was excavated there. Active trade and thus wealth allowed for the development of a highly developed culture, which, after findings in the Salzberghochtal, was named the Hallstatt culture. This lasted from approximately 800 to 400 BC.

 

Wachau Valley

Discover the exquisite landscapes of Austria’s UNESCO World Heritage–listed Wachau Valley on this day trip from Vienna along the famed Danube River. Travel by coach through the gorgeous Austrian countryside dotted with imposing castles, abbeys, sloped forests and wine villages, and take a scenic boat ride down the Danube to the town of Melk to visit its impressive Benedictine abbey. Board a coach in Vienna in the morning and relax on the drive out to the Austrian countryside. Travel through the Wachau Valley, a 24-mile (39-km) stretch of the Danube River carving a picturesque path between the towns of Krems and Melk. Characterized by vineyards, forested slopes, wine-producing villages, mysterious castles and imposing fortresses, Wachau’s harmonious blend of natural and cultural beauty won the area a UNESCO World Heritage title.

Learn about the history of this beautiful part of Austria from your guide on your way to the medieval castle ruins of Burgruine Dürnstein, where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned while waiting for his ransom to arrive from England. In Spitz, transfer to a boat and cruise down the Danube through the heart of the valley, passing the old wine town of Krems before arriving in Melk. Here you'll visit Melk Abbey, a magnificent Benedictine abbey on a rocky outcrop overlooking the river. First established in the 11th century and rebuilt in the 18th century, Melk Abbey has housed monks for 900 years, and today its architecture is a remarkable example of Austrian’s baroque style. Dürnstein is a small town on the Danube river in the Krems-Land district, in the Austrian state of Lower Austria. It is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the Wachau region and also a well-known wine growing area. The municipality consists of the Katastralgemeinden Dürnstein, Oberloiben and Unterloiben.

The town gained its name from the medieval castle, Burgruine Dürnstein, which overlooked it. The castle was called "Duerrstein" or "Dürrstein", from the German duerr/dürr meaning "dry" and Stein, "stone". The castle was dry because it was situated on a rocky hill, high above the damp conditions of the Danube at the base of the hill, and it was built of stone. Dürnstein was first mentioned in 1192, when, in the castle above the town, King Richard I of England was held captive by Leopold V, Duke of Austria after their dispute during the Third Crusade. Richard the Lionheart had personally offended Leopold the Virtuous by casting down his standard from the walls at the Battle of Acre, and the duke suspected that King Richard ordered the murder of his cousin Conrad of Montferrat in Jerusalem. In consequence Pope Celestine III excommunicated Leopold for capturing a fellow crusader. The duke finally gave the custody of the king to Emperor Henry VI, who imprisoned Richard at Trifels Castle. Dürnstein Castle was almost completely destroyed by the troops of the Swedish Empire under Field Marshal Lennart Torstenson in 1645.

Dürnstein Abbey (Stift Dürnstein) was established in 1410 by Canons Regular from Třeboň and from 1710 rebuilt in a Baroque style according to plans by Joseph Munggenast, Jakob Prandtauer and Matthias Steinl. The monastery was dissolved by order of Emperor Joseph II in 1788 and fell to the Herzogenburg Priory. During the War of the Third Coalition the Battle of Dürenstein was fought nearby on November 11, 1805. 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" for its high-quality wines. 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 Abbey 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.

In 15 BC, the Celtic kingdom of Noricum became part of the Roman Empire. Since then the Empire's boundaries were made up along the Danube also in Wachau and the fortifications of the Limes were built along its southern banks, especially Castrum Favianis (what is now Mautern an der Donau) at the downstream end of the valley and some burgi (i.e. small watchtower-like fortresses) in the area of Rossatz-Arnsdorf municipality, the remains of which can still be seen today, most notably in Bacharnsdorf. Roman rule on the southern banks of the Danube came to an end when King Odoaker ordered the evacuation of the Latin speaking population in 488 AD. 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. The Babenberg Margraves, with Leopold I as their first king, ruled in Wachau from 976 AD. The 11th century marked an Austrian dukedom of Babenberg under Henry I, in 1156; it came under the great knightly family of the Wachau, the Kuenrings and later passed on to the Babenberg. 

