The small town of Melk is located about an hour and a half west of Vienna. It is to be remembered for its attractive old architecture in several mixed styles. Wikipedia claims it only has about 5,000 inhabitants. The biggest attraction is the old Melk Abbey, which looks like it could host all the 5,000 of them. It definitely dominates the landscape wherever you look at it, whether you’re coming down the road from the capital or strolling along the small streets of Melk.

Melk streets

The first Melk Abbey was built here in 1089, but has been the victim of several fires during the centuries. The building we see today is from the beginning of the 18th century, with additives after the last fire of 1974. It can be reached through a pompous twisted staircase, a corresponding gate and tidy gardens. The second gate is even more impressive, guarded by two massive bastions and decorated by all the rules of Vienna sculpture-ness.

The main gate of Melk Abbey

The second gate leads to a spacious terrace in front of the facade of the abbey. On either sideр there are smaller buildings, also dressed up in the predominant orange, which my fortress-castle experience  immediately identified as “pavilions”. We didn’t understand what their purpose was once, today they sold tickets and souvenirs, and there were also some small temporary exhibitions. In a completely atypical asymmetrical style, a solitary white round tower was added to one of the corners.

the abbey facade

The central building of Melk Abbey is a huge quadrilateral, surrounding an equally huge patio. In the middle, the good builders have installed a fountain, very suitable for selfies and any other pictures. What they haven’t thought of is a piece of shadow in the yard, at least for the misfortunes queuing up the in front of the fountain for the perfect selfie-spot.

The internal yard

Why am I telling you so much about courtyards and gates and fountains? Because it is not allowed to take pictures inside Melk Abbey itself, and how can I tell you a dry story, which I cannot show to you?! In short, it has everything inside that you might expect to find in a regular Renaissance castle, which has always amazed me when it happens in abbeys and monasteries. Like, for example, here’s this humble dining room that I just couldn’t resist taking a picture of, hoping no one would come running to pull my ears.

Melk Abbey dining room

In the library and the church, I already stopped caring, because I decided to keep up with the Chinese groups, who took pictures most unceremoniously and no one came running to pull their ears. The library is said to be one of the most beautiful monastic houses of books, although the same is said of the Strahov Monastery in Prague. In Melk, everything was in place – the gilded carvings, the beautifully bound volumes, the 3D-painted ceiling, the huge globes with maps of the “heavens” and so on.

The monastic library

The magnificence of Melk Abbey Church is hard to describe. It has been explained to me on multiple occasions that the idea of building grand temples is to make one feel small and humble, but in some places it seems to me that they have gone too far. One can spend hours in Melk staring at every detail of the interior. All the arches and domes are densely painted, the columns are made of several types of marble, and the gilding is so much that it can hurt your eyes.

Melk Abbey church

We should also mention the abbey gardens. They were once stretching on the banks of the Danube. Today, the great river is barely visible in the distance, but the gardens are still well maintained. One of the popular places in them is the beautiful Baroque Garden Pavilion. Even more popular are its murals, which are supposed to represent the living world of the different continents, but are obviously painted by someone who has not touched the continents in question.

Melk Garden Pavillion

Assuming that the one on the left is a camel, I think she has every right to look in such horror and disbelief at the creature on the right. Apart from the Baroque Pavilion, Melk Abbey gardens contain whimsical sculptures and art installations, sheltered gazebos, shady paths and – as befits a garden – lots of flowers and greenery. In the last photo I’m showing you the place that I liked the most.

Melk Abbey gardens