Austria

Melk

Located on a small arm of Strauss' 'Beautiful Blue Danube' Melk's history goes back to Roman times and still retains an imperial air.

Melk Abbey town on the Danube

This is largely due to the Abbey, a former palace which dominates the small but perfectly-formed town from its rocky bluff. Napoleon strutted his stuff here and the Kaisergang or Emperor's Gallery, a corridor in the Abbey is lined with portraits of the Austrian nobility crushed beneath his heel. The highlight of the Abbey however is its baroque church, a controlled chaos of lushly embellished marble and frescoes, simply drenched in gold. But a close second is the Marmorsaal, or Marble banqueting hall, a magnificent baroque riot of marbled pillars – look out for the gold bewigged caryatids! - and frescoed ceiling by Paul Troger which seems to soar upward vertiginously into infinity. A similarly vertiginous effect is experienced on the tightly circular marble convolutions of the Abbey library stairwell, where you can appreciate why Umberto Eco researched his best-selling novel The Name of the Rose here. While the Abbey cannot – shouldn't – be avoided, the town itself is a delightful place to recover from its profusion of historical and architectural wealth.

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