With the dissipation of this line of rule, Duke Albrecht V (King Albrecht II) came to power in 1430. Between 1150 and 1839 AD, the four towns of St Michael, Wösendorf, Joching, and Weissenkirchen functioned independently. However, they formed a single entity as Wachau or Tal Wachau only in 1972.[3] An interesting part of the 12th century history is the imprisonment of Richard the Lion heart, the King of England at the Kuenringerburg castle (now in ruins) above the Dürnstein town for the reason that he insulted the Babenberg Duke, Leopold V by showing disrespect to the Austrian flag (he had thrown it into a drain). Even though he was travelling in Austria (returning from the Holy Lands) in disguise (he had grown a beard to escape detection), he was identified in an inn in Erdberg, now a suburb of Vienna. He was finally released after paying a kingly ransom of 35,000 kg of silver. According to myth, the king’s freedom was facilitated due to the efforts of his French aide Blondel. It is said that this silver booty was used to build Wiener Neustadt.

Between 1150 and 1839, the four towns of St. Michael, Wösendorf, Joching and Weissenkirchen functioned independently. However, they formed a single entity as Wachau or Tal Wachau only in 1972. Wachau also had its fair share of invasions. The Hungarians invaded in the 15th century and Matthias Corvinus occupied Krems and Stein in 1477. Church Reformists' activities also made an impact between 1530 and 1620, with the Protestants finally getting subdued by the Göttweig Abbot Georg II Falb in 1612–31; eleven Austrian Benedictine abbeys had lent full support in this victory. This had a profound impact on the religious culture of the valley with many churches, chapels and other monuments being built in the valley. Set in the Wachau and depicting the politics of the times, the epic German poem "Nibelungenlied" was written around 1200 AD.[8] Fragments of this epic was discovered in the monastic library of Melk, which are also displayed there.

However, substantial changes in the landscape were witnessed during medieval period from the 9th century with establishment of the Bavarian and Salzburg monasteries. During this process of development, economic needs necessitated creation of vine terraces to manufacture and market wine. In the 17th century, the area brought under vineyards varied widely depending on the climate and also the marketability of its wine. Viticulture on the hill slopes was practiced from the 18th century but adjustments in acreage brought under viticulture and pasture, and viticulture and horticulture (fruits) became necessary to meet the economic conditions in the region. Concurrent with this, the country side also started developing and this closely affected the agricultural practices in the region.

History of development of towns in the valley is traced to the 11th and 12th centuries. This development, which was of a homogeneous character with wooden buildings built for housing in irregularly shaped streets are seen even to this day. However, stone as building material was introduced in the 15th and 16th centuries to replace the old wooden structures by the peasants and the burghers. Since 1950, the residential complexes have appeared in the upper periphery of the valley. A notable feature of the valley is the layout of the winegrowers' farmsteads. These are also of 11th and 12th century vintage and also credited to the 16th–17th centuries. They are basically laid in "oblong or U shape or L-shape" with two parallel set of buildings. The farmsteads also have the usual gated walls, facades, service buildings and vaulted passages, which over the centuries have been modified. Baroque architecture is a dominant feature with the street fronts depicting “late-medieval/post-medieval oriels on sturdy brackets, statues in niches, wall paintings and sgraffito work, or remnants of paintwork or rich Baroque facades.” The architectural features of the roof of the Wachau house comprise a sharp slope with soaring hipped roof.

From 1700 onwards (considered under the modern period) many renovation works were undertaken. These included the Melk Abbey rebuilt in 1702, the refurbishing of the Canons' Abbey in Dürnstein between 1715 and 1733 and major reconstruction works of Göttweig Abbey that began in 1719. However, in the late 18th and 19th centuries, there was a decline in its importance as a result of closure of monasteries under the secular rule of the Bavarians. However, many events changed the situation with all local communities between Krems and Melk coming together to ensure economic development of the Wachau, since 1904, duly integrating historical legacy with modernity. Tourism and vineyards development protected by Government Laws are now the byword for the "Golden Wachau,” as it is now nicknamed.

In the modern period though, the 18th-century buildings are now integrated with the town layout, and they are used for promotion of trade and crafts. The 15th and 16th centuries' ambiance is witnessed in the "towns' taverns or inns, stations for changing draught horses, boat operators' and toll houses, mills, smithies, or salt storehouses". The valley and the towns, still preserve a number of castles of vintage value. The Wachau was inscribed as "Wachau Cultural Landscape" in the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites in December 2000 under category for its riverine landscape and under category (iv) for the medieval landscape that depicts architectural monuments, human settlements, and the agricultural use of its land. Even prior to the UNESCO recognition, on September 5, 1994, the Wachau area was officially brought under the ambit of the "Natura 2000", a network of European sites of the European Union, to ensure that development in the designated areas follow all rules and regulations. 

