If you think you have seen all of Vienna and its surroundings, think twice. Have you visited Klosterneuburg monastery and palace? I did not know much about it before my last trip to Vienna. As I had visited this awesome city many times before and have done best free things in Vienna, I was looking for something new and that’s why Klosterneuburg appeared in my searches from the depths of the internet. Klosterneuburg Monastery has been one of Austria’s most important religious and cultural centers for more than 900 years. It was the residence of the Babenberg and Habsburg dynasties. The combination of practiced faith, outstanding art treasures and the oldest vineyard in Austria makes the monastery a worthwhile travel destination, situated just outside Vienna.
Klosterneuburg has had two main milestones in its history: the first is establishing the monastery in the early 12th century, the second is early 18th century plans of building an imperial residence that would combine the functions of a monastery and a palace by Emperor Charles VI, inspired by Escorial in Spain.
So let’s start with the monastery!
According to the legend, Babenberg Margrave Leopold III founded Klosterneuburg Monastery in the early 12th century at the place where he found the veil of his wife Agnes, which had been brought there by the wind on the day of their wedding. The Order of the Augustinian Canons settled at Klosterneuburg upon Leopold’s initiative. Since that time, with the exception of the years between 1941 and 1945, the canons have lived and worked there, following the Rule of Saint Augustine. Today almost 50 canons live there.
In the early 18th century emperor Charles VI came up with an idea to build an imperial residence combining the functions of a monastery and a palace in Klosterneuburg following the model of the Escorial near Madrid. However, during his lifetime only approximately one eighth of the planned construction was completed. After the death of Charles VI in 1740, construction works were soon abandoned. It was not until the early 19th century that one fourth of the planned complex was completed. Today, instead of the four planned courts there is only one, and just two cupolas rather than nine were built. Still, what you can see looks very impressive.
Klosterneuburg vineyards and winery
There is one more important ingredient of Klosterneuburg: its vineyards and winery. Stift is Austria’s largest and oldest privately owned wine estate and has played a formative role in the story of Austrian wine. Legendary vineyards are the pride and heart of the winery. Vineyards are found in the best sites of Klosterneuburg, Vienna, Gumpoldskirchen, and Tattendorf. The variation in soils and microclimates of the four wine origins make it possible for the winery to cultivate each grape variety in its ideal environment. By the way, Vienna is the only capital city in the world with its own viticulture.
As you can imagine, you can spend a full day exploring it all. I was not so lucky and had just a few hours for that.
So what did I manage to see in Klosterneuburg abbey?
One of the strongest impressions for me was the visitors’ entrance hall. It was opened in 2006 at the Sala Terrena (Latin for 'hall on the ground floor'). The reconstruction of the Sala Terrena received the European Union’s Europa Nostra Award for Cultural Heritage in 2008. The unfinished part of the palace was not only restored to the original condition of 1740, but was also given a new purpose. In this room, Lorenzo Mattielli, sculptor at the Imperial Court in the 18th century, created the eight load-bearing Atlases, but otherwise, there was only bare brickwork. It looks like this today as well. The overall impression of the hall is just fascinating.
Before the monastery tour, I visited the treasury with treasures of the monastery’s past. I was most impressed by the holy crown, a hat of the land from the early 17th century, given to the monastery by Archduke Maximilian III. The hat is made exclusively of materials of the finest quality: gold, enamel, precious stones, pearls, velvet, and ermine. The Hat could only be taken to Vienna for an inauguration ceremony of a new archduke. The Hat made its last official public appearance in 1989 at the funeral of Zita, the last Empress of Austria.
I enjoyed several impressive objects and places during a guided tour.The giant seven armed candelabra from the early 12th century was very impressive and to me looked quite modern, as if it was made in our times.We had an opportunity to see a short movie about the greatest treasure of the monastery, the Verdun Altar. It is the monastery’s most precious art possession and one of the most important artworks of the Middle Ages. The Altar can be seen in St. Leopold’s Chapel. It was completed at the end of the 12th century, after about ten years’ work. It originally served to decorate the parapet of the pulpit in the monastery church. The Altar comprises a total of 51 enamelled panels arranged in three horizontal layers, corresponding to the epochs of the history of salvation.We also saw a glimpse of 6 kilometre long wine cellar tunnels, very impressive.
Klosterneuburg Monastery church
Then we visited a monastery church, built in the early 12th century. Despite a great number of changes, the basic Romanesque structure of the monastery church has remained the same until today. Its current outside appearance was created during restoration work in the 19th century. Inside, the church is of Baroque style because of refurbishment measures of the 17th and 18th centuries. Above the northern stalls, you can see the imperial oratory where the Emperor and his family sat during annual ceremonies in honour of Saint Leopold on 15 November. There was an old cemetery in the yard of the cloister. Today visitors can admire just the "Tutzsäule" monument (a Lantern of the Dead) from the end of the 14th century.After the monastery tour, I headed to the Stift Klosterneuburg wine shop.
Stift Klosterneuburg Wine shop
The Stift Klosterneuburg Wine Estate shop is an important attraction for all lovers of exquisite wines, art, and architecture. Besides the full selection of the monastery’s highly acclaimed wines and sparkling wines, you will find a great variety of regional specialties, elegantly wrapped gift sets and lovely gourmet packets. I had an awesome wine tasting there just for 3 euros.I finished my visit with lunch in the monastery Stiftscafé, enjoying a Viennese schnitzel. I think you should try it at least once while visiting Austria.
One thing you should know that most of the places of Klosterneuburg Abbey are accessible only by guided tours, so if you wish to see monastery, church, palace and old wine cellars, you should take two or three different tours. With your entrance ticket without tours, you can access only the exhibition and the treasury. All guided tours are in German with an audio guide available in 14 languages. I used the English audio guide and it was good. The tour guide was very helpful and added some sentences in English now and then during the tour. I was there in the morning and therefore I had a one hour monastery tour at 10 am. I guess the best way to see most of it is to arrive around noon and take a 1,5 hour imperial tour that includes the monastery and the palace, and then take a one hour wine cellar tour with wine tasting. If you, just like me, only have the first part of the day available, then take a monastery tour, followed by a wine shop visit and wine tasting there. Have lunch in the monastery restaurant afterwards.
How to get to Klosterneuburg monastery
There are several options for getting there from Vienna. U4: Heiligenstadt, then bus 400 or 402: Klosterneuburg Stiftsgarten or S 40: Klosterneuburg-Kierling U6: Spittelau, then S 40: Klosterneuburg-Kierling. As I did not want to change vehicles many times, I took tram D to Franz-Josefs-Bahnhof and then went by S 40 to Klosterneuburg-Kierling. The trip takes from 40 minutes to one hour, depending on your chosen route and the starting point in Vienna.
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What did you think? Have you been to Klosterneuburg Monastery? Or perhaps you’re thinking of visiting there in the near future? Either way, I’d love to hear from you so please add your comments below.
Author: Anita Sāne
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