The designated area has 5000 historic monuments, though most of them are privately owned. However, the Federal Office of Historic Monuments (they also maintain a complete list of all historic monuments in Austria) and the Landeskonservatorat für Niederösterreich are responsible for the conservation of the historic cultural landscape of the Wachau.

 

Melk

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. The basic layout of the town below the Abbey is dated to the 11th and 12th centuries. However, many of the present day historic buildings in the main streets of the town are from 16th to 18th century. The most prominent streets laid out from the town hall square (Rathausplatz) are the Hauptstrasse (the main street) and Sterngasse, which is oldest street of the town. Some notable buildings seen in these streets and the square are: The former Lebzelterhaus dated to 1657, now a pharmacy and the Rathaus, dated to 1575, which has a large entrance door made of wood and copper, both in the Rathausplatz square; and an over-four-hundred-year-old bakery with shingle roof. A well-conserved ancient grapevine groove is located next to the Haus am Stein behind the Sterngasse. 

The Danube River bank shows marks of past flood levels at the shipping master's house. Also of interest is the old post office building of 1792, established by the then-postmaster Freiher von Furnberg; this functions now as a convention centre. Another dominant feature in the town is the Birago Barracks, built during 1910–13. In the peripheral area of the town, buildings built in the latter half of the 19th century and early 20th century are seen in their original condition. However, a district of villas replicating the Wiener Cottage Verein can also be seen here now. A1 Autobahn between Vienna and Salzberg has a station close to the town centre. Melk also has many cycle trails, which are popular. 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. He was the leading painter, draughtsman and etcher of the Austrian late Baroque. Ancient records of 1263 AD make mention of a payment of 10% tax by the farmers to the Bishop of Passau’s Zehenthof. Other monuments in Mauthaus town are a Renaissance building and the Baroque palace, built in 1721, which is known as the birth place of Ludwig von Köchel, who did research on Mozart. A medieval gate erected in 1480, known as the Steiner Tor, is another notable feature.

Other important places in the valley are:

Spitz

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.[6] Occupied since Celtic times, it was first mentioned in 830. To the south of Spitz is the fortress of Hinterhaus.

Willendorf

Willendorf, 21 kilometres (13 mi) from Krems, is the place where the primitive naked statue called the "Venus of Willendorf" - made in chalkstone, 11 cm long - was discovered in 1908. One of the preeminent examples of prehistoric art, it is widely considered to be a fertility goddess. The statue is estimated to be 25,000 years old and is now on display at the Natural History Museum in Vienna; a replica is seen in the museum in Willendorf. A postage stamp of Euro value 3.75 of the Venus von Willendorf was released on August 7, 2008 to mark the 100-year celebrations since the discovery of the Venus.

Artstetten-Pöbring

Artstetten-Pöbring is a small town in the Melk district most known for Artstetten Castle, which is noted for its many onion-shaped domes. The castle has been refurbished many times over the past 700 years. It is famous for the fact that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the former owner of the castle. A museum in the castle has pictures of the life history of “the one and only Duke” and his wife during their stay in the castle. The duke and his wife were assassinated during their visit to Sarajevo, which triggered World War I. The castle also houses their tomb. The river valley's geological formation is mainly of crystalline rocks, interspersed with Tertiary and Quaternary deposits in the wider reaches of the valley, and also in the Spitzer Graben. The land formation in the valley is dictated by the clay and silt deposits around Weissenkirchen and at the beginning of the Wachau stretch. A major tributary, which joins the Danube in Wachau on its left bank, is the Spitzer Graben, which is stated to be “ part of the primeval Danube.” During the Tertiary period, the flow of this river was to the west of the Wachau, on its northern border. The course of the river seen now is from Spitz onwards. The river is flowing along a weak fault zone on the southern border of the Bohemian Massif.

 

Göttweig Abbey

Göttweig Abbey, a Benedictine monastery near Krems, was founded as a monastery of canons regular by Blessed Altmann, Bishop of Passau. It is also known as the "Austrian Montecassino" named after the original Benedictine monastery in Italy. The high altar of the church was dedicated in 1072, but the monastery itself wasn't founded until 1083:the foundation charter, dated 9 September 1083, is still preserved in the abbey archives.

By 1094 the discipline of the community had become so lax that Bishop Ulrich of Passau, with the permission of Pope Urban II, introduced the Rule of St. Benedict. Prior Hartmann of St. Blaise's Abbey in the Black Forest was elected abbot. He brought with him from St. Blaise's a number of chosen monks, among whom were Blessed Wirnto and Blessed Berthold, later abbots of Formbach and Garsten respectively. Under Hartmann (1094–1114) Göttweig became a famous seat of learning and strict monastic observance. He founded a monastic school, organized a library, and at the foot of the hill built a nunnery where it is believed that Ava, the earliest German language poetess known by name (d. 1127), lived as an anchorite. The nunnery, which was afterward transferred to the top of the hill, continued to exist until 1557. During the 15th and 16th centuries, however, the abbey declined so rapidly that between 1556 and 1564 it had no abbot at all, and in 1564 not a single monk was left here. At this crisis an imperial deputation arrived at Göttweig, and elected Michael Herrlich, a monk of Melk Abbey, as abbot. The new abbot, who held his office until 1604, restored the monastery spiritually and financially, and rebuilt it after it had been almost entirely destroyed by fire in 1580.

Abbots distinguished during the Reformation were George Falb (1612–1631) and David Corner (1631–1648), who successfully opposed the spread of Protestantism in the district. In 1718, the monastery burnt down and was partially rebuilt on a grander scale during the abbacy of Gottfried Bessel (1714–1749) to designs by Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt inspired by the Escorial, a scheme so lavish that Abbot Gottfried was nearly deposed because of it. The fresco decorating the imperial staircase is considered as a masterpiece of Baroque architecture in Austria. Executed by Paul Troger in 1739, it represents the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI as Apollo.The Abbey complex also part of UNESCO Heritage, located on a forested hill, is few miles away from Krems. The church in the complex has two unconventional towers with flat pyramidal shape. There are also four Tuscan columns built between the towers. It is painted in pink on the exterior, while the interiors are painted in gold, brown and blue colours. The altar built in 1639 is impressive and high and has backdrop of glass windows. The casket of abbey's founder, an ornamental organ front dated to 1703, the Altmann Crypt and the choir stalls are also seen behind the altar.

Other notable architectural features seen in the west wing of the abbey are: The three storied Kalserstiege built in 1738, baroque staircases (known as the Imperial Staircase) with the ceiling painted with a fresco by Paul Troger with the theme of Emperor Karl VI's apotheosis (dated 1739). The museum here, which is accommodated in the former chambers of the Emperor and the Prince, holds every year, a vivid display of the abbeys art collections. The abbey has a library of 130,000 books and manuscripts, and a particularly important collection of religious engravings, besides valuable collections of coins, antiquities, musical manuscripts and natural history, all of which survived the dangers of World War II and its immediate aftermath almost without loss. Since 1625, the abbey has been a member of the Austrian Congregation, now within the Benedictine Confederation.

 

Wine

The origin of the wine growing tradition in Austria, and in particular in the Wachau valley, and its popularity beyond its borders, is attributed to medieval period of the Roman settlements. The Vinea Wachau Nobilis Districts date to Leuthold I von Kuenring (1243–1313). Wine production peaked under the Carolingians. Krems has a long history as the hub of the Wachau wine trade,  while the town of Dürnstein is also known for being one of the Wachau wine centres. Founded in 1983, the Vinea Wachau is an association of vintners who created categories for Wachau wine classification. The vintners of the Vinea Wachau claim to produce quality wine under a manifesto of six Vinea Wachau wine making laws, also known as six Wachau commandments. Their products, known for their purity, are labelled under the categories of Steinfeder, Federspiel or Smaragd.

The Wachau valley is well known for its production of apricots and grapes, both of which are used to produce specialty liquors and wines. The wine district's rolling vineyards produce complex white wines. Wachau is a source of Austria's most prized dry Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners, some of the best from the steep stony slopes next to the Danube on which the vines are planted. The temperature variation in the valley between day and cold nights has a significant role to play in the process of ripening of the grapes. The heat retained in the water and the stoney slopes with thin soil cover facilitates this process of growing fine variety of grapes, which results in the sophisticated wines produced in the valley. Since rainfall is not adequate for the growth of wines on thin soils, irrigation is an essential requirement to give water supply to the wine yards.

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